If you are a native Manitoban, a long time Winnipeg hockey fan, or just a hockey fan in general who was happy to see the city regain their NHL team, then the year 2011 couldn’t have been much better.
With just one day left in the calendar year, the outlook for the club and their fans may be even brighter as 2012 approaches.
Heading into tonight’s showdown with the Toronto Maple Leafs, the Winnipeg Jets own a record of 18-14-5 and are tied with four other teams, including the Leafs, making up the 6-11 positions in the Eastern Conference. A win tonight over Toronto at the MTS Centre could see the Jets rise to sixth in the conference depending on what Ottawa and New Jersey do in their games.
Playoff hockey in Winnipeg?
If you’ve seen even one home game in which the Jets have played then you know why the thought of playoff hockey in Winnipeg is enough to make the hair on the back of your neck stand at attention.
The NHL has quite possibly never seen a home atmosphere greater than the one the Jets experience everytime they step on the ice at the MTS Centre; and thats just for the pre-game warmup. By the time of the opening faceoff, the fans have already reached a deafening level. Should their team happen to score first, and are providing excitement throughout the game, the rink grows even louder. Should their team be winning as the final seconds on the clock tick away? Well, its louder than 40,000 13-year-old girls at a Justin Bieber concert. Yeah, that loud.
The electricity of their home games and the fact that the team is exceeding expectations is making the Jets one of the best stories of the NHL season.
As the Atlanta Thrashers, the franchise was able to make the playoffs just once in 11 years, and with only four new faces from last year’s squad that finished well out of the playoff picture, the fact that they are in it even at this point in the season has got to be a surprise to many.
One can only imagine what a playoff game at the MTS Centre would be like and the possibility of it happening is the number one thing that fans can look forward to in 2012. Here are a few others that should grab your attention in the new year:
The Rise of Kane: At just 20-years-old and already in his third NHL season, Kane has become the club’s most exciting and best offensive player. His 18 goals have him in the top ten and just five behind league-leader Steve Stamkos. While he is still yet to receive the league-wide recognition of one, Kane’s speed, shot and strength have him on the verge of becoming the superstar he was expected to be when he was the fourth-overall pick in 2009.
Pavelec Bar The Door: Lacking the all-around talent of a true top-notch team, the Jets success has largely come from their determination and sheer hard work, but they have also been helped along by the fine play of their goaltender Ondrej Pavelec. More often than not, when the Jets win, you can be sure that Pavelec had a big hand in it. The big Czech goalie might not have the greatest numbers at this point, but he has been outstanding throughout the year; particularly in his team’s victories.
Everyday I’m Byfuglien: Unorthodox. That might be the best way to describe Dustin Byfuglien’s defensive style. Never to be confused with the stay-at-home type of defender, Byfuglien’s forays into the offensive zone are enough to cause heart problems, but he sure does make things exciting. With his enourmous frame it is hard to believe that he could have the puck-skills and soft hands that he indeed does possess. Combine that with a very underrated passing ability, patience, and a booming shot and you have one of the top point producers from the back-end in the league.
Scratch and Claw D: While Dustin Byfuglien perfers the offensive side of things, the rest of his defense partners are the opposite. The Winnipeg blueline is made up of a cast that loves to get dirty in their own zone. Mark Stuart, Zach Bogosian, Johnny Oduya, Ron Hainsey, Mark Flood and even the dimuntive Tobias Enstrom call all be seen scratching, clawing and throwing their bodies in front of pucks on a nightly basis. It might not be the prettiest thing to watch but it certainly is eeffective and something that Ondrej Pavelec is sure to appreciate.