Jets fans snap up gear as NHL playoffs return to Winnipeg
Jets and Flames, who clinched playoff spots Thursday, are both former Atlanta teams
Jets fever in Winnipeg has soared to the levels of 2011 when it was announced the city was getting its NHL team back.
Twitter is burning up with with posts from people thrilled about the Jets clinching a playoff spot — the first NHL playoff game in the city since 1996.
It was after that playoff series loss that the original Jets then moved to Phoenix to become the Coyotes.
While celebrating the new Jets' success, many people have been saluting the past with photos of their old Jets stuff — pom-poms from the 1990s playoffs and ticket stubs from that last game.
Back then it cost $25. Tickets for the upcoming playoff series range from $107 to $340 per game and they go on sale Tuesday morning.
Dozens of people waited Friday morning for the doors of the Jets Gear store at St. Vital Centre to open, while the store at the MTS Centre is also elbow-to-elbow with shoppers.
The stores are so crowded that staff are limiting the number of people allowed to be in at one time.
Kristin Bishop, a longtime Jets fan, was up early to beat the crowds buying merchandise at St. Vital Centre.
"We have been waiting 19 years for this day and we want to make sure we have gear before it's all sold out — T-shirts for the whole family," she said.
'Another step in the road'
Scott Brown, director of communications for True North Sports and Entertainment, which owns the Jets, said the fan reaction has been incredible, but not surprising.
"You could feel that atmosphere and community on the streets, in the building. We did have a glimpse into what could happen in 2011 when the franchise returned to Winnipeg," he said.
"It's mildly surprising anytime you see this type of response, in a good way, but this is what we hoped for when the franchise, team got back in the playoffs."
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The organization doesn't take that support lightly, Brown added, saying there is "a very serious" financial and emotional investment by the fans to the team.
He has also made a point of advising True North staff to enjoy what is happening.
"It's important that everyone at True North, like in 2011, take a moment see what's going on in the streets, in the stores, and realize the significance of what is going on," he said.
"It's another step in the road that we are travelling together."
New Jets banners with the playoff slogan, Our Team. Our Tradition, are now hanging at the MTS Centre in downtown Winnipeg.
Primarily white, the banners are a nod to the playoff "whiteout" made famous by fans who filled the old Winnipeg Arena to cheer the original Jets franchise.
After the Jets clinched the playoff spot Thursday night, True North called for the whiteout to return and Tweeted "A storm is coming."
"We want them to come out and wear white, be loud, make as many memories for the hockey world to see as they did before," said Brown.
"When you get things like this — back to the playoffs, the city has NHL playoff hockey for first time since 1996 — the conversation about whether to encourage fans to wear white wasn't a very long one; wasn't much debate at all.
The old Winnipeg Jets may have initiated the whiteout phenomenon, which has since been copied by other NHL teams, but it was the Jets fans who took it to a "mythical and legendary status," Brown said.
"We felt that it was important to give our fans here now, a new generation of Jets fans, to give them the same opportunity to live through this experience and create new memories for everyone."
To that end, the Jets are selling white clothing, including jerseys, T-shirts with the "Our Team. Our Tradition" slogan, and sweatshirts, as well as other white playoff merchandise.
The Jets were bumped into the playoffs thanks to the Calgary Flames knocking off the Los Angeles Kings, who were chasing Winnipeg for the final wildcard spot.
Both the Jets and Flames, who meet Saturday night in Winnipeg for the final regular season game, are former Atlanta-based franchises that relocated.
Some people on Twitter have suggested the teams just meet at centre ice, hug and celebrate together.