When the Winnipeg Jets 1.0 left in 1996, I was a naive teenager who really didn't understand exactly what we were losing. It might have helped that I was a Vancouver Canucks fan living in Portage la Prairie, Manitoba (due to the fact that my father, the late Rick Blight, played with them from 1975-80), and I wasn't fully invested in the local hockey team. I would even go to Jets games with the Old Man and cheer for the Canucks, which may have led to one of my fondest memories of being 8 years old and having popcorn thrown at me after I cheered a Vancouver goal. I also remember the terrible sight-lines from the upper deck, the crazy steep aisles, and the old picture of the queen. Ah, the Winnipeg Arena. Those were the days.
Looking back, I never felt that connected to the Jets living outside of Winnipeg. I have since seen the bulk of the newspaper articles detailing the demise of the Jets 1.0 thanks to the Internet archives, but back then we certainly didn't have what we have now. We didn't have TSN, Sporstnet and The Score competing to provide the best 24/7 television sports coverage. We didn't have TSN Radio 1290 giving non-stop sports coverage on the radio dial. We didn't have high-speed Internet to instantly know what was going on. We had newspapers and news radio to keep us company - none of which I used when I was a teenager. I never felt an attachment to the team, and perhaps that's why it was easy to not cheer for them.
After the Jets left, hockey fans in Winnipeg and Manitoba had a choice to make. Either cheer for the Manitoba Moose of the AHL (which ironically enough became the farm team of the Canucks), remain faithful to the Jets 1.0 and cheer for the Phoenix Coyotes (of which I know nobody who did this), continue cheering for your favorite team if they weren't the Jets in the first place, or stop watching hockey altogether. During my tenure in university in Winnipeg, I had friends who cheered for the Edmonton Oilers, the Calgary Flames, the Montreal Canadiens, the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Blackhawks, and yes, even the Toronto Maple Leafs. I was often one of the few that cheered for the Canucks, and I took many years of abuse thanks to the Canucks and their misadventures as 'Hockey's Most Hated Team". Looking back, I basically cheered for them by myself, and was often cheering against my friends' teams because they were the enemy.
As a Canucks fan as recent as this past season, I managed to get out to Beautiful British Columbia and experience cheering for the same team as everyone else during the playoffs last season. My wife, my sister, my brother-in-law and I all wore our Canucks jerseys downtown and found a pub to watch the Canucks take on the Sharks in the 3rd round. We were on Granville Street, and I was surrounded by people wearing the same jersey as me. It was exhilarating. Listening to the pub erupt when the Canucks scored was something I never experienced in Winnipeg - I was giving high-fives to strangers, yelling my head off and jumping around like a kid. It was awesome. Fast forward 10 days, and as my wife and I headed into a Boston Pizza in Winnipeg wearing our Canucks jerseys again, it felt different. We were surrounded by people who weren't cheering for either team, they were just watching the game. It was nothing like the feeling of sitting in Vancouver and being around people who were totally invested in the home-town team.
Now that the Jets have returned, everything feels different. Perhaps it is because I now live in Winnipeg, or perhaps it is because we now have all of the aforementioned luxuries of constant sports coverage, but when the Jets came back I knew I had no choice but to switch allegiances to my home-town team. I honestly believe that the experience of being in Vancouver for the playoffs had something to do with it. I felt the passion in the pub that night in Vancouver, and I felt it again when I was down at Portage and Main here in Winnipeg when the official announcement was made. I felt the exhilaration while sitting at my friends house, beside my buddies who all cheered for different teams last year, when we managed to become season ticket holders together for the same team. We sat at the MTS Centre and cheered like crazy when Mark Chipman said to everyone that "Kevin Chevaldayoff will make our first selection, on behalf of the Winnipeg Jets". We felt the excitement as we all waited at a bus stop to head down to the Home Opener against the Montreal Canadiens, as virtually every car and truck honked at us as we cheered. It is awesome to be able to cheer for the same team as everyone else.
I consider myself a very knowledgeable hockey fan, and knew the Canucks roster and stats like the back of my hand. However, I was only able to share this info with others on the internet or my wife. Now that the Jets are back, I only have to turn around to find someone willing to talk about how bad Dustin Byfuglien is at defense, how good Alexander Burmistrov and Evander Kane can and will be, or simply how last night's game went. Just the other day my wife and I went out for a bite at local watering hole, and the Jets game was on. The entire building was invested in the outcome, ooh-ing and aww-ing at the chances at both ends of the rink, and cheering like crazy when the Jets scored. I felt like I was back in Vancouver during the playoffs. I liked it.
Some people have questioned me about how I could just drop the Canucks like a bad habit, and pick up the Jets as the new favorite team. My reply to them is simple. How couldn't I? My home-town has a team to cheer for now, and I love the fact that I can cheer for the same team as everyone else around me. I am convinced that I would have become a Jets fan eventually had they have stayed in the first place, especially during my university years while in Winnipeg. Regardless, they are back now, and the Winnipeg Jets are my Home Town Team. I cannot wait to attend their games in the MTS Centre for many years to come, and experience with everyone in town the success that they will surely have. Hopefully sometime along the way Big Buff will figure out that he is a defenseman and actually play some defense, but the fact that I can complain about him to my friends and colleagues instead of on some internet message board is about as good as it gets. The Home Town Team is here to stay, and they have me on their bandwagon from now on.