On December 26 1982, I attended my first NHL game with my father, who in my eyes was (and is) "The Man". The Winnipeg Jets played the Minnesota North Stars and lost 3-2 (unless I attended the game in 1983 where the Jets defeated the North Stars 5-1 - haven't found my buried ticket yet). Win or lose that night, the Winnipeg Jets became our team for me and "The Man".
Going to Jets games became a regular-ish ritual for me and my father. Listening to the pre-game on 58 CKY was beautiful. They'd mention all my faves: Doug Smail (who my dad insisted was the fastest man in the league, but couldn't score on a breakaway to save his life) Thomas Steen (or should I say the Hon. Councillor Steen), Brian Mullen, Paul McLean (shared name = awesome dude), and of course Dale "Ducky" Hawerchuk. Everyone loved Hawerchuk.
1990. How did we get here already? March 9, 1990 had a 14 year-old version of the author of this tale going to a very meaningful Smythe division battle with the dreaded Edmonton Oilers (and by dreaded I mean abhorred - in lieu of using saltier language). I was really starting to spark with the Junior High ladies, but me and dad always had time for the Jets (this auhor is a liar - the first half of this statement is quite false). The Jets had the chance to show up the first place Oilers (really? no 99 and still first place? They must've made a pact with Miroslav Satan - not really kidding anyone with that it's pronounced SHAH-tahn crap) and win their fourth in a row. Needless to say, by sometime in the second period the score was 5-3 Oilers (I think); "The Man" and I were quite unimpressed. This is where the details are blurred: somehow the Jets were victorious 7-5, leading my dad to exclaim, "That was the most exciting game I've ever seen." It was. Or so I thought.
On April 8, 1990, "The Man" and I headed to the Winnipeg Arena for our first ever playoff game. I made a dorky sign; Jets logo on one side, x-ed out Oilers logo on the other. I was handed a pure white pom-pom on the way in; the fans were all plastered with white, and white noise was everywhere (and Don Cherry was in the building- maybe the stupid Leafs sucked that year). The Jets came back from Edmonton with a 1-1 split; better than our loveable scum had ever managed against the Oilers. I'd never seen my dad nervous; he was nervous that night. The atmosphere was wild. All the Winnipeg faithful (of which there were few) that night became Winnipeg faithful. With the score tied 1-1 in the third, Hawerchuk took a pass from Moe Mantha (or Peter Taglianetti or Brent Ashton judging by the boxscore, but i digress and who really cares) and scored. The place went nuts. I remember my dad and I giving each other a thumb hi-five (don't judge, you have your weird s**t too) followed by a hug. Jets win! I was in for all-time after that one.
Game 7 killed me. A late game in Edmonton after the Dave Ellett OT drama of Game 4 and the crushing defeats in Games 5 and 6; the mood was anything but jubilant. I remember hanging in until it was 3-1 Oilers and then retiring to my bed and listening to Curt Keilback delivering the crushing blow via a mini transistor radio. I did cry (a bit - so i'm a wimp) and my dad softened the blow by saying that, "We just didn't get the bounces." The stupid Oilers went on to beat the Bruins in the Finals. I hate you Mark Messier and co. (not just sour grapes, I swear). OK maybe still a little sore 'bout this one.
"The Man" and I went to a couple more playoff games over the years (two against the Canucks and one against Detroit); playoff hockey was a rarity in the 'peg.
My dad and i were listening to the Save the Jets rally in '95. He asked me to turn it off; getting a little misty (you know what I mean), and I felt the same. We got another season, but lost our team. Damn.
The return of the NHL to Winnipeg isn't just the return of our team for me and my dad. I'm older, (kinda) wiser and am now writing about the J__s here at arcticicehockey.com. I can't wait for that first game in the MTS Centre where me and "The Man" (and now my nephew "Little Man") get to see the J__s again. There will be thumb high-fives.