All-Canadian clashes involving the WInnipeg Jets have become marquee matchups once again.
Unlike last season, where a schedule comprised of entirely Canadian opponents became old-hat by April with no fans in the stands, Jets’ games against fellow teams of the Great White North have been electrifying and exciting.
Jets Versus Leafs Puts Exclamation Point on a Winning Day in Winnipeg
The Jets’ most recent game, a Sunday-night clash against Auston Matthews and the formidable Toronto Maple Leafs, had everything a hockey fan could possibly ask for.
It had pomp and circumstance, with a pre-game ceremony commemorating Blake Wheeler’s 1000th-career NHL game and a video tribute that got big cheers when Andrew Ladd, Dustin Byfuglien, and Bryan Little appeared to congratulate the captain.
It had goals aplenty, with a suddenly dizzying Jets’ offence putting a half-dozen — including three on the man advantage — past backup Joseph Woll. And it had the bad blood on display many thought would develop between teams in last season’s temporary North Division but largely did not.
Pierre-Luc Dubois and Auston Matthews wrestled behind the play. Brenden Dillon and Kyle Clifford dropped the gloves in a spirited bout. Leafs veteran Wayne Simmonds lost his mind midway through the third after Neal Pionk kneed Rasmus Sandin, taking swings at anyone within arms’ reach; he literally had to be stuffed into the penalty box by officials to serve a minor and 10-minute misconduct.
Making the game all the better was the rowdy atmosphere. There were plenty of Maple Leafs jerseys dotted through Canada Life Centre (there were a couple of “Go Jets Go” / “Go Leafs Go” chant duels), and there were many Winnipeg Blue Bombers jerseys as well.
Many die-hard Blue and Gold supporters came directly from IG Field, where they watched their Canadian Football League team defeat arch-rival Saskatchewan Roughriders 21-17 in the West Final to advance to the Grey Cup. They were well-lubricated and arrived downtown a celebratory mood, a mood that was only heightened as the winning continued. Logan Stanley whipped them into a frenzy in the final minute after scrumming with a still-cantankerous Simmonds, who took a cheap shot at Josh Morrissey.
“Today was just a good hockey game, right? It had a little bit of everything in it. There was some energy and emotion, as there should be,” head coach Paul Maurice said. “Toronto for sure would be a rivalry as we played them 10 times last year… this game had some leftover from games past. It got a little heated out there, but that’s good.”
Home-and-Home with Oilers Kicked off Canadian Slate In Style
The Jets’ first one-anthem game of the campaign was on Nov. 16 — after 14 straight games against American opponents — when they welcomed the Edmonton Oilers to town for the first half of a home-and-home. The Jets bested McDavid and company 5-2 in dominant team effort, getting goals from five different players and capping off a very successful seven-game home stand with a 5-1-1 record.
Two nights later in Edmonton, Connor Hellebuyck and Oilers’ backup Stuart Skinner engaged in a goalie duel, with each netminder turning away all attempts through 50-odd minutes.
The author — who traveled to Edmonton to see the Jets in “enemy” territory — and everyone else at Rogers Place got good bang for their buck as Nikolaj Ehlers’ goal at 13:57 of the third period was erased 28 seconds by a sparkling solo effort by McDavid.
The Jets had a glorious opportunity to beat the Oilers for the sixth straight time — dating back to the improbable sweep in Round 1 of last year’s playoffs — as they received a four-minute power play that extended into overtime, but couldn’t best Skinner.
The game went to a shootout and Kyle Turris scored in the third round to win the highly-entertaining game for the home side.
Comeback in Calgary Helped Jets Rebound After Black Friday Blowout
After the overtime loss to the Oilers, the Jets’ powerful offence experienced an extended outage. That loss was the first of five straight they suffered, while scoring only five combined goals. They rolled into Calgary for the Saturday-night tilt at Scotiabank Saddledome just a day after being thoroughly embarrassed by the Minnesota Wild in a 7-1 Black Friday loss.
The proceedings started off poorly as the Flames jumped out to a 2-0 lead before the game was eight minutes old. A sixth-straight loss seemed inevitable but the Jets dug deep and tied the game thanks to goals by Kyle Connor and Paul Stastny.
The Jets rope-a-doped their way through most of the third, but with 4:51 left, Connor took a pass from Wheeler and wired a picture-perfect shot past Jacob Markstrom’s glove to give his team a 3-2 advantage.
Andrew Copp scored an empty-netter with a minute left to ice the game and stop the losing streak.
“It could have been easy to sit back, say, ‘Oh, it’s not our night again,'” Connor said post game. “Back-to-back, everything stacked up against us. That’s a great team, defensively, and they were running some pretty good streaks there. Our leadership, we stayed positive throughout this whole stretch, focused on the next shift and that’s a big win coming back from 2-0.” (from “Jets grab 4-2 victory over Calgary Flames,” Winnipeg Free Press, Nov. 27, 2021.)
More Canadian Content on Tap Soon
This campaign features Canadian clashes in a balanced way. There are never too many in quick succession, but there is always one not too far off the horizon.
After wrapping up their four-game homestand against the Carolina Hurricanes on Tuesday and facing the Seattle Kraken for the first time ever on Thursday, the Jets will face the Vancouver Canucks — who on Sunday blew up their coaching staff and front office, firing head coach Travis Green, assistant coach Nolan Baumgartner, GM Jim Benning, and assistant GM John Weisbrod — on Friday at Rogers Arena.
They’ll also see the Flames again on New Years’ Eve, once again at Scotiabank Saddledome. They’ll host a trio in January: the Senators on Jan. 15, the Oilers the following day, and the Canucks on Jan. 27.
Then, they’ll have to wait all the way until March 1 — after the break for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing — to finally play the Montreal Canadiens.
Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.