Jim Neveau, NHL Correspondent
It was a day of mixed emotions for the hockey world on Sunday as hockey returned to the city of Winnipeg for the first time since 1996. The Winnipeg Jets took to the ice in their newest incarnation, and even though there was plenty of excitement in the MTS Centre, it wasn’t enough to spur them forward, and they fell to the Montreal Canadiens 5-1. Nik Antropov scored the only goal for the Jets, and the festive atmosphere concluded with the fans giving the team a standing ovation for the last minute of the contest, a classy gesture by the fans in recognition of the sport’s return to their city.
That reaction of utter jubilation was in stark contrast to the mood of fans in Atlanta, who had to watch their team be taken away from them during the summer after years of inept ownership, and they had to deal with the barbs of fans league-wide who accused them of failing to support their team. It has been a summer of sadness for those fans, and the commentary by CBC on Sunday’s game did nothing to make them feel any better.
In the third period of the game, as things were starting to get out of hand on the scoreboard, the commentators started a series of digs against the fans of Atlanta. After the Winnipeg fans began to boo after a penalty against Dustin Byfuglien (which was a very wrong call of interference after Brian Gionta tried to hit Big Buff, but it was Dustin who was whistled for the interference call), the talking heads went to work.
“Know how we know we’re in Winnipeg? They recognize what should be a penalty, and know Carey Price’s first name. Not in Atlanta.”
Obviously, fans in Winnipeg are very respectable hockey fans, and they showed a great deal of enthusiasm for their team tonight in their first game back. While that’s all well and good, there are several things wrong with that statement. The insinuation by the announcers that only “smart” fans would know to boo a bad penalty is an incredible insult against the Atlanta fans (and all Sun Belt fans, for that matter) that know the game and would have booed heartily on that same play if it had happened in their arena. Whether in Raleigh, Tampa Bay, or Sunrise, fans of the game inherently know when their team has been screwed (or has allegedly been screwed), and they would let the officials know.
As for the insult about not knowing opposing players, that is even more damnable. Again, there are plenty of smart hockey fans in that region of the United States, and the notion that those fans are somehow intellectually inferior to fans north of the border is not only wrong but very unbecoming of what is supposed to be a professional broadcasting organization.
For one final note, CBC’s decision to gleefully dance on the grave of Atlanta fans surely cannot sit well with fans in that market, or in other areas such as Phoenix and Long Island where relocation continues to be a concern. Back in 1996, Jets fans were up in arms about Phoenix fans who were celebrating the relocation of the team to their area, but that history seemingly didn’t faze them one bit as they delighted in the suffering of Atlanta fans.
When you factor in the above comment, as well as later comments about fans holding the players “accountable” for their play, you get the sense that there is a deep reservoir of pro-Canadian jingoism that runs through the CBC, and it doesn’t start and stop with Don Cherry (who also claimed that Chris Mason should have been brought into the game if the Jets wanted to win).
Aside from the idiotic statements on the CBC broadcast, there were plenty of other things to learn from this game as well. The Canadiens, impressive as their victory was, are now going to be hobbled with injuries for the time being. Both Jaroslav Spacek and Michael Cammalleri (who scored the first NHL goal in MTS Centre history) left the game with injuries, with Spacek suffering an injury after a hit by Evander Kane and Cammalleri getting cut with a skate blade. Both will likely be out for the foreseeable future, and so the depth of this squad will continue to be sorely tested here in the early going.
On a related note, Cammalleri was bleeding from his leg when he skated back to the bench, and he had to wait for a stoppage in play before he could go through the doors to the Canadiens’ dressing room, which was at the end of the ice. The notion that there are still arenas in the league where that is the case is laughable, and in a situation like that where Cammalleri was bleeding badly, there has to be a better way to configure arenas. Obviously it would be difficult to reconstruct buildings like the MTS Centre, but if that’s the case, then the officials need to be a lot more cognizant of events on the ice, and need to blow the whistles more quickly when player health is at stake.
On one final note, it is still very awkward to listen to announcers talking about things like the “first Jets goal scored in Winnipeg since 1996.” The reality of the matter is that the original Jets are still in Phoenix, and their history did not get left behind in Manitoba in a way similar to the Cleveland Browns’ colors and logo being left in that city, or the same for the Seattle Supersonics of the NBA. The new incarnation of the Jets wanted to start a new identity and declined to take that history into their record books, so both the announcers and the franchise need to be careful about not only equating their team with the one in the desert, but also seemingly ignoring the team’s 10 seasons in Atlanta.
Outside of these issues, it was also a largely revealing game for what the Jets will be expecting to encounter for much of the season. They were an abysmal 0-for-7 on the power play, and they are going to need to get guys like Tobias Enstrom more active on the offense if they are going to want to be successful. He played over 25 minutes (including 7:38 of power play time), and he did not manage to get a single shot on net.
Outside of Enstrom, the Jets also need to get Kane more active in their game plan. The talented winger only ended up playing 10:34, and even in that limited amount of time he still managed four shots and dished out four hits. If the Jets’ offense continues to struggle, then look for him to get more time on the ice, and rightfully so.
The Jets will have plenty of issues to address in the coming days and weeks in regards to their play on both ends of the ice, but one thing is for certain: they are in front of a fan base that hasn’t been jaded by years of poor ownership and dumb personnel decisions, and the coming grace period is going to give them ample opportunity to blossom.
Hockey is back in Winnipeg, and it isn’t going anywhere, so enjoy your team Jets fans, struggles and all.
James started out for The Hockey Writers covering the Atlanta Thrashers in 2009, and has also covered the Chicago Blackhawks, served as NHL Correspondent, and is now a Managing Editor and the site’s NHL Central Blogger. He also writes for The Golf Writers.