Jets faithful showed championship form

Winnipeg Jets fans at MTS Centre cheer during the announcement of the team's name during the NHL...

Winnipeg Jets fans at MTS Centre cheer during the announcement of the team's name during the NHL Draft Friday night. (QMI Agency)

Ted Wyman, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 5:19 PM ET

And now, we present to you our Heart Trophy, if you will, given annually to the MVPs of the Winnipeg Jets’ season.

It’s a no-brainer and it goes to the hockey fans of Winnipeg.

The Winnipeg Jets provided the excitement and the entertainment, but what made their inaugural season special was the atmosphere at MTS Centre and that was all because of fans like you.

Don’t believe me? Ask Chris Mason, Chris Thorburn, Tanner Glass, Jim Slater or any member of the Jets 2.0. Ask players and coaches from around the league. You’ll get the same answer.

Winnipeg is one of the best places in the NHL to play a game, because it’s lively, noisy, full of energy and just plain fun.

“It hasn’t been good for us … I liked them more in Atlanta,” Tampa Bay Lightning coach Guy Boucher laughed Saturday.

“It’s one of the best crowds in the league, it’s one of the loudest crowds and they’ve made a big difference with their team. It’s great for hockey that there’s a team here and the hype is right on.”

The Jets are not a great hockey team. They have a lot of improving to do if they want to be a playoff team come this time next year. They play in the smallest market in the league and the smallest building too.

But after just a year of playing in this passionate town in an atmosphere that rivals almost any in pro sports, you’d be hard pressed to find a Jet who doesn’t want to be back.

Take Mason, for example.

He’s a veteran goaltender who has played more than 60 games in a season twice in his career. He was the first player to arrive and start working out in Winnipeg in the summer and his work ethic was an inspiration to his teammates all season long.

And yet, he started only 14 games, played in only 20.

He’s an unrestricted free agent on July 1, and you can bet he’s interested in finding a place where he can play a bigger role next season.

Still, he would find it very hard to leave.

“I love being a Winnipeg Jet,” Mason said. “I love representing this organization and I have no doubt that’s definitely something I would want to do again.

“It literally has been second-to-none. This fan experience has been amazing. It’s like nothing I’ve ever been a part of or ever seen before.”

Mason isn’t the only UFA who has expressed those types of sentiments. Glass, Slater, Kyle Wellwood and Tim Stapleton would all love to return as well.

And why wouldn’t they?

Since the beginning of June last year the people of Winnipeg have been doing everything in their power to make this an attractive place to play.

They were there, wearing their hearts on their sleeves, at The Forks, and Portage and Main, at the NHL Draft, at the first day of training camp, at 41 home games and three exhibition games.

They were there in force in places like Minnesota, Vancouver, Calgary, Tampa, Phoenix and Florida.

One of my favourite fan moments of the year was watching a group of four men dressed head to toe in Jets gear, sitting on the glass at the ACC in Toronto and holding up a sign saying “If we were at MTS Centre, we wouldn’t have these seats.”

So true.

Fans knew how hard it was to get tickets in Winnipeg, so they found other ways to support the team.

They were there with their wallets out and credit cards ready when the team held a season ticket drive, which is one of the primary reasons the Jets are suddenly more of a have team than a have-not.

Their chants and cheers were regularly part of the highlights shows on all the major networks that show hockey.

Sure, there are no playoff games for the Jets this year, but they’ve already experienced a playoff atmosphere for a full season.

“If you care about hockey and you love to play the game, why wouldn’t you want to play in Winnipeg?” Thorburn said. “It’s top-notch as far as hockey goes. You hear from guys around the league how they can’t believe the atmosphere coming in here.”

Slater said even the most optimistic players moving from Atlanta to Winnipeg could not have predicted such an incredible response from the local faithful.

“They’ve exceeded the expectations in my mind,” Slater said. “We knew it was going to be awesome. From the first day we saw the team was coming back, we saw people screaming and dancing in the streets and we all wanted to be a part of it. And it got better and better.”

So here’s to the 15,004 MVPs who crammed the MTS Centre all season long and the hundreds of thousands of other Winnipeggers who made this so magical.


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