Just about every microscopic detail about the return of the Winnipeg Jets has been covered, discussed and dissected.
When the walls outside the Jets dressing room in the MTS Centre were painted with the new look of polar night blue, aviator blue and white, television cameras captured the moment. When the new Jets logo was painted at centre ice, a media event was held.
There is not much more to thrash out about the hysteria that has surrounded the return of the Jets with their season opener against the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday drawing near (CBC, CBCSports.ca, 4 p.m. ET). It’s simply time to get this party started on the ice at the MTS Centre, turn the deal over head coach Claude Noel and his players and let them take the remarkable story in whatever direction they can after the 15-year interruption.
"It’s hard to balance the two, staying focused and enjoying the moment at the same time," Jets defenceman Derek Meech said after practice on Saturday. "I’m a fan. I’ve been a fan for the past 15 years and beyond. It’s great to see a team back in Winnipeg and now that I’m part of it, it’s pretty surreal."
The 27-year-old Meech is the only Winnipegger on this edition of the Jets, and along with forward Eric Fehr the two are the lone Jets from Manitoba. Meech, along with forward Tanner Glass, also are pseudo original Jets the second time around.
Yes, Evander Kane, Dustin Byfuglien, Andrew Ladd and most of the other current Jets toiled for the Atlanta Thrashers last year before they relocated to Winnipeg. But Meech and Glass were the first unrestricted free agents signed by the new Jets on July 1st and they could not be more grateful that they wound up in Winnipeg.
Glass, also 27, arrived in Manitoba this summer a couple years late. The Regina native and Dartmouth College graduate was signed by the Vancouver Canucks to a two-way contract in the summer of 2009 at the urging of then AHL Manitoba Moose general manager Craig Heisinger, now the Jets assistant GM.
Heisinger felt Glass would help his team’s toughness element, but there was a problem: Glass cracked the Canucks roster and never played a game for the Moose, even though his picture and bio graced the pages of the 2009-10 Moose media guide.
"Yeah, I was informed of the story a few weeks ago," Glass said. "It’s funny how it works out in this business. I’m glad Zinger [Heisinger] is a loyal guy and wanted to give me an opportunity here.
"I want to play in a hockey market and in a city this cares. It’s obvious that this city cares."
Meech is a Winnipegger who always has cared about hockey. He had posters of Wayne Gretzky and former Jets defenceman Dave Ellett in his bedroom. He fondly recalls playing street hockey as a kid outside his home on Malmsbury Avenue in the South St. Vital neighbourhood of Winnipeg.
If he was playing forward, he pretended to be former Jets sniper Teemu Selanne. If was in goal, he was Nikolai Khabibulin.
Fifteen years ago, when the Jets played their final game against the Detroit Red Wings, Meech was in the crowd at the old Winnipeg Arena with his father Dennis, brother Travis and stepbrother Kyle.
But before the big farewell game arrived, Meech was upset. Dennis Meech had initially promised to get some tickets to that last game on Apr. 28, 1996, only to renege. But after seeing how distraught his son was over the news, the Dad restored the faith his son had in him by scoring tickets at that last minute.
Young Derek remembers getting his face painted white with Jets logos on his cheeks for that game. He also remembers the emotion in the building after the Red Wings eliminated the Jets with a 4-1 win.
"There wasn’t a dry eye in the rink," Meech said. "All the fans were crying. When you looked down on the ice all the players were crying. It was pretty emotional thing for a young kid.
"It was my favourite team leaving the city. It was a heartbreaker."
Derek Meech went on to become a good junior talent on the blue line for the Red Deer Rebels. He played for Canada at the 2004 world junior. Lo and behold, Meech even was drafted by the Red Wings in seventh round (229th overall) of the 2002 NHL entry draft.
Funny thing was that after the Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes, Meech began cheering for the Red Wings because he liked their style of play. He wound up getting his name etched on the Stanley Cup for his part-time role on the 2008 championship Red Wings team.
But after splitting his first seven seasons with Detroit and its farm team in Grand Rapids, Mich., Meech found himself searching for a new hockey home last summer. It turned out his new hockey home would be, well, in his hometown.
It was Meech’s first choice to play for the new Jets. He just happened to have the same agent, J.P. Barry, as Jets captain Andrew Ladd. So when Barry met with the Jets management team to discuss a new contract for Ladd, the agent gauged the team’s interest in Meech and deal was swiftly struck for the latter to continue his NHL career in his hometown.
"It was a pretty decision for me," Meech said. "It’s weird how things worked out."
Meech probably won’t be in the Jets lineup on Sunday, but that hasn’t diminished his excitement level. He joked that he may paint his face again. He’s also happy that he snatched tickets for the historic game his father, brother and stepbrother.
In an ideal world, Noel wished he could dress every player on the current Jets on the roster, so they could experience the Sunday’s historic game. It’s an event that will be emotional, energy-charged beyond belief and something even Noel himself plans to enjoy.
He remarked how he got goose bumps during the national anthem in the first preseason game at the MTS Centre.
"I will smell the coffee," he said. "I will smell the roses. There’s no doubt. Life is too short. I learned that a long time ago.
"I will enjoy the moment. My Mom is going to be here [from Ottawa]. She’s going to be a wreck."