WINNIPEG, Manitoba | Winnipeg isn’t easy to get to from Washington. Heck, it’s not easy to get to from most American locales.
Upon arrival in mid-November, the streets were already lined with Christmas decorations. Locals explained that it was out of necessity; in December it’s too cold to spend the time outside putting them up. Winter here is talked about like few other places in North America.
Capitals defenseman Roman Hamrlik recalled playing there with the Tampa Bay Lightning in January 1994.
“I remember it was just so cold outside we couldn’t even go outside to go and eat at a restaurant the night before a game,” he said.
With all that said, the NHL being back in Winnipeg is worth the travel – and perhaps even the sub-zero wind chills. Step inside MTS Centre, and it’s different – different even than its fellow Canadian cities.
Every game is an event. The rendition of “O Canada” is chilling. So many fans waited 15 years for the Jets to return, and because of it the electricity is hard to describe. Locals tell of warmups for the first preseason and regular-season game including chants and cheers.
Over a month into their NHL return, the Jets aren’t a first-place team, or likely even a playoff team. Hockey towns and cool atmospheres take on different forms, but there’s a genuine sense in the arena and around town that no one’s taking hockey – of any kind – for granted.
“There’s only 15,000 seats, but it’s a loud building,” said Caps assistant Bob Woods, who coached the Hershey Bears to a Calder Cup championship here.
It’s not loud all the time, but the “Go, Jets, Go” chants pierced the air just 10 seconds after the start. For long stretches Thursday night, it was quiet. The noise came at the important times, and, of course, when the Jets started rolling.
“When we scored the first goal, I didn’t hear the crowd at all,” Bruce Boudreau said. “It only started going when they scored. The best way to stop a crowd from cheering is not making stupid mistakes in your own zone and giving them opportunities to score.”
If the Jets play poorly, fans aren’t afraid to boo. They did that last week after two periods when their team was trailing the Florida Panthers 4-0. But with the Caps struggling and Winnipeg rolling, MTS Centre lived up to all the hype Thursday.
Winnipeg is cold. There’s no escaping that fact, known by residents, players, coaches, reporters and visiting fans alike. But Winnipeg is an NHL town again, something that can’t help but make you warm and fuzzy.
At least until you step back outside again. Bundle up, Winnipeg, and enjoy the games.