SUN Hockey Pool

Winnipeg's whiteout unmatched

ADAM WAZNY -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

The Winnipeg Arena will close its doors for good next month. Until then The Sun will bring you the stories that made the Old Barn memorable. From the original construction to the final buzzer, we'll take you through the history of a building that was never spectacular but always colourful as a sports venue.

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For the Winnipeg Jets of the NHL, the playoffs meant one thing: Whiteness.

From 1985-96, Canadian teams in the National Hockey League employed different rituals when appearing in the Stanley Cup playoffs.

Montreal had tradition, while Quebec suffered through inferiority. With backing from the national television network, Toronto always had hope and for Ottawa, the post-season was still a dream.

Out West, Vancouver waved towels, Calgary swam the red sea and all Edmonton seemed to do was hold parades in May.

We had the whiteout.

In 1985, the Winnipeg Jets were heading into the playoffs against the Calgary Flames when the team -- a club that brought you "Lightning on Ice" and "Vitamin J" -- successfully recycled an old idea.

Let's have all our ticket holders wearing the same thing.

The Nordiques (white) and Flames (red) tried similar campaigns before the Jets, but neither could match up to what Winnipeg Arena had to offer.

Everybody have fun tonight. Everybody wear white tonight.

People painted their bodies white, some had on white helmets, others pulled the sheets off their beds and fashioned either a toga or a ghost costume. White pom-poms and white painter hats were handed out as people entered the Arena.

Those who arrived in anything other than white looked ridiculous next to guys dressed in wedding gowns.

It was so much fun.

More to the point, it was deafening.

In fact, there might not even be a word in the English language to describe the amount of white noise generated from the throats of Friendly Manitobans.

The cheers were felt all across Canada.

"I have never heard a crowd -- ever -- like I heard in Winnipeg," Don Cherry once told his Coach's Corner audience, and the man with the big white collars was right.

It was almost too loud for some.

"Like going to bed after seeing an Iron Maiden concert at the Arena," Kevin Olszewski said. "Your ears would still be ringing after a (Jets playoff) game."

NOT EVEN CLOSE

A former Winnipegger who now works as a television sports director in Red Deer, Alta., Olszewski uses some recent history to illustrate the decibel level on Maroons Road.

He attended the games when the Flames faced the Tampa Bay Lightning in the final this past spring and the volume of the crowd rekindled memories of not being able to hear anything in the Arena.

"It was loud, but there's no way it was as consistent as a whiteout," he said. "The Saddledome is bigger, but we made more noise.

"It wasn't even close."


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