For the first time since April 28, 1996, the Winnipeg Jets will be playing playoff hockey. Despite falling 1-0 in a shootout against the Colorado Avalanche, the Jets locked in their spot in the postseason thanks to a 3-1 Calgary Flames win over the Los Angeles Kings on Thursday night.
The win for the Flames also punched their ticket to the playoffs while eliminate the defending Stanley Cup Champions.
While this is obviously a great moment for the players, the coaches and the owners who have worked their butts off to get the Jets back to this position, it’s even more special to those with no part of the day-to-day operations of the team. It’s about you, the Winnipeg Jets fans.
What haven’t you all been put through?
First, there were crippling financial problems and the fall of the Canadian dollar in the early 1990s that led to your team being stripped away and taken to Phoenix, Arizona just when it was on the rise. Then, you had to sit at home and watch the team you loved see success that included playoff trips in five of its first six seasons in the desert. And then, it was years upon years of rumor and speculation that either Phoenix or some other NHL team was going to be relocating back to Winnipeg. It was 15 years of having your hearts pulled in every which way imaginable.
Finally, on May 31, 2011, Commissioner Gary Bettman stepped up to a podium at the MTS Center to announce that the Jets were coming back to the NHL. All of the years of hoping and dreaming that the league would, one day, return to the city were over. The Jets were back.
Unfortunately, fans continued to have their emotions toyed with during the first three seasons following the team’s return. Late season collapses, failures to make significant upgrades to the roster and poor coaching caused Winnipeg to miss the playoffs in each of those three years. It just appeared that, no matter what the team tried, they just couldn’t get over the hump. But the fans never lost hope.
Sure, you booed when things weren’t going well. I mean, what fans don’t? However, you didn’t resort to cheering for opponents, throwing jerseys on the ice in disgust or protesting for the firing of coaches and management. You believed in the team, and stood by them as the march back to prominence continued.
Fast forward to the start of the 2014 season. There was just something different about this year’s team. No matter what situation they were faced with, the Jets would take on the mindset of their head coach (Paul Maurice), and fight through the adversity at hand. They wouldn’t let small losing streaks escalate into season-breaking ones. Instead, they would dig down and find a way to come back stronger than before. It was something fans hadn’t seen out of this club since the days of yore, if ever at all.
They went through a goaltending dilemma, dealt with drama in the locker room and had to overcome some injury issues to get where they are. Still, the Jets never once got down on themselves, and the additions made by general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff only seemed to have made the bond in the locker room that much stronger. All of it has culminated in this one fantastic moment that has been in the making for 19 years.
— Kirk (@CaptainKirk5250) April 10, 2015
And you’ve been there for it all. You’ve spent your money, you’ve waited in line for hours just to get tickets to watch them play and you supported them as they got the organization back on track after the mess that was made of them down in Atlanta. You did it all with a passion that not many markets, if any at all, can come close to matching.
So go ahead, Jets fans. Run to the corner of Portage and Main, the same intersection you celebrated at when you found out the Jets were coming back to the NHL in 2011. Wear your jerseys, wave your flags and get ready because the Jets are flying into the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
It’s time to show the hockey world what being a fan in Winnipeg is all about. It’s time for a “White Out“.
Michael is a former Managing Editor for The Hockey Writers. He’s covered the Buffalo Sabres, along with the NHL in general, for various outlets since 2009. His work has been featured on outlets such as Yahoo, Sports Illustrated and Fox Sports.