When this decade began, the Winnipeg Jets were the Atlanta Thrashers. Then, on May 31, 2011, Mark Chipman, the chairman of True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd., spoke the words Manitoba — heck, Canadian — hockey fans were desperate to hear since the original Jets departed for Arizona in 1996. “Today, on behalf of my family, our partner David Thomson, and our entire organization, I am excited beyond words to announce our purchase of the Atlanta Thrashers.”
With that, NHL hockey was reborn in Winnipeg. Now in their ninth season, the Jets 2.0 have given their fans plenty to cheer about.
Here is a look at the top three Jets moments of the decade.
1. Let the Healing Begin
The reaction to the official news of a Jets return was instant and awesome. Fans gathered at two iconic Winnipeg locations — The Forks and the intersection of Portage and Main — to celebrate, with road hockey games breaking out across the city and mayor Sam Katz latching on to former Jets great Thomas Steen as part of a conga line downtown. Yes, you could definitely hear a few corks being popped, too.
The first draft pick of the new era was Mark Scheifele, who wore a sweater with an NHL logo on the front of it at the 2011 draft. In September, the team unveiled their new uniforms at Royal Canadian Airforce base 17 Wing.
“Sharp jersey,” remarked the team captain, Andrew Ladd. “It’s a clean look and hopefully something that will stand the test of time.”
On Oct. 9, 2011, the Jets hit the ice at their new home, Bell MTS Place, in a scene very worthy of the old Winnipeg Arena. Though the visiting Montreal Canadiens spoiled the party with a 5-1 win, there was no dousing the unfettered joy in the building and around the city that night. If you don’t get chills watching the Hockey Night in Canada opener for that game, maybe you need to get hit with a Bobby Hull slapper or Dustin Byfuglien bodycheck just to make sure you’re capable of feeling anything at all.
2. The White Stuff
Let’s be real: Jets fans were so excited to have their team back, wins and losses were really a secondary consideration for numerous seasons. That said, playoff hockey had to become a thing again at some point.
In their fourth season after the move — and first full campaign under coach Paul Maurice — Winnipeg won four of its final five contests and used a 99-point showing to snag the last Western Conference playoff berth. After losing Games 1 and 2 in Anaheim versus the top-seeded Ducks, the Jets returned to Manitoba for their first playoff game on home soil since April 28, 1996. That was a Game 6 loss to the Detroit Red Wings, which also doubled as the final appearance of any kind by the original Jets.
With the “white out” playoff tradition in full force, the scene was exactly what you’d expect for Game 3 on April 20, 2015.
Fuelled by the home crowd, the Jets came out gunning and when Lee Stempniak scored the opening goal of the game just shy of the first period’s halfway mark, the place went bonkers.
The good vibes didn’t last, however. Winnipeg lost a 5-4 overtime heartbreaker in Game 3 and were dusted two nights later as the Ducks completed the first-round sweep.
3. An Unprecedented Run
The Jets of the 1980s had some very talented squads, but being stuck in the Smythe Division with the Edmonton Oilers and Calgary Flames made post-season success a bit of a pipe dream. While the World Hockey Association version of the franchise won three Avco Cups, Winnipeg’s NHL entries were never even a final-four squad — until the spring of 2018.
The slow-and-steady approach of GM Kevin Cheveldayoff — aided by some draft lottery luck in 2016 that landed Patrik Laine with the second overall pick — was starting to pay off by the 2017-18 season. Sensing the team was getting close, Cheveldayoff eschewed his usual cautious approach and dealt a first-round pick at the trade deadline to acquire centre Paul Stastny from the St. Louis Blues.
After a 114-point season that smashed the previous franchise record of 99, the Jets made short work of the Minnesota Wild in Round 1 to win their first playoff series of the new era. The next round brought a date with the Nashville Predators, the top seed in the West and the defending conference champs. A back-and-forth series saw the teams alternating wins, culminating with an odd ending whereby Nashville smothered the Jets 4-0 in Winnipeg in Game 6 to force a decisive contest and the Jets returned the favour in Tennessee, winning Game 7 5-1 in enemy territory.
With only the first-year Vegas Golden Knights standing between them and a spot in the Stanley Cup Final, Jets fans could really start to dream big, especially after Winnipeg scored three goals before the eight-minute mark of Game 1 en route to a home-ice win. However, the fairy dust that coated the expansion Knights must have got in Winnipeg’s eyes, because Vegas ripped off four straight wins to take the series. Ryan Reaves, a Winnipeg native, even scored the game-winner in the clinching Game 5 contest.
“It’s very difficult to find that positive feeling at this moment,” Maurice said immediately after the loss.
True, but that was certainly the exception to the rule in the past 10 years for hockey fans in Winnipeg.