Monday, March 26, 2012

As Long As I Can See The Light

By: Mike "BCMike" Fraser
Edited By: Mike "The Deuce" Bailey

The playoff light both flickered and dimmed over the last 48 hours as the Jets flew into Washington determined to keep themselves in the playoff hunt. They staged a miraculous comeback against the Caps, and then skated through quicksand against the Predators to face a loss that may well have derailed the quest for the promised land permanently.

If we rewind to the beginning of March one has an acute sense of frustration as the Jets were in full control of their destiny. Sitting alone in eighth place and coming off an impressive home stand, the Jets looked as though they might hit another gear and make a mad dash to the finish line. The stage was set and there was a sense of optimism as the Jets embarked on their Smythe Division road trip through Vancouver and Calgary. Unfortunately some ghosts die hard and the Canucks and Flames once again played spoiler to the Jets playoff hopes just as they had many times in the past. It appeared that road phobia had once again come back to hit the Jets where it hurt: The standings.

In my opinion the Smythe road trip was the beginning of what would become a number of key Winnipeg losses over the following two weeks. The Jets went from masters of their own destiny to scoreboard watchers and inconsistent performers. The Jets seemed to develop a pattern of pulling out clutch games against tough opponents and losing games that should have been winnable against teams in the bottom half of the standings. Injuries to key performers of course didn’t help, but there seems to be a real consistency problem on the road that desperately needs to be addressed.

As the Jets flew into Washington on Friday there was an undisputed feeling of desperation. The season was certainly on the line as the Caps could create some crucial distance between themselves and the Jets with a win. Going down three goals in the second period, it appeared as though the Jets had run out of gas. And then we saw what we had seen so many times from the Jets in the past: they simply didn’t give up and gutted their way back to an OT victory. What had seemed like such a clear make or break type of game now muddied the waters with the Jets giving up a point, but gaining two. Could the Jets get back in the hunt against the Preds?

If there’s a kryptonite for the Jets it’s the second half of back to back games on the Proad. Add to that the tight checking defensive style of the Predators and the Jets seemed to be skating in sand. Now I can’t really say that the Preds lived up to the hype we’ve heard all season, but they definitely did what they needed to do against a run and gun Jets team. They slowed the pace and neutralized the top line, leaving the hard working fourth line to shoulder the offence, which came too little too late. A hard road loss is nothing new to the Jets faithful and as the playoff light flickered with the Washington win, it dimmed once again in Nashville.

So now we’re left with the cold hard fact that our playoff chances, although not completely dashed are heading into miracle on ice territory. The Jets basically need six wins out of the seven remaining games, which would put them squarely at 90 points, which might earn them a spot in the post season if their closest rivals run into trouble along the way. To put this into perspective, the Jets haven’t had more than a three game win streak all year, even at home. We’ve basically gone from comfortably sitting in eighth, to hoping for a Jetsmas miracle of epic proportions. As a Jets fan, one can’t help but let a certain amount of frustration seep through.

Taking a quick look at what might have been and what went wrong, it’s pretty simple to understand what happened. The motivation was there, and most nights so was the effort, the Jets just simply ran out. They ran out of talent, they ran out of depth, they ran out of games and they ran out of gas. Even with the seventh man carrying them to the finish line the Jets simply didn’t have what was needed to get to the end.

As the darkness seems to close in and the pundits start to create their checklists of whom to write off for playoff contention, there’s one thing about the Jets to remember. They have this uncanny knack of never giving up. We’ve seen it in big games against big clubs, when the tide was against them; they’ve found ways to gut out wins through sheer determination. Is there any of that left? I would like to believe so, and I’ll continue to believe as long as I can see the light.

Friday, March 23, 2012

Do or Die! …But don’t kill yourself.

By Tim "Bones" Bonnar

Tonight’s game, against the Washington Capitals, is worse than a do or die situation. Even with a win the Jets will not control their own destiny and their season very well may die in short order. Call it negative. Call it realistic. It is what it is. The Jets playoff hopes are on life support. It’s disappointing, but it’s also not the end of the world. Truth be told I’ll be perfectly content if the Jets get passed by the Hurricanes (and Ducks) as the season come to a close. One more top shelf draft pick will do a lot for this squad.

