I will never forget the day my husband came flying through our front door, looked at me and said with a giant grin on his face, “The Jets are back.” At that point, the name of the NHL team coming to Winnipeg hadn’t even been announced and rumours were running rampant that they were going to completely rebrand the team into something different that had never existed before. Names like the “Manitoba Falcons,” the “Manitoba Mosquitos” and the “Winnipeg Thrashers” were discussed among hockey fans around the Winnipeg area but everyone who grew up watching and loving the Winnipeg Jets just simply knew that’s who they were going to be.
As a child growing up in Winnipeg, my husband, like so many other Manitobans, fell in love with hockey. It was the winter pastime of so many people and they all rallied around their NHL team. When the Jets were sold in 1996 and subsequently moved to Phoenix, the city was shocked and saddened. Winnipeg fans held on to their Jets collectibles and clothing, gathered at the MTS Centre to watch the AHL’s Manitoba Moose, and picked a different NHL team to follow, but it just wasn’t the same. Having had, and lost, an NHL team was difficult for the many hockey fans in the province.
Having lived in Manitoba for a few years and seeing how ingrained in the culture of the province hockey was and still is, it was unfathomable for me to understand how Winnipeg didn’t have a team anymore. For a city that sees snow from late October until early May and rarely gets above -50 C during the coldest months, to have no permanent NHL hockey team was a shame. To my nephews, both budding hockey players themselves, the Jets were just something their parents and grandparents talked about. They simply didn’t exist anymore except in fond memories of past games and players.
There was a buzz in the air when my husband and I first traveled back to Winnipeg to visit his family after the return of the team had been announced. The local stores were inundated with Jets memorabilia from coffee cups to hats and everything in between and among the people we saw, a majority were already wearing Jets clothing. The first training camp hadn’t even started yet and already the entire province appeared to be going Jets crazy. Chief among hardcore hockey fans was snagging season tickets, which was a feat unto itself. Even though full season tickets range in price from around $6000 to around $1500, the first season of the reincarnated Winnipeg Jets sold out with 17 minutes. My brother-in-law was one of the lucky ones, splitting the cost of the two season tickets with 4 of his friends. Many others did the same in order to be able to see their team play as often as they liked. Having gone without NHL hockey for so long, Winnipeg was ready and excited to welcome the team back.
Touted as the “loudest arena in the NHL” the MTS Centre is also among the smallest, but the passion the fans have for their team is phenomenal and overwhelming. The arena is always packed to the rafters with Jets supporters (with a few supporters of the opposing team thrown in for good measure), and they wear their love of the team proudly. These are the fans that shout “True North!” during the national anthem, they are the reason it’s difficult to find a ticket to a Jets game and they are the reason the Jets will stay in Winnipeg for many years to come.
Breanne provides a light hearted look at the sport we all love at THW’s The Off Side and is an editor at SB Nation’s Arctic Ice Hockey. Follow her on twitter @bbmellen.