SUN Hockey Pool

Hockey showdown

Edmonton Oilers' Jarret Stoll. (SUN/Darryl Dyck)

Edmonton Oilers' Jarret Stoll. (SUN/Darryl Dyck)

CHRIS KITCHING -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 12:21 PM ET

Tonight's NHL showdown at MTS Centre evokes an even greater question than whether the league can make a permanent return to Winnipeg.

Fans have to decide who to cheer for in a pre-season battle that pits the Jets incarnation against the former team's bitter rival until the end.

But if we know Winnipeggers -- and if sales at River City Sports are any indication -- home is where their hearts are and most of them aren't rooting for the visiting Phoenix Coyotes or Edmonton Oilers.

"Everybody loves the Jets," said Jason MacGregor, sales manager at River City Sports' Henderson Highway store. "We've been selling predominantly Jets stuff, followed by Oilers and then Coyotes. We figured that would happen."

Edmonton GM Kevin Lowe stayed neutral when he offered his prediction about the crowd's bias.

PART OF RIVALRY

"Jets fans were never big fans of the Oilers," said Lowe, who was part of the rivalry when he was an Edmonton defenceman. "I think they'll be just happy about hockey (tonight)."

Coyotes captain Shane Doan, the only Phoenix player who was with the organization when it was in Winnipeg, is expected to be in the lineup, along with teammates Jeremy Roenick, Owen Nolan and Ed Jovanovski.

Jason Smith, Raffi Torres and Jarrett Stoll are some of the few veterans listed on the Oilers' preliminary lineup.

Adding to the excitement surrounding the exhibition game is the presence of Coyotes head coach Wayne Gretzky, who was a thorn in the side of Jets fans during the 1980s when he was part of a dominant Oilers squad.

Both teams arrived at Winnipeg International Airport last night, going directly to the Fairmont Hotel. Doan and Coyotes enforcer Georges Laraque stopped to sign memorabilia for a few fans outside the downtown hotel.

Autograph seekers were disappointed when security kept them at bay as Gretzky walked into the hotel.

Chants of "go Jets, go" haven't dwindled since the team's departure, so when is the first chorus going to break out on this nostalgic evening?

"When they skate out for the warm-up before the game it's going happen," said Jon Dahl, offering his prediction over a pint at Hooters Restaurant.

The chant would have been accompanied with a large roar had someone not scrapped a plan to have the Coyotes players wear Jets jerseys.

"They're playing an exhibition game here for show, so why not wear Jets jerseys?" Jeff Machnicki said. "It would make the home crowd happy."

Before the game, Darren Ford and 22 others will be handing out 15,000 fliers to ticket holders. Printed on them are positive comments about Winnipeg's potential as an NHL marketplace and an estimate of how much tickets to a regular season game would cost


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