With the honeymoon blush behind them, but the fresh new-hockey-team scent still wafting off the ice, the Winnipeg Jets entered the 2012-13 season a little older, a little sturdier — thanks to the additions of free agent veterans Olli Jokinen and Alexei Ponikarovsky — and mostly ready to rock. Now, with the second half of the Jets’ non-existent sophomore season still ahead, Melissa Martin and Mykael Sopher reflect on the Top 10 games that never actually took place.
#10 – Jets at Minnesota Wild, Oct. 2
Yeah, yeah, it was just a pre-season game. Still, with thousands of Winnipeggers making the trip, tension in the Xcel Energy Centre rose to a distinctly seasonish fever pitch. From their two nasty tilts last year, it was already clear that JETS NO LIKEY MINNESOTA, and now that the Wild had two tasty new star targets, the Jets’ hungry prospects turned up the heat. Fighting for his NHL life, Patrice Cormier upended Zach Parise, notched a shorthanded assist and asked Dany Heatley to dance. (The latter declined, providing endless fodder for hockey forums.) In front of a cheering Canadian invasion crowd, the Jets won, 6 goals to 1. Back home, we licked our lips and looked forward to the season. Hell, we looked forward to the Stanley Cup.
#9 – Buffalo Sabres at Jets, Dec. 29
“And here come the silvers,” Denis Beyak called over the radio, his voice ringing throughout Winnipeg as Buffalo Sabres goaltender Ryan Miller allowed a goal only 28 seconds into the contest. See, after a successful Twitter campaign encouraging Jets fans to wear their finest silver medals to the matchup, countless ticket-holders showed up with tinfoil discs dangling from their necks. Pre-game taunts of “sil-ver med-al” filled the MTS Centre as the slick-haired Miller rolled his eyes repeatedly during the starting lineup announcement.
Mere seconds into the match, Antti Miettinen improbably stripped Tyler Ennis of the puck and feathered a pitch-perfect pass to a streaking Blake Wheeler (streaking is what Blake Wheeler does). With two Buffalo defenders clutching and grabbing Wheeler like it was 2003, the towering winger turned on the jets (HA GET IT?) and his blazing speed proved too much for the heavy-hoofed Buffalo D-men. (ANOTHER PUN!) Breaking free, Wheeler fired a shot on Miller’s glove side. The puck dinged the post and dropped into the goal, a beauty that would cement both an individual rivalry and a certain awkwardness for the 2014 American Olympic team.
“And here come the silvers,” rang out on radios across Manitoba, followed shortly by, “…and a delay of game penalty against the home team.”
#8 – Detroit Red Wings at Jets, Oct. 27
Even the trees seemed to shiver, when the Red Wings’ plane touched down. “Remember,” the wind whispered, and Winnipeggers trembled in fear. On the crisp rush hour drive, the glow of red brake lights triggered mass flashbacks; not again, we thought. Please say they didn’t score again. Against this backdrop of malaise, Hustler and Lawless opened the phone lines to talk about the game ahead. “I don’t want to talk about it,” every caller said. Anyway, the Jets went on to win 2 to 1, with Paul Postma notching the game-winner on a clapper from the point. Other than that, pretty quiet game.
#7 – Jets at Boston Bruins, Nov. 17
Did you see that hit? Yeah man, I saw it. No, I don’t think you saw it or else you wouldn’t say that shit was clean. LOOK man I TOLD you, I SAW the whole thing. Yeah, well then you know he left his feet, it was a total charge. He DIDN’T man, I’m telling you he DIDN’T, it was on the follow-through and that shit’s ALLOWED. No it isn’t. Yeah it IS man, don’t forget I’m a referee. YEAH FOR YOUR STUPID SPONGEE LEAGUE. Look man, you know what, I’m done, I’m just done. Are there any beers left? Nah man we drank them all. Shit, okay. Whatever, just don’t keep rubbing this one in my face. Nah man, look, I’m not defending Looooch, he can be kinda dirty sometimes, I hope Toby’s okay. DUDE, Ken Wiebe just said on Twitter he’s probably out a dozen games. WHATEVER MAN, CLEAN HIT.
#6 – Washington Capitals at Jets, Oct. 23
A frustrating division rival coming to town is always occasion for a deliciously tense game, but this tilt was tops for another reason: all eyes were on Mark Scheifele. On his extended NHL tryout, and with a decision on his season looming before the Jets headed out on the road that week, fans knew it was make-or-break time for the charming young star. Unfortunately, after falling on his face during a crucial three-on-two, which led to the Caps’ game-winning goal, Scheifele learned he was headed back to Barrie. “I just have to keep working my hardest,” a dejected Scheifele said, eyes glazed and glassy while rocking back and forth at his stall. “Keep getting bigger and stronger. Keep working my hardest. Keep getting…”
Showing sensitivity rare in sports writers, Ed Tait flicked off his recorder, and quietly slipped away.
#5 – Chicago Blackhawks at Jets, Oct. 15
A seismic shift was felt throughout the hockey world as a pre-game trade saw Winnipeg’s prodigal son Jonathan Toews moved to his hometown team for ostentatious Jet Evander Kane (and a 2013 2nd and 3rd rounder). When asked about the bizarre swap, Blackhawks General Manager Stan Bowman casually explained that “two Kanes are easier to reign in than one.” The move paid immediate dividends as the Kane/Kane/Sharp line cashed in for five goals and twelve points in a 6-0 rout of the home team. Johnny Oduya added three assists. (In a post-game interview, he told Free Press beat reporter Tim Campbell that it was “time to start charging for pizzas.”) Fifteen thousand and four Jets fans filed out of the MTS Centre in stunned silence. But hey, Jonathan Toews was home, right?
