The 'Whiteout' was in full effect in Winnipeg (Marianne Helm/Getty Images)
The Jets didn’t skate away victorious Monday night, but the game itself meant more to Winnipeg than most would expect. The passion of the fans was displayed on a national stage and in such a way that it showed the NHL just what it was missing.
When Lee Stempniak scored the game-opening goal for the Winnipeg Jets, the crowd inside MTS Centre reached volumes of 124 decibels, according to Sportsnet. That’s as loud as sandblasting or a rock concert. Matter of fact, and as apropos as it may seem, it's also nearly as loud as a jet engine.
But that’s been the storyline all along; as great as it may be to see the Jets in the post-season, it was Winnipeg’s chance to show everyone what kind of fanbase they are on a national stage. It was time to prove to those who believed the city wasn’t right for an NHL team they couldn’t have been more wrong. And from warm-ups, when the volume was over 100dB, until the game’s final whistle, the fans brought it.
“This has been a night that has been 19 years in the making,” commissioner Gary Bettman said. “You can feel the energy in the city. It’s palpable. What I find particularly interesting, as I’ve travelled the league the last week, the question I got most frequently was, ‘Going to Winnipeg Monday night?’ because everyone knows that this is going to be a special night.”
A special night, indeed. From the opening puck drop, a chorus of, “Go Jets, Go,” rang throughout the MTS Centre. Icings called on the Anaheim Ducks were met with cheers. Every check the Jets threw seemed to pump the volume higher. And the Jets’ goals, well, Stempniak’s first period tally was met with screams so loud you couldn’t think. The same went for goals by Tyler Myers, Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little.
“It was special (to play in front of that crowd),” said Wheeler. “It was great. The fans were unbelievable. That was one you will always remember.”
Like Wheeler, Adam Lowry, who was three years old when the first incarnation of the Jets left Winnipeg, said the atmosphere is something that stood out.
“It was a lot of fun to take in the ‘Whiteout’ for the first time,” said Lowry. “Some of us were in awe just how white it really was, and it’s always a treat to come home and play in front of these fans.”
At the end of the night, Winnipeg skated away down 3-0 in the series thanks to a 5-4 overtime defeat. One can only imagine what heights the frenzy inside the building would have reached had the Jets pulled out the win in the extra frame. But even after the loss, the MTS Centre crowd broke out into yet another chant, encouraging their Jets to push on in hopes that a miracle is on the horizon – that somehow this team can do what only four others in NHL history have done and come back from a 3-0 series deficit. For their support, Winnipeg coach Paul Maurice is thankful.
“That’s as good a building as I’ve ever seen in my life,” said Maurice. “We had good jump, good legs, because of (the fans). We needed it, we used it to good effect for a big chunk of the game.”
And the passion of the Jets fans wasn’t lost on the opposition. Even in victory, Ducks coach Bruce Boudreau admitted the early minutes were a test for his team, even if it was one that they weathered.
“It certainly was loud,” Boudreau said. “It certainly gave them energy. I don’t know if we handled it great or not, but we handled it just enough to survive. Once you get into the game, sometimes you don’t hear a lot of that. At the beginning, it was incredible.”
Though the result wasn’t there for Winnipeg in Game 3, there’s no denying that win or lose this game meant something more to the fans in attendance. It was a proving ground, and now fans league-wide understand what to expect from the Jets faithful.
Records will show that Monday was a game attended by 15,000 people, but like a fisherman’s tale, the turnout will stretch to eclipse the 100,000 mark. With each passing year, the tales of, “I was there,” will spread and the legend of the crowd at the first home playoff game for the Winnipeg Jets – the new Jets – will gain steam. It was a game that the Jets lost, but a night that meant more than what the score indicated.