Still shut out from Bell MTS Place for the foreseeable future, Winnipeg Jets fans have found unique ways to show support to their squad.
Jets Fans Took to Streets in a New Way
Unlike in U.S. markets, Canadian NHL venues have not welcomed fans back into the stands. In Manitoba, the COVID-19 situation is dire as the province is one of North America’s biggest hotspots. ICUs are over capacity and hospitals are having to transfer patients to other provinces for care.
The focus is solely on bending the curve, meaning downtown barn and the streets around it remain empty. Raucous Whiteout Street Parties are out of the question: gathering with even one person outside of your household — let alone 30,000 of them — is currently prohibited, even in a public space. But Jets fans have still taken to the streets — in their cars, on their motorcycles, and on their bikes.
Prior to and after Games 3 and 4 — both triumphant overtime wins that completed an unlikely sweep of the heavily favoured Edmonton Oilers — they decked out their vehicles and formed an ad-hoc parade, doing laps around the arena, honking, waving flags, and chanting “Go Jets Go” out of their windows. Mick E. Moose, Dancing Gabe, and even Jets 1.0 mascot Benny were all in attendance.
A jacked-up blue Chevy Vega was the flashiest of all, decked out with countless flags and a Stanley Cup perched on the roof.
It wasn’t nearly the same, The Winnipeg Sun’s Scott Billeck wrote, but it provided some reprieve from the doom and gloom of Manitoba’s awful third wave.
“It was heartwarming, happy and hopeful,” he wrote. “And in a season where there hasn’t been much to smile about, there were quite of few grins on the faces of those who drove by.”From ‘Jets fans show support in a very pandemic way,’ Winnipeg Sun, May 24, 2021.
Fans also took to Twitter and social media more than ever to get some of the chatter going that would usually be going on between seat mates, around beers at bars, and at house parties. Seeing positives posts and pictures of fans enjoying themselves at home was a nice change from the negativity that pervades many online communities, especially in Manitoba given the current situation.
Jets Players Miss the Fans
The True North organization did what they could to white out the building, draping towels over every seat. But the place just wasn’t the same without butts in them, many Jets players have said in recent days.
Centre Mark Scheifele appreciated the effort, but said prior to Game 3: “We wish there were fans in the stands wearing their jerseys, and creating that whiteout. The atmosphere isn’t really going to change. It’s not like there is going to be extra noise because there are a bunch of white towels.”
Indeed, despite ratcheting up the piped-in crowd noise, the lack of fans was the missing ingredient in Games 3 and 4. The place would have been buzzing from the get-go, and might have been literally shaking when the Jets came roaring back from a 4-1 third-period deficit to tie Game 3 and when Nikolaj Ehlers went top shelf in overtime.
“Honestly, I wish there were fans in this building,” Mathieu Perreault said after Game 3. “For a game like this, this would have been absolutely insane. I can’t even imagine, if this building was full, how crazy that would have been. In a game like this tonight when you’re down by three goals and you come back to win in overtime, the roof would have come off this building, it would have been absolutely insane.”From ‘Epic victory was missing fans,’ Winnipeg Free Press, May 24, 2021.
“It’s too damn bad our fans weren’t in the building, ’cause that would have been something,’ captain Blake Wheeler agreed.
When Kyle Connor closed the book on the Oilers’ season with a triple-OT Game 4 winner, the bench went insane and you could bet the fans would have as well; the decibel level might have reached an all-time high.
Jets Players Feeling Tinge of Jealously
Paul Maurice commented prior to Game 3 that he was jealous of the U.S. teams having fans, and the sentiment is certainly shared by at least some of Maurice’s players. At Wednesday’s media availability, Dylan DeMelo and Josh Morrissey weighed in.
“It definitely sucks without any fans in the regular and it sucks even more without them here in the playoffs,” DeMelo said, assuring fans he could hear them honking their horns during his off-ice warmup.
“It is hard to see, especially watching the other teams play, especially in the U.S., they’ve basically got full barns or at least lots of fans — those games area lot more funs than games without any fans in the building,” he continued. “We’d love to have them here, it’s not our call, and hopefully we can go long enough here that we can get him in.”
While Morrissey would love to see fans back as well, he said the team is used to playing in an empty building by now and is good at focusing on the task at hand rather than things out of their control.
He said he appreciates and feels the physically-distant fan support.
“I’m really feeling the energy of the fans in Manitoba here even without them being in the building…” the defender said. “The honking, the people driving around downtown — I’m sure the residents of downtown didn’t really love it considering it was 2:30, 3:00 in the morning… that makes it pretty special, driving home after the game and seeing some of the streets lined up with cars and people waiting to wave at us and celebrate in the best way you can at this point in time.”
Jets Want Fans to Shut Out COVID
There’s a giant ad on the tarp behind the net that says “Miss These Seats? Get Vaccinated.”
Manitobans are doing just that. As of Wednesday, more than 761,000 doses have been administered throughout the province, according to the government’s COVID-19 Dashboard. This author has his first shot booked for this Sunday afternoon.
The vaccine is the only game in town to getting back to the things we love, attending hockey games among them. Vaccines work, and that’s obvious from looking at NHL games south of the border that look downright normal.
Jealous? Do your part and get the jab so you can get back to Bell MTS Place and the Whiteout parties in the seasons to come.
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.