As I’ve stated before the cupboards on the farm are relatively bare and I would love to see them restocked. At this point, one of the Jets greatest needs is offence and the system simply isn’t flush with players that project as offensive weapons at the NHL level. There are a number of bottom six grinders in the system and there are some solid two way players in there too, but the system needs help.

All that said, there have been a few pleasant surprises this year. A few players stepped their game up and this will impact how the Jets’ approach the draft and free agency moving forward.  Let’s take a look at some Jets / Jets prospects that out performed expectations this season. This is may seem bleak, but this is “bright side” stuff folks! :)

Bryan Little: Little is still very inconsistent offensively. I’m not sure there’s a streakier player around, but he does everything else a centre should and he does it well. Solid defensive play coupled with solid faceoff ability makes him a very good 2nd line centre on a lot of teams. Coming into this season, nobody would have said face-offs were among Little’s strengths. The improvement on the dots makes this 24 year old immensely more valuable.

Blake Wheeler: Blake got off to a slow start, but once he got rolling he was a freight train. Wheeler found his wheels! He figured out how to make proper use of his speed and size and defenders couldn’t figure out how to stop him. Wheeler still has room to improve his game, but he proved himself to be a legit 1st line talent. He made Little and Ladd look better.

Zach Bogosian: In my opinion Zach is still a project, but he’s a project with far less question marks. Bogo has found some balance and some control in his game and looks poised to take a big step forward in the coming years. He is not yet a shutdown D man, but it seems he has it in him.

Spencer Machacek: Spencer has seen very limited action in Winnipeg, but he hasn’t looked out of place at all. He has also been a dominant force for the Ice Cap this season and he led the team in scoring for much of the year. He may never be a game breaker, but in a 3rd or 4th line role he could be very solid. Look for Spencer to start next season in the big.

Carl Klingberg: As a junior Carl was often credited for his offensive upside, but until this year it hadn’t materialized on the ice. Much of his slowed output was to do with circumstance and coaching, these weren’t issues this year and it showed. It was great to see him finally put some numbers up. Klingberg may need another season before he becomes a regular NHLer, but he looks like a fun third line winger.

Ivan Telegin: The Russian Roadrunner battled through some early season injuries and exploded with offence late in the season. Lining up next to Scheifele surely didn’t hurt his production, but he actually managed to out produce his linemate down the stretch. Last season Telegin put up 20 Goals, 41 Apples and 61 points last season. This year he put up 35 Goals, 29 Assists and 64 points, but he did so in 13 fewer games. While I suspect TNSE will ship Ivan out to the coast for a year before he joins the Jets, I am hopeful that he can slot into a 2nd line role in a couple years.

Whether the Jets win tonight of not, we have a lot to look forward to.

For starters, we still have NHL hockey back in flippin Winnipeg! As fans we’ve been treated to a very exciting season full of highs and lows. We also witnessed fast paced, exciting hockey and number of highlight reel saves. The fact that the games have all mattered until this point is a major win. The team rewarded the fans with a ton of wins on home ice, the core players are still young, the future is still bright and we will in all likelihood be watching home playoff games before Leafs fans. Win or lose, keep your head up!

Go Jets Go!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Closing The Loop

In October I asked a few of my close ROTJ comrades to contribute their thoughts and feelings as the doors opened at the MTSC for the first time.  I wanted to record a historic moment through the eyes of real fans, hopefully getting a genuinely qualified account of the biggest sports story of my era.  But I had a secret agenda. I myself needed to somehow feel connected to the return of the Jets and I drank up the words that came out of those descriptions with a thirst for what it must be like to be there, what it must be like to finally close the circle and cheer for your team once again.

Reading their descriptions, watching on television and checking the standings daily, I felt a sort of wicked jealousy of those who had the privilege of chanting 'Go Jets Go' at the top of their lungs. The MTSC has quickly gained a reputation as the hardest away visit in sports, likened by some players as: “A trip to the in-laws. You don’t want to go but you have to”.  Somehow yelling 'Go Jets Go' in front of the TV with a few buddies, 2000 kilometres away, doesn’t have the same effect. So here I sit, a member of the Jets Foreign Legion watching from afar and waiting, just like thousands of others, for the chance to scream 'Go Jets Go' at a rink with two points on the line. On Thursday March 8, 2012 I and an estimated five thousand other members of the Jets Foreign Legion got that chance.

