Winnipeg Jets Pregame: Cleared for Takeoff!

Eric Fehr, Mark Stuart, Nik Antropov, and Andrew Ladd (Photo credit: John Woods)

Eric Fehr, Mark Stuart, Nik Antropov, and Andrew Ladd (Photo credit: John Woods)

Puck Buddys. @PuckBuddys.

The Pre Game: OK, who among us is not looking forward to smearing turkey gravy over fresh rolls with sage stuffing and a slab of dark meat on top with tart cranberry sauce dripping from the side? Maybe everyone who also has to travel home for the annual ‘Parental Maintenance’ festival. Or those who just aren’t in a position to lay a feast on their table.

Don’t ever dare quote us as saying this, but this is a great time of year to be nice to people. Even those you don’t know. Not just Thanksgiving Day, but the coming months of cold, and dark, and at times hunger. Be nice, people.

We don’t handle “being nice” well, at least publicly, so this Thanksgiving preview we’ve handed over to two honest, sweet-natured souls from the Upper Midwest. (*whisper God’sCountry whisper*) “Puck Buddy Bunny” and “Dave E” write for PuckBuddys, and occasionally hoist a drink to the great hockey teams of the midwest, such as the Fightin’ Souix, the Duluth Bulldogs, or (when they must) the Wings.

Either of them have more hockey knowledge at a hat drop than both PuckBuddys on a sober night, and they’ve offered their thoughts on our second tangle with the Winnipeg Jets. We advise you sit up straight, pay attention, then go back to fiddling with your bird.

The Puck Drop

The Winnipeg Jets are cleared for landing in DC Wednesday for their first visit from their new city in their new sweaters, which harken back to those worn by the original WHA franchise, which entered the NHL in 1979.

Bobby Hull

The WHA’s Jets put the outlaw league on the map in 1972 with the signing of Blackhawks superstar Bobby Hull, lured away during a contract dispute in Chicago with one of those comically over-sized checks, this one for $1 million. The Jets and the league’s slapstick scramble to come up with enough money so the check wouldn’t bounce is recounted in hilarious detail in Vancouver sportswriter Ed Willes entertaining WHA history The Rebel League.

The Jets were the first North American team to agressively pursue European players, and their top line of Hull, and Swedes Anders Hedberg and Ulf Nilsson was one of the most fearsome scoring machines in pro hockey history. The Jets had other notable Scandinavian imports such as defenseman Lars-Erik Sjoberg, Willy Lindstrom, Kent Nilsson and Veli-Pekka Ketola.

Amid financial woes, Jets Mark I left Winnipeg in 1996 to become the Phoenix Coyotes. This same questionable NHL experiment in Sunbelt expansion ushered in the Atlanta Thrashers in 1999, whose decade in Georgia was marked by sparse crowds and indifferent play, a fairly common trait in one of America’s worst sports cities. With the Thrashers’ sale and move to Winnipeg, Atlanta earned the dubious distinction of being the only NHL city in the modern era to lose two hockey teams.

What Makes Them Hot, And Not

The return of the Jets to the Northern Plains is the sports story of the year in that neck of the woods (and Lake of the Woods, for that matter). Some observations as we look forward to the Thanksgiving Eve match up between the Caps and this most geographically misplaced  Southeast Division squad.

1: Chipman of the Board: Marc Chipman, the chairman of True North Sports, which heads the Jets ownership group, is Manitoba’s answer to Ted Leonsis. Although, Chipman made his fortune selling cars instead of internet access. The Winnipeg native has a bachelor’s degree and a law degree from the University of North Dakota (a national college hockey powerhouse). At UND, Chipman played football– not hockey, but his heart has always been on the rink.

His patient strategy to bring the NHL back to central Canada was impressive, especially considering it was originally drawn up on napkins with Winnipeg’s then-mayor in a coffee shop over a couple of bismarcks. Consider:

  1. In 1996, they imported the Manitoba Moose, formerly the IHL’s Minnesota Moose, who were based in St. Paul.
  2. In 2001, the Moose, joined the AHL.
  3. In November 2004, Winnipeg opened the 15,000 seat MTS Center, conveniently large enough to potentially attract a stray NHL franchise. Throughout, Chipman worked with the city toward the goal of bringing the NHL back to Winnipeg.

The Jets have had no problem selling out the place, and the team memorably received a long standing ovation after their home opener loss to Montreal.

Dustin Byfuglien

Dustin Byfuglien

2: Dine Local. Along with a committed owner, the Jets are also making it a point to sign “local” players, which isn’t just a good PR move, but in that part of North America, a good personnel move. The storied history of hockey in this region and the talent it’s produced cannot be overstated. When Winnipeg native and Chicago Blackhawk star Jonathan Toews brought the Stanley Cup back home a couple years ago, the celebration included a parade and naming a lake in Toews’ honor (or as they would say in Canada, honour).

Consider Dustin Byfuglien [Eds: ugh!] who grew up in Roseau, MN, just a short skip and a jump away from Winnipeg. And Winkler, Manitoba native and former Cap Eric Fehr. And Minnesota native Blake Wheeler. College hockey is also big in this market, so it’s nice to see the former Gopher playing for Winnipeg. Waiting in the wings is former North Dakota star Jason Gregoire, a Winnipeg native now at the Jets AHL affiliate in St. John’s.

The Shoot Out

Y’all get that? Whatever. Our PuckBuddys’ pals’ smarts are the marshmallow on our yams. So good, and we wish there more.

Us? We wish that everyone this Thursday finds a warm, happy house filled with food, cheer, and most importantly, dear friends. That you should have too many people at your table is our curse and dearest desire. Every morning we wake, and every night we fall asleep, we give thanks for all that we have received.

Now don’t ever ask us to be nice again. We’ll just have to deny it.

Editor’s note: Because of the holiday, our recap for Wednesday’s game will be very light. Have a great holiday, everyone.