#4 – New York Islanders at Jets, Dec. 14
“Really?” you’re saying. “The Islanders? Those snoozeworthy sadsacks, playing off the last days of the fading light of their former glory in a doomed arena? That’s the fourth best game of the first half of the 2012-13 season? The muffer effin’ Islanders?”
Yeah, you would say that… if you didn’t know that this was the game where Kyle Wellwood, enraged over the diving penalty that once again dashed his dreams of Lady Byng, emerged from the sin bin, lined up John Tavares, and barreled full-speed into the star center. Of course, that speed was only 10 kilometers per hour, and Tavares thought the collision was an accident. Still, the hit – or rather, “hit” – set off a chain reaction of confused events, which inexplicably ended in an orgy of blood and teeth and Ron Hainsey throwing haymakers at Kyle Okposo.
See, if you knew that, you’d know why this game was one of the greatest that didn’t actually happen. Sucks that we missed it.
#3 – Jets at Philadelphia Flyers, Nov. 23
…Flyers won 15 to 12. The game saw every Jet notch at least one point, including the ever-elusive goalie point when Ondrej Pavelec attempted to clear a puck that sailed straight through Ilya Bryzgalov, who was back in net after being pulled for Michael Leighton who was pulled for Ilya Bryzgalov. Chris “Sniper” Thorburn recorded a hat-trick in the losing effort. In Winnipeg sports bars, beer sales dipped as customers turned to shots of whiskey instead, and the fact that it balanced out in the end meant that no articles were written about the impact of the Jets on downtown sports bars the next day.
#2 – Pittsburgh Penguins at Jets, Dec. 15
For fans, the prospect of a healthy Sidney Crosby making his first appearance at the MTS Centre was cause for both obvious elation, and no small measure of alarm. The latter, not only because Crosby — apparently settled from his playoff meltdown earlier in the year — was tearing up the league, but because his presence in the barn presented a cheer conundrum. If Ovie is one of the best, and Crosby knew that we thought Crosby’s better — then how, pray tell, could we taunt Sid?
For the first ten minutes, fans in the MTS Centre struggled to come up with an alternative. “Heads up Sidney” never really took off, ending largely in glares from buzzkills who don’t find serious head trauma to be a very funny joke. “Ovie’s better” prompted a wave of laughs, but still just felt too wrong. Then, suddenly, the right chant just… clicked. “Burmi’s better,” came the lone voice, from somewhere up in the 300s, and the chant spread like wildfire. “Burmi’s better.”
And in this game, he was. Spurred by the sudden love of the crowd, the Russian forward with the dirty dekes and the high-fashion cheeks unleashed the dynamo he always hinted he could be. Kid was everywhere, leaving a stream of broken English chirps in his wake. In the first period, he stripped Kris Letang of the puck and sent it flying roof daddy, a perfect shorthanded goal. He also laid out Geno Malkin, twice. In the second period, an Evander Kane shot deflected off Burmi’s butt and bounced into the net.
Finally, in the closing minutes of the third, with the Pens pressing hard to tie the game at 4 (Zach Bogosian and Blake Wheeler also scored for the Jets), Burmistrov dipsy-doodled through the entire Penguins team and slipped the puck five-hole on Flower: for the first time in Jets 2.0 history, hats rained in MTS Centre, turning the ice into a sea of polar night blue.
“Maybe it is I am a little better,” Burmistrov smirked afterwards, when asked about the favourable comparison to Crosby. “If the fans say so it must be true.”
Greenroom was really, really hopping that night.
#1 – Carolina Hurricanes at Jets, Oct. 13
For 15 years we lived without them, and then suddenly we couldn’t stand to be apart, like long-lost lovers reunited and all tangled up in each other’s arms. The summer was long, too long, but somehow we saw it through. “When do the Jets games start?” the kids asked, and we’d pat their heads and say, earnestly: soon, soon. In September, the NHL and NHL Player’s Association cruised to a comfortable deal, and photos of handshakes and smiles blanketed the news. “It’s especially great to get this deal done for the fans in Winnipeg,” Jets captain Andrew Ladd told Rick Ralph that day on TSN. “The guys, we talk about it all the time, how excited we are to get back on the ice in front of these fans again. October 13… it’s gonna be pretty special.”
It was. In fact, it was sort of perfect — and not just because they won an overtime thriller, 3-2. Our boys were back, the beer was flowing, and all was right in Winnipeg, at least for that one day. Our other troubles, for a few hours at least, could wait.
Oh-oh sometimes, I get a good feelin’…
Melissa Martin (@doubleemmartin) is a 2011 Ezzy Award Winner for Kyle Wellwood Fan of the Year, a 2012 Ezzy Award Winner for Political Tweeter of the Year, and entertainment editor at Spectator Tribune. Mykael Sopher (@mykaelsopher) runs a music blog. They text about hockey every hour of every day, although due to the lockout the recent substance of those texts is basically “I miss Blake Wheeler 🙁 🙁 🙁 :(.” Anyway, they tag-teamed this post for all of you.