Welcome back, Winnipeg
Jets lose, but city feels victorious
KIRK PENTON, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - There were plenty of tears in 1996 when the Winnipeg Jets left town.
There were even more on Sunday when they returned. These ones, however, were tears of joy.
The city of Winnipeg and the province of Manitoba welcomed the Jets back to the NHL with a public party at the Forks downtown and a deafening crowd at the MTS Centre that probably didn't care too much that the Montreal Canadiens beat their squad 5-1 in the club's home- and season-opener.
OK, they probably did care, but in the bigger picture it will go down as a victory simply because they're back. The crowd stood and cheered for the entire final minute of the game.
"It's civic pride," season-ticket holder Mark Werner said prior to the game at the Forks, where thousands of fans later watched the contest on a big screen.
Werener and friend Doug Saunders were 18 years old when when the Jets left for Phoenix.
"I remember crying at the farewell more than I've cried at any funeral," Werner said.
Saunders was expecting to get emotional when the Jets first hit the ice.
"I fully expect the tears to come back today, that's for sure," Saunders said. "I was crying watching that Fuelled by Passion (documentary) on CBC. My wife, too, and she's not even a Jets fan."
The MTS Centre crowd, which included Prime Minister Stephen Harper and NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, chanted "Go Jets Go!" throughout the first period, but they were the loudest during the pre-game introductions and just as the puck dropped to officially mark the beloved team's return.
Once the game began, however, the Habs spoiled the party. Mike Cammalleri, who left the game late in the first with a lower-body injury, picked off a Johnny Oduya pass at the blue-line, and roofed a shot over Ondrej Pavelec's shoulder just 3:05 into the game.
The Jets had an 8-7 shot advantage in the first and took a two-man advantage into the second, but Montreal netminder Carey Price, who made 30 saves, was up to the task. Oduya got burned again when Thomas Plekanec beat the defenceman and then put a shot over Pavelec's right shoulder to make it 2-0 with 5:43 to go in the middle frame.
Winnipeg got its first goal early in the third when Nik Antropov banged home a rebound on a delayed Montreal penalty, but Yannik Weber restored the visiting team's two-goal lead when he beat Pavelec with a one-timer on a 4-on-3 power play.
Travis Moen and Max Pacioretty added the insurance tallies for the Habs, who improved to 1-1.
The Habs also lost defenceman Jaroslav Spacek to an upper-body injury in the first period.
Pavelec made 17 stops in all.
The final score would have made Winnipegger Bill Perdonic happy. He showed up at the Forks a few hours before the game wearing a Saku Koivu Habs jersey and a Winnipeg Jets hat. He's been a Montreal fan since he was five years old.
"I've always been one and I always will be one, but now that the Jets are back I'll support them also," Perdonic said. "I'll be cheering for every goal that's scored today."