Winnipeg Jets relaunch in preseason home opener
WINNIPEG, MANITOBA (AP) - The fans came, they cheered and they screamed “Go Jets Go” as a 15-year separation between Winnipeg and NHL hockey ended Tuesday night as the Jets made their return with a 6-1 win.
It was just an exhibition game against the Columbus Blue Jackets and a split-squad one at that. Columbus won the other matchup in Ohio 5-1.
But the smallest arena in the league was packed with 15,004 jersey-wearing, ecstatic fans who screamed their lungs out at the MTS Centre.
They had lots to cheer. The first fight, which included big Winnipeg defenseman Dustin Byfuglien, erupted less than a minute in and Winnipeg’s first goal was scored by Paul Postma within the first eight minutes.
Jets top draft pick Mark Scheifele, an 18-year-old with the Barrie Colts of the Ontario Hockey League, scored twice and had two assists.
“He looked like the best player on the ice,” Noel said.
“He looked like a guy that was a veteran guy, he played big smart clever. … He’s doing the things he needs to do to stay, but let’s not get ahead of ourselves.”
Scheifele was awed and inspired by the crowd.
“To hear how loud they were I couldn’t even hear myself think it was just unbelievable and I wanted to feed off that energy and give it back to them,” he said.
For fans, it was enough that the Jets are back.
“It was heartbreaking to lose them and to get them back like this is extremely exciting,” said Kevin Francis, who attended the game with his son John.
“I couldn’t be happier,” said Francis, one of many who lined up and arrived more than an hour early.
It was 1996 that saw the previous incarnation of the Jets leave Winnipeg for Phoenix, where they were renamed the Coyotes. The Jets played in Atlanta last season as the Thrashers.
Last year there was speculation it would be the Coyotes who might return since, like Atlanta, Phoenix was in financial trouble. But at the end of May, True North Sports and Entertainment completed a deal to bring the Thrashers to Winnipeg.