December 30, 2011
Jets going out with a bang
By Ken Wiebe, QMI Agency
Canada’s team is coming to town for the first time in 15 years and that’s sure to cause a stir as the Winnipeg Jets and Toronto Maple Leafs close out 2011 at the MTS Centre.
The Jets are riding a two-game winning streak, while the Leafs blew a two-goal lead and fell 4-3 in overtime to the Carolina Hurricanes on Thursday.
“It’s the New Year’s Eve game, which is always a big night here,” said Jets head coach Claude Noel. “It’ll be good. What more can you say? The fans are in a frenzy to begin with, I can’t imagine what it’s going to be like (Saturday).
“But for us, it’s another game we treat like we want to win. I don’t put a lot of emphasis on the dates or whatever. This is a team we’re tied with and we’re battling with.”
The teams are tied for seventh in the Eastern Conference which should bring up the intensity level.
“Everyone understands where we are and these games against teams in the group that we’re in are important,” said Jets captain Andrew Ladd. “You’re either able to jump ahead or they’re able to jump ahead of you. We’re trying to distance ourselves from that group and we’ve got to keep this thing rolling.”
The Jets are also four points back of the Florida Panthers in the battle for top spot in the Southeast Division — and the No. 3 seed that goes with it.
“For sure, you want to be in first place in your division, that’s always a goal,” said Jets winger Blake Wheeler. “We’ve reeled in (the Panthers) a little bit but at the same time, Washington is playing better too and they’re right behind us. There’s never going to be a point this year when we can be comfortable and put it in cruise control. That’s a good thing.”
Ondrej Pavelec is expected to start in goal for the Jets, while Morweena, Man., product James Reimer will be in goal for the Leafs.
“Manitoba is home and I always enjoy coming here and playing — I can only imagine what the atmosphere is going to be like,” said Reimer, who got 16 tickets for friends and family members. “This is a pretty hard barn to get tickets in.”
Reimer was in goal for a 4-3 overtime win over the Jets on Oct. 17 at Air Canada Centre. He isn’t nostalgic about facing a team he once cheered for.
“The emotion isn’t the same. I grew up with the Jets of (Teemu) Selanne and Shane Doan, not Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd,” said Reimer, 23. “I played against them last year as the Atlanta Thrashers. It’s not like I’m playing the old Jets. The team kind of still feels like the Thrashers.”
It’ll be interesting to see how many Leafs fans are in attendance Saturday, as they’re usually a popular draw in Western Canada.
“We usually have half the rink or a quarter or something like that and it’s always nice to get that support everywhere you go,” said Leafs winger Clarke MacArthur, who was part of the 2005 Canadian world junior team that held training camp at MTS Centre before winning a gold medal in Grand Forks, N.D.
“I remember how good the fans were here in Winnipeg and it’s great they got a team back again.”