One big Jets love-in

A fan waves his cap after the Jets score their first goal against the Blue Jackets at the MTS...

A fan waves his cap after the Jets score their first goal against the Blue Jackets at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man., Sep. 20, 2011. (BRIAN DONOGH/QMI Agency)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:56 AM ET

WINNIPEG - I don’t know who chose the song to end the first period of the reincarnated Winnipeg Jets preseason debut, Tuesday night, but it was fitting, given the occasion.

“I fought the law,” it went. “And the law won.”

This, on the day Jets star Dustin Byfuglien is formally charged with boating while under the influence and refusing to take a urine or blood test, among the four charges he faces after his arrest on a Minnesota lake last month.

Byfuglien’s lawyer says he’ll fight the charge, all right. Whether or not he’ll win, well, that’s another story.

Which raises a question: in a city whose team can seemingly do no wrong, how long does it take to forgive someone who apparently did?

“They already have,” one fan, 30-year-old Anthony Davey, said. “We’re Winnipeggers. We have a drink every now and then. We understand.”

Davey made his comments just before the drop of the puck.

Turned out he was right, the official confirmation coming about 10 seconds after it dropped.

That’s when Big Buff, all 266 pounds of him, give or take, ran over the unfortunate Matt Calvert of the Columbus Blue Jackets, which came about 10 seconds before he levelled the equally overmatched Tomas Kubalik, which came about 10 seconds before he sent Cody Bass to the ice with a hard, gloved left, then finished the job with his bare fists.

In the Winnipeg court of public opinion, the verdict was resounding, and Byfuglien nodded his approval as he glided to the penalty box to the first of many ovations he can expect this season.

Adults and kids alike, they love the guy, already.

“These guys are all kids, in my mind,” fan Bruce Bennett, there with his own 12-year-old, said. “It’s a tough life — I wouldn’t wish it on anybody. The spotlight, and the cash. They’re human. They’re going to make mistakes.”

Be careful about putting athletes on pedestals, is Bennett’s advice for his son.

Yet, isn’t that exactly where they are?

“Everybody’s going to overlook everything these guys do for a while,” Reid, another fan, said. “On the other hand, they will be under the microscope.”

Sure. One with bright, rosy lenses.

It’s hard to gauge exactly what the return of the Jets means to this place.

It’s not something you can measure in the decibel count of a crowd, although it was earsplitting, at times, Tuesday.

It’s impossible to weigh in dollars and cents, too, even if the one-night take from the gate was a cool $1.2 million or so, not including refreshments.

You could get a hint of it in the concourse, though, by probing the hearts and minds of a fan base that waited 15 years to see their team skate onto the ice again.

Hockey mom Cathy White, for instance, was near tears. And that was before the game.

“Because we know what it felt like to lose them,” she managed. “It’s hard to put it into words. My husband says we’re a city again.”

White was with her good friend Tiffany Sheldon, who was at the last Jets game, 15 years ago.

Sheldon took her two-year-old son to that one, just so he could experience it.

“I’ll probably cry,” she said, just before the Jets skated out to a thundering ovation.

Sheldon and White are thrilled to introduce the kids to the Jets all over again.

For some, it’s the reverse.

“My dad brought me to games as a kid,” Davey said. “I can’t wait to take him.”

For some, it’s as if we lost am important piece of ID 15 years ago, and only got it back, now.

“It never left,” Davey interjected. “But it’s legit again.”

They talked about a sense of community. About spirit. And morale.

And, yes, the economy.

“I’m just happy to be alive and living in Winnipeg,” is how Bennett summed it up.

Maybe that’s all Dustin Byfuglien and the Jets will do for this place.

And maybe that’s plenty.


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