During the first intermission of the 2020 Winter Classic at the Cotton Bowl in Dallas, NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman announced that the Minnesota Wild would host the 2021 Winter Classic at Target Field, the home of Major League Baseball’s Minnesota Twins.
The Wild’s opponent in the outdoor extravaganza should be no other than the Winnipeg Jets.
Jets and Wild Have Central’s Best Rivalry
Winter Classics usually pit rivals against each other, so what better way to ring in the New Year than a brisk winter clash featuring the Central Division’s best rivalry?
The Jets and Wild have cultivated a culture of fierce competition since the Jets moved from the Southeast to the Central Division prior to the 2013-14 season. Regardless of the teams’ respective records, games between them are always hotly and tightly contested.
In the 30 matchups since that season, the teams have been quite even, with the Wild having won 16 games and the Jets winning 14. More than half of the games — 16, as a matter of fact — have been decided by a single goal.
Rivalry Has Ramped Up Recently
The games between the two clubs just get more and more intense with every passing season.
While Wild and Jets’ fans have been travelling to each others’ rinks since the Jets relocated from Atlanta prior to the 2011-12 season, the rivalry reached new heights in 2017-18, bolstered by a hard-fought and intense first-round playoff matchup. The bad blood started to build when Josh Morrissey crosschecked Eric Staal in the neck in Game 4, and the Jets ultimately dispatched the Wild in five games on their way to the Western Conference Final.
The series was plenty physical, with a whopping 70 hits dished out in Game 1, 62 in Game 2, and 252 in the series overall. Dustin Byfuglien’s Game 1 blast on Joel Eriksson Ek set the tone for the series early.
Since then, there’s been no love lost. The Wild won all five matchups last season; on Black Friday, 2018, the teams got into a huge donnybrook that spilled into the Jets’ bench after Adam Lowry threw an elbow in retaliation for a questionable hit on Andrew Copp earlier in the period that gave the Jets’ forward a concussion.
In preseason this September, Luke Kunin caught Bryan Little with a high, away-from-the-play hit that gave the veteran forward a concussion and forced him to miss the start of the season, further fanning the flames.
The Jets are 2-0 against the Wild this season. They finally snapped their losing streak against their closest geographical opponent in their home opener and stomped them 6-0 last month in one of their best games to this point in 2019-20. In the latter game, defenceman Nathan Beaulieu fought Kunin to hold him accountable for his hit on Little.
Related: Jets Finally Win Against the Wild
The teams will face twice more this season: Saturday at Xcel Energy Center and on March 20 at Bell MTS Place.
Atmosphere Will Be Most “Wild” With Jets Involved
No matter where the Jets are playing — New York or Nashville, Vancouver or Vegas — you’ll hear “True North” ring out during the Canadian National Anthem.
Jets fans, a rabid bunch, will travel anywhere to see their boys play. Since a big part of the fun in a premiere event like a Winter or Heritage Classic is the interaction and good-natured competition between fanbases, having the Wild’s opponent be from somewhere fans can easily travel from makes sense. It’s just a seven-hour shot south down I-29 and I-94 from Winnipeg to Minneapolis.
We can see how raucous the atmosphere is when both teams’ fan bases are well-represented. More than 20,000 Nashville Predators fans made the reasonable trip from Tennessee to Dallas for Tuesday’s game: back in 2014, more than 100,000 Toronto Maple Leafs and Detroit Red Wings fans made a game at Ann Arbor’s “Big House” one to remember forever.
Unfortunately, Jets Versus Wild Might Be a Long Shot
Other Central Division teams being considered wouldn’t be as ideal: the Chicago Blackhawks and Wild have already faced in an outdoor game, the Colorado Avalanche and Wild don’t have any notable rivalry, and St. Louis is farther from Minneapolis than Winnipeg is.
However, since the Winter Classic is an American event to be aired on NBC, it’s likely the broadcasting company will want an all-U.S. matchup to draw as many eyeballs as possible to what’s become a valuable, top-tier event. Canadian teams have been part of just three of 12 Winter Classics thus far (the Maple Leafs twice and the Montreal Canadiens once.)
However, based on what Bettman said of picking a yet-to-be-determined opponent — that it will not be “a one-shot decision based on one factor” but rather one that will factor in “rivalries, who’s playing well, (and) geography,” the Jets as the Wild’s opponent makes the most sense.
Whether the Jets get to play in their third outdoor game and first against an American team will be revealed in the coming months. It will be a good event regardless of who faced the Wild — Target Field is a gem of a venue and Wild fans are some of the NHL’s best — but it’ll be a great event if the Jets share the outdoor ice with the Wild on Jan. 1, 2021.