Jets feeling the love

A Jets fan cheers on the club during a public event held in Winnipeg, Man., Oct. 6, 2011. (BROOK...

A Jets fan cheers on the club during a public event held in Winnipeg, Man., Oct. 6, 2011. (BROOK JONES/QMI Agency)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 2:50 AM ET

WINNIPEG - It’s big. Lord knows, it’s big.

But the significance of Sunday’s return of the NHL, the measure of what it actually means to this city, is probably best found in some of the little things.

Things the Jets players have noticed since they’ve settled in with us for the most anticipated winter in Winnipeg history.

Like what happened to forward Chris Thorburn on his way to the rink, Saturday morning.

“I got pulled over by a cop,” the 28-year-old from Sault Ste. Marie, Ont., began. “I wasn’t speeding. I got kind of nervous, too. I was kind of shaking.”

A fourth-liner whose nine goals last season with Atlanta was a career best, Thorburn wondered why he would attract anyone’s attention, let alone that of the police on this blustery morning.

“I have no idea,” he said. “I don’t know if he recognized my nose, or what. I had a Manitoba car. So I don’t know how he noticed it.”

Thorburn rolled down his window to nothing more than a gust of good wishes.

“Good luck, have fun with it. You guys are gonna do good. We’re cheering for ya,” is how Thorburn recalled the uniformed side of the conversation. “You can tell it’s deep in people’s hearts they’re proud the team’s back. Little stuff like that goes a long way.

“It was kind of cool. I’ve never had that happen to me before.”

He’s not the only one it’s happened to.

“I had the same thing,” fellow grinder Tanner Glass said.

A former Vancouver Canuck, Glass’s car still has B.C. plates, which means he doesn’t have one on the front.

He got pulled over, and the cop discovered he shot pucks for a living.

“We ended up shooting the breeze,” Glass said. “Spent 25 minutes chatting about the season and where I’d played in the past, the whole deal.”

Seems it’s a bit like this for family, too.

Glass’s parents, from Regina, were having trouble getting a hotel room for the weekend — until hotel staff discovered they’d reared the gritty Jet.

They not only found a room, they got a discount.

Forward Evander Kane had one of those experiences you couldn’t buy at an elementary school, Friday.

“This little girl came up to me,” Kane began. “And a few weeks back I’d done a radio interview saying my favourite drink was Barq’s root beer. And along with what she wanted me to sign, she brought me a can of Barq’s root beer.

“It was real cute, real thoughtful on her part. It just showed the kids here are just as big Jets fans as anybody. That was pretty special.”

Kane saw another side of what all this means on the face of an older gentleman who talked about a 15-year-old wrong made right again.

“He was getting a little emotional,” Kane said. “Back then when they lost the team it was an emotional time for them.”

It ripped some hearts out, actually.

But it was only a hockey team, people convinced themselves. And they moved on.

Like the confluence of the raging Assiniboine and the swollen Red this summer, those emotions have come flooding back, connecting with the sheer exuberance of the next generation to create a wave that first hit the MTS Centre for the pre-season games.

That’s where it struck Claude Noel.

“Usually I sit at the back and don’t go out for the anthem,” the Jets head coach said. “But I went out and listened to the anthem and thought, ‘It’s unbelievable.’ It’s almost like 15 years of vented, we’ll just say emotion — I don’t know if it’s anger, or whatever — but as soon as the anthem started, everybody sang. And it just gave you goose bumps. It’s like they just had to let it out. It almost brought tears to your eyes.”

Sunday, it probably will, for some.

“I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like out there,” Noel said, promising to park his game plan for a moment to soak it all in.

“I will smell the roses,” he said. “Life’s too short. I learned that a long time ago. Because when people get sick near you that you love, you learn to enjoy every minute of every day.”

When a hockey team dies, then comes back to life, there’s a lesson, too.

“It’s a bigger impact than we understand here in the room,” captain Andrew Ladd said.

Just look outside the room. There are signs of it everywhere.


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