Now I usually can’t stand it when Leafs and Habs fans show up at rinks outside of Toronto and Montreal, but for this occasion I had to bite the bullet and transform myself into “That Guy” in a Jets uniform. As I got ready to head to the rink I girded myself for a rough ride in the stands. I had seen Chicago and Boston fans suffer slings and arrows walking through the concourse of Rogers arena and I fully expected the same reception. I got to the rink early and was surprised to find a battalion of backup. Jets jerseys were actually, at that point outnumbering Canucks jerseys and there was an air of solidarity as knowing nods, high fives and thumbs up where exchanged. Even the enemy seemed to recognize the special day as Canucks fans acknowledged our presence with knowing smiles and best wishes.  

Entering the rink it was clear that Jets nation was out in force. There was a sea of Jets jerseys new and old filing into the halls of Rogers Arena anxiously waiting just as I was to see a Jets team take to the ice once again after a long 15 year winter of discontent. The warm ups began and the ostentatious production at Rogers arena started. The music was loud and the big screen was distracting, but as the players took the ice I could hear the faint rumblings of a “Go Jets Go”. I sat in the stands chomping down a White Spot burger and training my steely analytical eye towards the Jets end trying to get a glimpse of the all important Noelian battle strategy.  Pavs looked ready to go and after some hasty drills the team left the ice making way for the overly lavish Canucks pre-game production to begin. After a lot of bells and whistles I turned to my buddy and said “Can we just play some hockey already”, he looked back with the knowing nod of a prairie hockey fan.

It was now GO time for Winnipeg fans, the crowd rose to their feet for the singing of the national anthem. Could the Jets Foreign Legion pull off a True North shoutout in enemy territory? The pivotal time came …. With glowing hearts we see the rise…. TRUE NORTH! The building shook as Canucks fans looked around bewildered at what had just happened. They had received their first taste of Jets fanaticism and it would be followed up in short order.

Face off time, and as the crowd noise rose to a crescendo, as if by cue, a faint 'Go Jets Go' from section 120 grew into a hurricane of 'Go Jets Go's that swept through Rogers arena. The Jets where indeed back and everyone in that rink was going to know about it. The Canucks came out hard, gaining the zone with speed, and the Jets responded with a tight checking, attack oriented, physical game - in other words Winnipeg Jet hockey. 'Go Jets Go' chants rose unabated all through those first minutes and then finally the crowd settled in to watch the game.

The Canucks struck first when a puck ricocheted off referee Davorski's skate and right into the slot allowing Bieksa to beat Pavalec five hole. It was a lucky goal and again Jets nation responded with a cannonading 'Go Jets Go' chant.  Shortly after, Kyle Wellwood responded and the Jets were on the board. We left the second period feeling as though we had achieved a small victory with an even up score. The third period saw Vancouver fans finally react, sensing that the game was probably theirs to lose. They were silenced by big Blake Wheeler and it looked for a brief moment like the Jets might steal a victory from a skilled Vancouver club. The 'Go Jets Go' chants continued to drown out the feeble Canucks chants, and hope was in the air. However sometimes you can’t outrun skill, and the Canucks managed to put two past a weary Pavelec to win the game.

There was only a touch of disappointment as I rose from my chair at the sound of the final buzzer. The Jets had played one of the premier clubs in the league hard on their home ice and had almost snatched away a victory. More importantly I could join my brothers and sisters in a 'Go Jets Go' chant, shout out TRUE NORTH, and wear my colours with pride into enemy territory. Jets fans this night had carved out a little piece of the MTSC on False Creek and showed West Coast hockey observers how to be fans.

So now as I write, I can cast away my envy and look forward to another Smythe Division road trip, when once again the Jets Foreign Legion will descend on Rogers arena. The loop has now closed, and the circle is complete. I have new heroes and they have heard my cheers.