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Meet the McLane family: Jets fans on a pilgrimage from Georgia to Manitoba

Meet the dad and his two sons who came up to Winnipeg from Atlanta to see the Jets and Moose play.

On Saturday’s Illegal Curve Hockey Show I got a tweet from Scott McLane saying he was coming in from Atlanta with his boys and he was gonna be in Winnipeg at the next few Jets and Moose games.  His boys turned out to be his sons William and Simon.

McLane family

Photo Credit: Dave Mahussier

They had already attended the Jets game on Friday night against Detroit and indicated to me that they would be at the Moose game on Saturday night.  I was doing colour in the broadcast booth at the Moose and Rocket game so I was unable to meet up with the trio on Saturday but did have a chance to catch up with them during the 2nd intermission of the Ducks game to learn why they made the trip from Georgia to Manitoba to see the Jets and Moose play.  Instead of taking away from their game day experience we chatted for a few minutes and agreed to chat at the Moose game on Monday.  

I thereafter arranged for them to be able to attend Jets practice the next day so we could discuss their pilgrimage to Winnipeg from Atlanta.  That’s where I caught back up with the trio from Georgia who were chatting with the voice of the Jets on TSN Dennis Beyak when I walked into the lower bowl of Bell MTS Place during the Jets optional practice.  The three took seats at centre ice and began to intently watch the players go through the paces of drills.

McLane Family watching practice

Their introduction to hockey began back in 2001 at Phillips Arena with a game between the Atlanta Thrashers and Colorado Avalanche when Scott and William attended a game after they got tickets along the glass.  “Being a sports fan six inches from these guys, watching what they do on the ice, I was won over and I was a hockey fan.”

For the final four seasons the Thrashers were in Atlanta Scott was a season ticket holder and he didn’t miss a game during that time.  While younger brother Simon didn’t get that first experience that his brother William had it didn’t impact his love of hockey as he indicated in our chat “I’m hockey 24/7, delving deep into the stats and history”.

When the trio learned that the Thrashers would be leaving for Winnipeg they were understandably gutted.  In fact Scott felt that with the situation with the Coyotes in Arizona they were still the more likely candidate for relocation.  But once the vote happened with the Glendale City Council and the league was on board with the Coyotes staying in the desert he said the feeling was “depressing” knowing the reality of what would likely happen next.  However he added that he felt at that time that “if anybody was going to get a team I am glad that you guys got it.”

I asked the guys if they considered transferring their ‘fandom’ to another team once the Thrashers had left or if they would remain fans of the new team here in Winnipeg.  “Definitely we were sticking with the team.  They were our boys.  They were all the same players.  Even now when there are only a handful left and there are new guys drafted, these are our guys through and through.” said William.  Simon added that “in our house we have a giant Jets flag and a giant Thrashers flag on the wall.”  Scott chimed in “I was devoted to the guys and the team.  I didn’t have any resentment to them at all.  I didn’t feel like I could create that kind of connection to another team.”.

As you’ll notice in the pictures the guys are all rocking Thrashers uniforms.  Scott’s jersey is a Bryan Little Atlanta jersey he was wearing was from the very last Thrashers game back on back on April 10th, 2011 when they did the “jersey off our backs” promo.  A few weeks before the final game of that season Scott got a call from his season ticket rep indicating he had been selected to participate in the promotion.  Bryan Little is Scott’s favourite player and by a series of coincidences he found himself opposite number 18 after the game.  “At the end of the game I walked out on the ice smiling my head off and Bryan took his jersey off and signed it for me.”  And lest ye think that Scott isn’t serious about his fandom he wore that same jersey two years later when he got re-married which included walking out under a procession of eight hockey sticks.

Welcome back NHL sign at Forks

Once it was announced the team was coming to Winnipeg I was curious about what the impression these three Georgians had to the reaction of NHL hockey returning to this prairie city.  “Being in Atlanta it was covered a little but I really had to go digging around for it on TSN.  In fact Illegal Curve was one of the first places I would go for Jets news as it was the most in-depth” said Simon to which William added “and continue to go to” all of which made my day and which I promised the guys would be a future advertising soundbite.  Simon continued “It was heartening to see, even with the sickening feeling of losing the team, just the passion pouring out from everywhere,” with William interjecting “coming from “love, happiness and joy pouring out of Winnipeg”.  They experienced it for the first time when they went to a Jets game in Nashville and interacted with Manitoba based Jets fans “everyone was pretty welcoming, apologetic and happy to have us as fans.”

