The Winnipeg Jets are set to enter their third season in Manitoba and first in the NHL’s Western Conference. Expectations are high for the young club which is looking to make its first playoff appearance since 2007, when they were known as the Atlanta Thrashers. The Jets now play in the Central Division, along with the Chicago Blackhawks, Minnesota Wild, St. Louis Blues, Dallas Stars, Colorado Avalanche and Nashville Predators. Finishing in the top three will be tough, but Winnipeg should at least be in contention for a wild card spot come April.
With that said, there are a number of games between now and then which are significant for a few different reasons. Here are five games Jets fans should mark on their calenders.
Oct. 6, 2013: Anaheim Ducks at Winnipeg Jets
It’s only the third game of the year, but for many it’s the most anticipated of Winnipeg’s 2013-14 season.
On October 6th, 2013 Teemu Selanne will play what will likely be his final NHL game in Winnipeg. The Finnish Flash will take to the ice at the MTS Centre in front of a raucous crowd that will without a doubt, give him a lengthy and well deserved standing ovation.
Selanne is one of the most beloved Jets of all time and for good reason. Drafted 10th overall by Winnipeg in 1988, Selanne burst onto the scene in the 1992-93 season in a way no other player has before, or since. He notched 76 goals and 56 assists for 132 points. He set NHL rookie records and Jets team records for both goals and points in a single season, all of which still stand today. Selanne was awarded the Calder Trophy as NHL Rookie of the Year and was named to the First All-Star Team. He remained a fan favourite, spending parts of the next three seasons in Winnipeg, before being traded midway through the 1995-96 campaign.
His stay was short, but his impact on fans was huge. It should be an emotional evening for Selanne and the fans.
Note: The Jets do play the Ducks two more times, but both games are in California.
Oct. 10, 2013: Winnipeg Jets at Minnesota Wild
Now that they’re in the same division, fans and the media expect a rivalry to develop between the Jets and Wild in the coming years. A distance of about 750 kilometres separates Winnipeg and Saint Paul, which makes the Wild the closest franchise geographically to the Jets. Plus, Minnesota is one of the very few states that is truly obsessed with hockey. You can expect both team’s fans to travel well for their five regular season meetings, as they did during the preseason.
The Jets and Wild played a home and home series, with the Wild taking the first game 4-1 at the Excel Energy Center and the second 4-3 in a shootout, two nights later at the MTS Centre. They appear evenly matched overall, which could make for some close, hard fought battles in the regular season. And, this initial meeting in October should set the tone for the next four games. Also, Dustin Byfuglien, Mark Stuart and Blake Wheeler are all Minnesota natives, which should add a little more intensity to this particular matchup.
Nov. 2, 2013: Chicago Blackhawks at Winnipeg Jets
The defending Stanley Cup Champions will pay a visit to the MTS Centre on Saturday, November 2nd for an afternoon showdown. The game will be the first of a triple-header on CBC’s Hockey Night in Canada.
Taking on the champs at home is a special game for any team, but for fans in Winnipeg this one will be extra sweet. Hometown hero Jonathan Toews will play his first ever NHL game in Winnipeg. The 25-year-old center has done it all, winning gold at the World Juniors, World Championships and Olympics. Not to mention two Stanley Cups and a Conn Smythe Trophy. Toews has brought the cup back to Winnipeg on two occasions and should receive a similar welcome when he takes to the ice in early November.
Patrick Sharp and Duncan Keith were also born in Winnipeg, although they spent their childhoods in other Canadian cities. Keith moved to Fort Frances, Ontario at young age and then at age 14 his family moved to Penticton, British Columbia. Sharp and his family moved to Calgary when he was very young, before settling in Thunder Bay, where his parents still live today.
Jan. 25, 2014: Toronto Maple Leafs at Winnipeg Jets
The Jets are the lone Canadian squad in the Central and wont see much of the Eastern Canadian teams. The Toronto Maples Leafs will make their one and only stop in Winnipeg this season on January 25th, 2014, for a game that will be featured on Hockey Night in Canada.
The Jets and Leafs have played a number of tight, but entertaining games since the Jets moved to Winnipeg. In their only game last year the Jets won 5-4 in a shootout thriller that didn’t end until Zach Bogosian scored in the 10th round. In the 2011-12 season the teams met four times, with the Jets taking five of a possible eight points. All but one of the games was decided by a single goal.
This game will also feature a number of Olympic hopefuls, specifically from the U.S., who will be looking to make a good impression prior to the start of the Games. This includes players like Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian, Blake Wheeler, Phil Kessel and James van Riemsdyk.
April 3, 2014: Pittsburgh Penguins at Winnipeg Jets
Jumping way ahead to the Jets’ 78th game of the season where they will host Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins for the first and only time in 2013-14.
This should be an important game for both teams as the Penguins are expected to compete for the Presidents’ Trophy, while the Jets may be fighting for a playoff spot or better yet, playoff positioning. Depending on Winnipeg’s spot in the standings, the crowd at the MTS Centre could as loud as it has been at anytime all season. Also, there may be a creative chant in store for some of Pittsbugh’s stars (likely Evgeni Malkin), based on how their country performed at the Olympics.