WINNIPEG - Game on.
After several months — some might even argue 15 years — of build-up leading up to the monumental moment, the Winnipeg Jets are ready to take centre stage.
As the Montreal Canadiens come to town on Sunday for the first NHL regular season game since the Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes, the entire hockey world will be watching the launch of the franchise.
And that suits these Jets just fine.
“It’s going to be a historic game and it’s going to be fun to be part of,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. “This was the date everyone marked on their calendar when they made the (relocation) announcement. We’ve been thinking about it the whole summer, ever since we moved, that this game was going to be pretty epic and trying to imagine what it’s going to be like, with the energy in this building. I still don’t think we know it’s going to be like. To be there and to feel it is going to be great. We have to use the energy in this building the right way.”
“It’s going to be big for me, just to be part of it,” added Jets goalie Ondrej Pavelec. “People have been waiting for this moment for 15 years and I could feel that the first day I got here. Everybody’s talking about it and for fans, it’s going to be a big night. For me, I try to just focus on my play and try to stay away from it, but of course, I’m going to feel it.
“It’s going to be huge and the people are going to go crazy. That’s what we want and that’s why you play hockey.”
Having the Canadiens in town to mark the beginning of the new era seems fitting as well.
“When I got drafted by Boston, I felt lucky to be drafted by an Original Six team and I think it’s an important thing,” said Jets defenceman Mark Stuart. “Guys hold pride in that and for this game, it couldn’t be any better. It’s an Original Six team and a Canadian team. It’s perfect.
“We won’t be dwelling on it (Sunday), but you realize that you’re part of something really special and you know how much people care about it around here. It’s pretty cool.”
Jets centre Jim Slater is the longest-serving member of the Atlanta Thrashers franchise and he’s fully aware of the significance of the moment.
“This is definitely going to be a memorable night for many people — it’s going to be fantastic,” said Slater. “We’re ready to start another season and we want to make this city proud of who we are and how we play hockey.
“It’s been great so far and it’s been wonderful being part of this organization. To say you played for the Winnipeg Jets on opening night in their first season (back), there are only 23 people who can say that.”
Sunday’s game also marks the first chance for the Jets to work on establishing a winning culture.
“When I was in Boston, we built that up over a couple years, having that attitude of being a winning team,” said Stuart. “It is an attitude, a mindset. But I think we’re on the right track and once you get that, it’s contagious. It gets around the room. Guys hate to lose and it doesn’t feel right when you lose. You’re not going to accept it.
“When you win, you’re going to be happy but it’s just going to be part of the process.”