So how did these three end up coming to Winnipeg in January?  I love our fair city as much as anyone but we are not exactly a tourist hot spot in the middle of January.  Scott indicated that the idea began three years ago as gifts for his sons.  “I always knew I wanted to make a trip to Winnipeg.  William would be finishing his graduate degree and Simon would be finishing his undergraduate degree at the same time so I thought what a perfect opportunity for graduation presents and I started saving up and planning it.”  He was facilitated in this endevour by local fans he met at away games and through correspondence with them was able to secure tickets to games.  “I planned it so we would have five games in a row, three Jets games and two Moose games, with no days off.”  In fact this Jets trio is so dedicated that on the way home they are flying to Nashville to see the Jets and Predators play.

Part of what makes being a fan of a hockey team so easy in today’s day and age is the accessibility of news and the ability to interact with other fans on twitter or message boards.  It doesn’t matter if you’re in Winnipeg, Brandon or Atlanta, an internet connection is sufficient to put you among your fellow fans.  To that end the guys have found acceptance online as Simon explained “It has been a great reaction.  Everyone has been really friendly.  My twitter followers has gone up by 15 or 20 people just in the last week.  The first game we were here, walking around the concourse a guy tapped me on the shoulder and said if I ever saw a guy in an Atlanta jersey I’d buy him a beer.”  William added “I am just consistently impressed by Jets fans who have been just wonderful to us.  They treat us Thrashers fans compassionately with a real understanding having lost a team themselves once.”

So what was the experience like?  What was it like taking in the first home game here in Winnipeg?  For Scott two things stood out for him.  “I was kinda overwhelmed being in the sea of Jets jerseys.  I didn’t know where to focus.  I’m used to being at away games where the fans are more spread out.  But I was also surprised at how subdued the crowd was.”  Simon added “It felt really good to be in an arena where every time something happened the whole arena was going nuts instead of at a road games with a few hundred other Jets fans so you get to cheer but it is not the same as here where there is a sense of unity.  That we are all wanting the same thing to happen.  That we are all wanting the puck to go in.  That we are all wanting that great defensive play or that great save.  It just felt like the right place to be.  It really did feel like a home game.  We’re a 1000 miles away from home but it felt like sitting back in Phillips Arena with a packed crowd cheering on our boys.”   William finished off this thought “For me it was the closest I felt to being home at a hockey game since the Thrashers had left.  Just really love the warmth, the passion here, the friendliness from all the fans and the level of hockey intelligence.  We can really interact with people who have the same level of passionate interest and dedication that we have.  It’s been great.”

The guys were also given the opportunity to attend the game day skate ahead of Winnipeg’s game against the Golden Knights where Scott would be able to meet Bryan Little.  I asked him what that meant to him “It’s kinda a full circle thing and it is probably gonna be some closure for me to meet him.  It will probably be emotional for me to meet him and have him see this jersey and just re-live that experience.”

McLanes meeting Little

Via Scott McLane’s twitter

Asked if they had any final thoughts for Jets fans Scott shared this “Thanks for being so welcoming.  It has been an awesome trip.  Meeting you guys, being able to be here and in on it.  It’s really more than I could have expected.”  William echoed his dad’s sentiments and added this “I’m really excited to come back and continue developing the relationships with fans here and do this again another year.”  Lastly Simon hopes to use the connections he has gained here in Winnipeg to gain better insights on the team.

Of course with the Jets 2-0 and the Moose 1-0-0-1 during their stay here in Winnipeg depending on what happens tonight against the Golden Knights and Thursday against the Predators these three Georgians may find themselves back in Manitoba for playoffs as official team lucky charms.

As always stay tuned for the latest Winnipeg Jets and Manitoba Moose news by keeping it locked to and on social media including Twitter | Facebook | Instagram.  And you can follow me on twitter as well (@icdave).