Fans pack Iceplex for Jets
TED WYMAN, QMI Agency
|Jets fans watch the team practice at the MTS Iceplex in Winnipeg, Man., Sep. 17, 2011.
WINNIPEG - It started at 5 a.m., when the first fan showed up to get a good seat.
By 8:45 a.m., you could tell something special was in the air.
The parking lot was full and so were the stands. Fans lined the walkway from dressing room to the ice surface. Some 1,500 people in the building were tingling with anticipation, waiting for their first glimpse.
Shortly after 9 a.m., they erupted, as Nik Antropov stepped out on the ice, leading a column of Winnipeg Jets for the first practice of their first NHL training camp at the MTS IcePlex.
Before it was over they were cheering the drills, giving loud ovations for slick passes, corner-destined shots and nifty dekes and as the players prepared to leave the ice, up went the Go Jets Go chant that so many fans in this city have been dying to utter since the original Jets franchise packed up and moved to Phoenix in 1996.
"When they are screaming 'Go Jets Go' it kinda gives you goosebumps," Jets defenceman Zach Bogosian said.
"Obviously we're not used to practising in front a crowd like that but it's great. The fans are excited, we're excited and you know, it's a good day today in Winnipeg."
There have been a lot of good days in Winnipeg lately, oh say, since about May 31, when Mark Chipman announced he was buying the Atlanta Thrashers and bringing the NHL home.
This is a city on a high and fans are eager to share that euphoria with their new hockey heroes.
To be fair, not everyone in the IcePlex was there specifically for the Jets. The three hockey rinks not in use by the NHL team were also teeming with youth hockey players, taking part in camps and tryouts as they too prepare for the coming season.
But make no mistake, for many of the fans in attendance, this was about making a first impression on players who are moving from a big American city in the hot south, to the smallest, coldest-weather market in the NHL.
“We just really wanted to welcome the team and show them how much it means to us that they are back,” said Marla Davis, who had two small children in tow.
Mission accomplished, Marla. Perhaps you even overachieved.
“It was nothing that I’ve ever experienced before in my pro days,” said Jets forward Chris Thorburn, who played four seasons with the Thrashers. “To come here and get this kind of reception says a lot about the city and the organization as a whole. It definitely made myself and a few of us nervous. Just to be able to perform in front of this kind of crowd is humbling and hopefully we can put a great product on the ice this year that they can be proud of.”
Saturday was the only chance the fans had to welcome the Jets, at least until Tuesday’s first exhibition game. The rest of the practices on Sunday and Monday will be at MTS Centre and they are closed to the public.
However, on Tuesday, when half of the team goes to Columbus and the other half stays here to host the Blue Jackets, the Jets and their fans are sure to generate another of those memorable moments. It would not be a stretch to suggest the first exhibition game will sound and feel more like a playoff game.
“I didn’t expect it to be that crazy,” Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec said after practice Saturday. “It was great to come on the ice the first time and see those people and they cheer for you and we can feel the energy from them.”
Well Mr. Pavelec, to quote a line from one of Winnipeg’s more famous citizens, the great Randy Bachman:
“You ain’t seen nothin’ yet.”