Jets fans stomach loss as NHL returns to Winnipeg

The Winnipeg Jets may have lost their first game, but you would never know it judging by the reaction of their fans.

The Winnipeg Jets may have lost their first game, but you would never know it judging by the reaction of their fans.

Returning to the National Hockey League after a 15-year absence, the Jets were defeated by the Montreal Canadiens 5-1 at the MTS Centre in downtown Winnipeg, but the fans were in a forgiving mood.

"They [Canadiens] scored a couple goals that kind of took the energy out, but we still finished strong, still had a great energy at the end of the game. It was awesome, awesome!" said firefighter and fan Chad Swayze. "I've never experienced something like this in my life. It's one of those life moments that I'll remember forever."

The arena was packed with about 15,000 people for Sunday's sold-out season opener, including Prime Minister Stephen Harper, who had purchased four tickets to the event. The fans' roar shook the stadium as the team was introduced to the ice, took its first faceoff and scored its first goal. 

The Jets sold out their 13,000 season tickets in just 17 minutes in early June, and have already sold out all their home games for the next three years.

"It's just extraordinary to feel how much devotion, care, feeling the populace has towards this team," team co-owner David Thomson said.

Mark Chipman, the team's other co-owner, was disappointed in the final score, but was happy for the city and hockey fans.

"I'm glad that people feel so good about this — I really am. I think that this is a great city and it has been for a long time, and I think it became a even greater city after the NHL left in '96," Chipman said.

He said the city has proved itself in the 15 years since the original team moved to Phoenix.

'A lot of tears'

Hockey Night in Canada commentator Don Cherry said he has never seen anything like the crowds for the Jets opener. He said it was a celebration filled with emotion.

"There was a lot of tears," Cherry said. "I was here the last game [in 1996] and there was a lot of tears last night.

"It was really emotional and the team, you know, you gotta expect that. Some of them, except for two or three of them, have never been in front of a crowd like that."

Cherry credited coach Claude Noel with calming jittery players. He thinks that if the Jets get their goaltending worked out, they have a chance at making the playoffs.

Many of those who did not have tickets to Sunday's opener went to The Forks, a historic site and popular downtown gathering place, to see live bands and other entertainers at the CBC Family FanZone party. Fans watched the Winnipeg-Montreal match on large video screens that were set up at The Forks gathering.

PM unveils coin marking Jets' return

Prime Minister Stephen Harper unveiled one of the two commemorative coins the Royal Canadian Mint is producing to mark the Winnipeg Jets' return to the NHL. Harper is in Winnipeg Sunday for the season opener between the Jets and the Montreal Canadiens.

The mint is issuing a 50-cent piece and a pure silver $20 coin. The 50 cent coin is produced at the mint in Winnipeg and will sell for $14.95. The $20 limited edition silver coin goes for $94.95.

There will be 15,000 produced, almost exactly the seating capacity of the MTS Centre where the Jets play.

The Canadian Press

Country rockers Blue Rodeo played a special post-game concert at the Winnipeg convention centre.

A Winnipeg couple even rescheduled their wedding to be able to attend the game. Rachel Borowsky and Gabriel Wu booked their nuptials well before the NHL's season schedule came out, but when saw that the Jets' opener was going to coincide with their walk down the aisle, they moved up the ceremony by two hours to 2 p.m.

"I thought, 'Oh no, we won't have any groomsmen; we might not have a groom,' " Borkowsky joked.

The newlyweds headed to the MTS Centre in a limousine, with Borkowsky still wearing her wedding dress.

"It's like two dreams coming true: getting married and getting to go to the first Jets game again," Wu said.

There were no reports of trouble in the streets after the game. Security has been tight since Thursday, when celebrations began to mark the Jets' return to Winnipeg, and there was a heavy police presence Sunday evening. Authorities have cracked down on drinking in public and rowdy behaviour.

Winnipeg police had already busted a number of people for scalping tickets. It is illegal to sell tickets for above face value, but it has not stopped some people from trying.

Scalpers have a captive market: many Winnipeggers had been doing what they could to score access to Sunday's home game.