- Associated Press - Tuesday, September 20, 2011

WINNIPEG, MANITOBA (AP) - The Jets fans came, they cheered and they screamed “Go Jets go” as a 15-year separation between Winnipeg and NHL hockey ended Tuesday night when the Jets made their return.

It was just an exhibition game against the Columbus Blue Jackets, but the smallest arena in the league was packed with just over 15,000 jersey-wearing, ecstatic fans who screamed their lungs out at the MTS Centre.

They had lots to cheer. The first fight erupted less than a minute in and Winnipeg’s first goal was scored by Paul Postma within the first eight minutes.

“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.

In 1996 the previous incarnation of the Jets left 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 about five months ago, True North Sports and Entertainment completed a deal to bring the Thrashers to Winnipeg.

Since then it’s been hectic as the former home of the AHL’s Manitoba Moose was brought up to NHL standards, a team name was picked and season tickets quickly sold out.

“The city’s gone crazy for them,” said Francis, who couldn’t get season tickets but was happy to get a couple to the emotional return Tuesday.

Even a Jets’ practice during the weekend saw thousands of fans turn out to cheer and get autographs. Many said they knew it would be their only chance to see the team on the ice.

Monday’s matchup was a split-squad game with Columbus but many of the big names on the Jets stayed at home _ including team captain Andrew Ladd, defensemen Zach Bogosian and Dustin Byfuglien and draft pick Mark Scheifele, who scored Winnipeg’s second goal.



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