Fans revel in Jets’ “epic” return

The Jets salute their fans.

The Winnipeg Jets salute their fans at the MTS Centre, which sold out all 15,004 seats on Oct. 9. JESSICA BURTNICK PHOTO

At 4:20 p.m. on Oct. 9, a puck dropped, a crowd roared and history was made.
The Winnipeg Jets are back after a 15-year absence and are Canada’s seventh NHL team. The inaugural game was played in front of a sold-out crowd at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg. Those without tickets crammed into downtown area pubs, while families made a bee-line for the Forks to watch the action on a big screen set up for the event.
“It was electric in the MTS Centre,” said fan Gabriel Langlois, who is better known as Dancing Gabe. He has been dancing at professional sports events in Winnipeg for 20 years.
Student Jamil Harvich travelled from Vancouver in the hopes of catching the action and watched the game from the Tavern United Pub next door.
“It was crazy. It was like actually being in the game it was so loud,” Harvich said.
“We’re just loyal fans and I love that about this little city,” said Winnipegger Marina Boutroucas, who watched the game at a friend’s house.
Loyal fans were out in full force all day Sunday. David Bailey came to the game in a white tuxedo to commemorate the “whiteout”, a tradition started by Winnipeg fans in 1987 in response to the “C of Red” started by Calgary Flames’ fans.
“Everyone underestimates the fan support that these guys have,” said Bailey. “They sell out a stadium. They make the town absolutely vibrant. I think these guys are gonna go a long way.”
Cory Wielenga, who has been a Jets fan his whole life, said the excitement over the team’s return extends outside of the city.
“This (day) means everything to Manitoba,” said Wielenga.
Fan Darla Lee thinks it’s even bigger than that.
“The prime minister was here,” said Lee. “And he couldn’t even get the tickets that he wanted. Come on. It’s that epic. Epic! You can’t even describe it but (to say) epic.”
Wielenga and Lee aren’t the only people who felt that the Jets’ return was a historical event of massive proportion. NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman met with reporters prior to the inaugural game to share his own thoughts.
“We’re thrilled to be here,” he said. “This is obviously a terrific day for the city of Winnipeg, and the province of Manitoba, the entire country of Canada and the entire National Hockey League.”
Despite a 5-1 loss against the Montreal Canadiens, hockey fans remained in the stands until the last second of gameplay ticked off the counter. The game ended with a standing ovation from fans and earsplitting cheers in support of the team.
“We’re long distance runners,” said former Manitoba Premier Gary Doer.
“This city will hang in with this team.”

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