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.

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