Manitoba

'More buzz for sure': Jets pumped to play in front of home crowd

Downtown Winnipeg will be jammed with hockey jerseys for the first time since May 20, when the visiting Vegas Golden Knights ended the Jets Stanley Cup playoff run.

Winnipeg played 2 games of NHL season on the road but hosts Los Angeles on Tuesday

Jets fans are expecting great things from their team this year, but so are the so-called experts with many publications predicting a Stanley Cup appearance. (John Woods/The Canadian Press)

Downtown Winnipeg will be jammed with hockey jerseys for the first time since May 20, when the visiting Vegas Golden Knights ended the Jets Stanley Cup playoff run.

The puck drops tonight on the NHL Jets' home-opening game of the 2018-19 NHL season with another royal opponent in town, the Los Angeles Kings.

But it's not just the fans who are excited. The players are pumped, too.

"Little bit more buzz, for sure. Excited to get back into our rink and get that going," head coach Paul Maurice said following Tuesday morning's practice.

"When you play on the road and you hit a post, nobody cares. But when you're at home and you hit a post, you get a pretty good jump from the crowd. And anything that's around the net's exciting."

Jets assistant captain Mark Scheifele couldn't agree more.

"You gotta get the juices going for a home opener. It's always a fun game and we know our fans are going to be rocking the building," he said.

As for the weight on the team's performance this season, Scheifele just brushed it off like a bad check.

"That extra pressure is only extra motivation. We know we have a good team in here."

Winnipeg Jets center Adam Lowry says no pressure on the Jets from fans can match what the players put on themselves. (The Associated Press)

For forward Adam Lowry, it's difficult to notice the expectations because none are greater than those the team puts on itself.

"We appreciate the fans' support. They've been tremendous to us, but I think in this room we know what we want to accomplish and we have a long way to go to reaching that goal," he said.

"Hopefully we get back on the right foot tonight."

The Jets played their first two games of the new season schedule on the road, dropping the St. Louis Blues 5-1 before falling to the Dallas Stars by the same score.

After a season that saw the Jets finish second overall in the 31-team NHL with a 52-20-10 (wins-losses-overtime losses) record and 114 points, there are high expectations this year.

The Jets are pegged by many sports publications to make a return engagement to the playoffs if not go all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.

Maurice is quite aware of what the fans hope to see.

"[Scores of] 10-1 every night, right?" he said.

"The expectation got considerably higher and our team got considerably younger, so there's a balancing act that will have to go on. But I'm sure that will only happen just for about 82 games this year."

Last season, the Jets reached the playoffs for the second time since the franchise moved from Atlanta in 2011.

They immediately reached a milestone by winning their franchise's first-ever playoff game, 3-2 over the Minnesota Wild in the first-round's opening game on April 11, 2018. 

It got better from there.

Nine days later, the Jets won the first playoff series in franchise history by shutting out the Wild 5-0 in Game 5 to take the best-of-seven series four games to one.

The Jets went all the way to Game 7 against their second-round opponent, the Nashville Predators, who finished the regular season as the NHL's top team with 117 points.

But it was the Jets who scored the most important statistic in their post-season matchup — a 5-1 victory to advance to the Western Conference Final.

The Jets then won the first game of the conference final series against the Golden Knights, 4–2. But that would be the last victory of the season.

Vegas went on to win the next four and advance to the Stanley Cup Championship, ultimately to be won by the Washington Capitals in five games.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Darren Bernhardt spent the first dozen years of his journalism career in newspapers, at the Regina Leader-Post then the Saskatoon StarPhoenix. He has been with CBC Manitoba since 2009 and specializes in offbeat and local history stories. He is the author of award-nominated and bestselling The Lesser Known: A History of Oddities from the Heart of the Continent.

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