Jets return a reason to roar

Jets fans celebrate forward Nik Antropov's goal against the Canadiens during at the MTS Centre in...

Jets fans celebrate forward Nik Antropov's goal against the Canadiens during at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg, Man., Oct. 9, 2011. (TODD KOROL/Reuters)

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 12:44 AM ET

WINNIPEG - It was Thanksgiving, a homecoming and a pilgrimage, all wrapped in a hockey game.

Winnipeggers from all over North America gathered to welcome home an old friend, Sunday, painting their faces, yelling their lungs out and generally letting the world know their hometown was back in hockey’s big leagues.

They wore blue capes and white suits, retro sweaters with the names Hedberg and Hawerchuk on the back, newly minted $300 ones with nods to modern-day heroes like Byfuglien and Ladd.

There was at least one tuxedo in the crowd, too, a tip of the cap to an old tradition born the first time the Montreal Canadiens skated on River City ice, decades ago.

And for an event that seemed to attract the who’s-who of the political, sports and business crowd, it’s only fitting we got an appearance by the Queen.

The giant portrait that used to grace the old Winnipeg Arena may have been mothballed long ago, but somebody brought a more fan-friendly version, displaying it high up in Section 328, near the Canadian flag, during the anthem.

Right next to a sign that read “God Save Our Jets.”

On this Thanksgiving Sunday, He couldn’t.

The home team’s horn-of-plenty was full of all kinds of pomp and ceremony, but not nearly enough goals. Or saves, for that matter.

And as the Jets tried to digest a 5-1 loss, they gave the distinct impression they’d let the people down after a week-long — make that months-long — celebration of expectation.

“It was totally special, (from) an historic point of view,” winger Chris Thorburn said.

“It was just unfortunate we couldn’t match the fans’ enthusiasm on the ice. They’ve been ready the whole summer. To come out and lose 5-1, there’s nothing to be proud of.”

The one thing head coach Claude Noel feared most — the enormity of the moment overwhelming his young team — seemed to happen, as the Jets went the first 14 minutes with just a single shot on goal.

“In games like this where there’s lots of excitement, you’re trying to do too much,” captain Andrew Ladd offered. “And sometimes less is more.”

They weren’t exactly hitting every Hab in sight, either, which would have been a surefire way to not only send the crowd over the edge, but maybe take the edge off the bundled up home side, too.

“I don’t know if it was nerves, or what,” Thorburn said. “We can’t really use that as an excuse. We came prepared for everything that was going to go on. Usually we feed off that. We did in the exhibition game.”

The stakes, though, were higher this time.

Not to mention the level of competition.

When the Jets did mount something, Habs goalie Carey Price was the nonchalant star, smothering any thoughts of a storybook comeback with his catching glove.

As many right notes as the Winnipeg Symphony Orchestra members hit during the playing of O Canada, Jim Cuddy and Chantal Kreviazuk providing the vocals, the Jets were out of tune.

Maybe this was inevitable, after a nine-day wait that seemed interminable.

If you’re looking for small victories, the Jets did score one.

A full 31 years after they first took flight, this franchise finally became the unchallenged hometown favourite in these parts.

It used to be Habs jerseys nearly outnumbered Jets sweaters for these encounters, and when somebody scored you couldn’t tell what rink you were in.

But the standing ovation in the final minute wasn’t for Les Glorieux, this time.

“I thought I was playing in Montreal or something,” Thorburn said.

No, this was Winnipeg.

A city that wasn’t going to let a little detail like the score get in the way of its date with destiny.


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