FINALLY…. I HAVE GONE BACK… TO AN NHL GAME!
It’s been 16 years since I’ve last seen a live, regular season NHL game.
Sure, I went to one of the exhibition games when the Phoenix Coyotes played the Edmonton Oilers here in town a few years ago, but that was exhibition. Not since October 15, 1995, when the Detroit Red Wings came to down and played to a 5-5 OT draw had I seen a regular season game.
Tonight, November 17th, 2011, that all changed. The Winnipeg Jets made their return to the NHL this season, and even though I didn’t purchase season tickets, I was fortunate enough to be drawn in the public ticket lottery to purchase tickets for one of six November games, and since Alexander Ovechkin was coming to town with the Washington Capitals, why not take the chance to see one of the best as I cheered on the Jets?
All I’ve heard through the first bunch of home games this year from fans, family, and friends who’ve attended is that it’s not just watching a hockey game, it’s an experience. Even though we have a smaller arena at 15,000 seats, I’ve been told it’s LOUD. The fans are crazy. The city has been bitten hard by the NHL bug, and we’re all just happy to have the game back in town.
So, I prepared for that. I’m like the fans I’ve heard talking… “So what if they lose? The NHL is back, baby!”
Stephanie and I got to the game and took our seats – excellent seats, by the way, first and second row in the middle level. Yup, we sat one behind the other, because there’s so few tickets available to the public, so pickin’s were slim. But at least we got to sit together. As the teams stepped onto the ice for the start of the game, man, you could FEEL it. When the announcer bellowed out “Ladies and gentlemen, please welcome… YOUR… WINNIPEG JETS!!” the place… just… went… NUTS. It was awesome!
From even before the opening faceoff, when during the national anthem the crowd SHOUTED out the words “TRUE NORTH!” during the “true North strong and free” in Oh Canada, the crowd, all 15,000 strong, was in to every single moment. From cheering and letting out huge “OHHHHHHH!’s” every time a Jet laid a hit, made a good shot, or came up with a close play around the net, to cheering good saves by our goaltender or nice offensive plays, to giving the officials shit for questionable calls, to booing the absolute HELL out of Alexander Ovechkin, the crowd was HOT.
And to sidebar about Ovechkin… well, I lost a lot of respect for him tonight. Love or hate him, the guy is an amazing offensive player, but that’s ALL he does. When he’s on the ice, he doesn’t play defense. He just cherry picks in the high slot or the blue line waiting to take off with the puck. If he gets hit, he cries about it. He will start shit and get both teams in a scrum, but then he’ll turn and skate away from it all. When he’s losing or getting mad, he gets all upset. There was one play where he got his stick lifted by a Jet, and he thought there should have been a slashing penalty called on the play. The play continued on, and he left the ice. *Half a period later*, when the second was over, he came back on the ice and straight to the official to bitch about it, but the ref would have nothing of it and even demonstrated to Ovy how the Jet was just trying to lift his stick. It was awful. And that’s a bit sad, since he’s so talented and I was a fan of his, but now after watching him play for a full game and not just seeing highlights of greatness on TV, I have to say that he’s a big whiny bitch and I really don’t care for that all that much.
Anyway, back to the game and the crowd.
OH. MY. GOD… when the Jets scored a goal – when they lit the lamp 4 times during the game, the response from the crowd can only be described as an ERUPTION. It was that nuts. I found myself LEAPING out of my seat when we scored, it was that awesome.
It goes without saying, the fans in this city are hockey fans, and they are Jets fans. The crowds are amazing, and to be part of 15,000 people screaming “GO JETS GO” at the top of our lungs all in unison is just something that has to be experienced. It’s incredible. If you get a chance to go, don’t even worry about winning or losing. Just go and be part of that atmospshere. It is simply INSANE.
As for the team itself, we’re a young team that’s starting to come together. We have a lot of offensive talent. We have a fantastic goaltending core with starter Ondrej Pavelic and backup Chris Mason. I will even go so far as to call Pavelic an elite goaltender. He is that good. He’s solid, he moves side to side very well, his positioning allows him to stop pucks he can’t see and has no business stopping, and has great reflexes and ability under pressure. Our defense is solid. If this team can stay together for three or four years, we could seriously have a playoff team that makes the second and third rounds.
We do have to fix a couple things though. As a team, we have to take the body more. We don’t finish a lot of checks, and spend a lot of time skating with people and trying to play the puck, swinging our sticks at them or poke-checking instead of just playing physical game and then taking the puck after we’ve taken the man out. The other thing we need to correct defensively is making deadly cross-ice passes, or trying to make a long pass up the middle. We end up turning the puck over more often than we do making the play, and that is *extremely* costly in our own end.
If we can correct those two major issues, the smaller things will iron themselves out as this team grows and some of the younger players get some more experience. Bfyuglien and Enstrom are solid D-men, while Flood and Oduya show signs of excellent play as well. Up front, Nik Antropov is an offensive force, while Glass, Wellwood, Wheeler, and Slater all are young guys playing well and will become excellent players with more experience. Evander Kane is simply exciting to watch, and at 20 years old, is poised to be a superstar with the right supporting staff, and that staff is growing right in front of our eyes.
This team is going to finish well this season, and in 3 or 4 years, could very well be a force in the NHL. I can’t wait to see it happen. What a fun night of NHL hockey! I can’t wait to go back! Some pics are below!