WINNIPEG – The game-day stroll to the Winnipeg Jets Whiteout Street Party keeps getting shorter and shorter with every home date.
As the home team’s victories pile up, the joyous, costumed mob keeps swelling, pushing the street blockades farther north, south, east and west to accommodate all those Jets fans.
The celebration outside Bell MTS Place for Game 1 of the Jets-Wild series April 11 met its maximum capacity of 5,500, so organizers expanded the dance floor — approximately 9,000 cheered their team to victory in Game 2.
For Friday’s Game 5, during which the Jets can clinch their first series victory in 31 years, the makeshift outdoor "venue" will expand once more. More food vendors, portable washrooms and five additional large screens have been ordered. A family-friendly, alcohol-free zone at Millennium Library Park will be introduced.
Up to 15,000 Winnipeggers can now be accommodated in a four-block space along Donald Street and Graham Avenue adjacent to MTS. That figure nearly matches the inside capacity of 15,321.
"They were wired from the start. It’s a great place to play," said head coach Paul Maurice.
"There are two different versions of the Winnipeg Jets, and it’s been a long time since they’ve been able to go home in a good mood after a playoff game."
The ultra-casual-dress outdoor celebrations are free to the public. They are being operated through a collaborative effort by club owner True North Sports & Entertainment and Economic Development Winnipeg (EDW).
"We’re flying by the seat of our pants a little bit in terms of how fast we’re having to move and the thousands and thousands of Winnipeggers who want to be a part of this,” EDW CEO Dayna Spiring told the Winnipeg Free Press. "We’ve said all along that this street party has exceeded our expectations."
The first couple of Whiteout parties cost an estimated $20,000 to produce, but those expenses are figured to be recouped in merchandise, food and beverage sales, and corporate activations.
Friday’s tailgate kicks off at 4:30 p.m. local time, two hours before puck drop. And with temperatures forecasted to reach 16° C — downright balmy for a series that has already played through a literal whiteout — in the city, the 15,000 target seems more than reasonable.
"The atmosphere is always fun," defenceman Jacob Trouba said. "It’s a little extra on top of already being excited."