Biggest Jets home exhibition debut since '86

TED WYMAN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 1:06 AM ET

WINNIPEG - I went to a few Winnipeg Jets pre-season games back in their first incarnation.

The legend of Hannu Jarvenpaa was born at one of them. The Finnish forward scored four goals in a 7-4 pre-season win over the Minnesota North Stars in September of 1986 and then spent three seasons failing to live up to the ensuing expectations.

For the most part though, even people with season tickets didn’t have much interest in going to exhibition games back in the day.

Tuesday night was different of course. It was, no doubt, the most anticipated NHL exhibition game in years.

First chance to see the new players in the new uniforms with the new logo. First chance to truly unleash the Go Jets Go chant that has been pent up for so many years.

And the Jets didn’t disappoint, beating the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-1 on a magical night at MTS Centre.

They played hard throughout and raised their sticks to the roaring fans at the end of the game.

You could tell something special was happening whenstar defenceman Dustin Byfuglien, who is making more news off the ice than on lately, flattened two players in the first 20 seconds and then got in a scrap and finished the first period with two assists.

Within eight minutes, the fans got a chance to cheer, slap each other on the back, and yell “Who??” over the din at MTS Centre, when defenceman Paul Postma scored the first goal.

Come to think of it, that’s what people said about Hannu Jarvenpaa too.

And wouldn’t you know it, Postma finished with four points on the night.

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Mark Scheifele scored the second goal for the Jets, set up Winnipegger Kevin Clark beautifully for the third goal, set up Ivan Telegin for the fourth goal and scored the fifth goal. Scheifele has done nothing but impress so far through rookie camp, three days of main camp and the first exhibition game. Scheifele now has a good chance to keep the streak alive and become the fourth straight first-rounder in the organization (the others were Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian and Alex Burmistrov) to jump directly to the NHL ... The Jets won the total-goal race in the split-squad games with Columbus 7-6 ... It had to be done, but the touching tribute to the many pro hockey players who lost their lives this summer seemed ill-timed with Jets fans in a virtual delirium before the anthems ... Tough start for Jets captain Andrew Ladd, who told the TSN audience he threw a puck in the crowd before the game and hit a fan in the head ... Just before game time came news from the Jets that the game was not sold out yet. We presume this was because the team only offered individual tickets for the exhibition games to people on the waiting list for season tickets. After those were picked clean there were a few single seats left and those were going for $176.

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Byfuglien is the Jets highest-paid player and though he hadn’t even played a game with the team until Tuesday night, he’s already proving to be a headache for management.

The hulking defenceman with the soft hands, who led all NHL blue-liners in goals last season, is in more trouble with the law south of the border than originally thought and now faces four charges for driving a boat while under the influence. Under the influence of what, we do not know.

The news came on the very day the Jets were preparing to play their first exhibition game — with Big Buff in the lineup — but instead of focusing on what his team was about to do on the ice, GM Kevin Cheveldayoff was forced to prepare a statement for the second time in a month about his star defenceman’s off-ice activities.

The Jets can only hope Byfuglien’s legal troubles don’t affect his play, because they need his production.

It’s been a very rocky start to Byfuglien’s time in Winnipeg but fortunately for him, this city that is getting its NHL team back after 15 years is in a forgiving mood.

Second chances are our specialty.

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NHL.com writers Dan Rosen and E.J. Hradek picked the Jets as a darkhorse team heading into the season. Of course they also picked the Toronto Maple Leafs to make the playoffs, so take that for what it’s worth ... The Jets are big news and not just in Winnipeg. Among those covering training camp this weekend were a writer from the Globe and Mail, stationed in the city for a month to capture the essence of the return of the Jets, a writer from MacLean’s magazine and a writer from Helsinki. This is a feel-good story after a summer of devastation for the sport, and people around the hockey world want to hear about it ... Cheveldayoff was in Columbus for the road portion of Tuesday’s split-squad games. Jets owner Mark Chipman was also expected to miss the first home pre-season game because of an NHL board of governors meeting in New York. Cheveldayoff pointed out that one person who has paid a lot of dues in Winnipeg before landing a plum job with the NHL team was at MTS Centre for the game. “We’ll leave that one for ’Zinger,” Cheveldayoff said, referring to Jets assistant GM Craig Heisinger. “He’s been here the longest.” ... NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said the board of governors had a lengthy discussion about re-alignment on Tuesday. There were some reports the league is discussing an all-Canadian division, which would be great. Imagine five games a year against Montreal, Toronto, Ottawa,Edmonton, Calgary, Vancouver and Quebec? Works for me ... The police report suggests Byfuglien was arrested because of watery eyes and a brown stain on his tongue. Evidence of drug use or was he just drinking a really hot coffee?


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