It was a warm, wonderful welcome for former Winnipeg Jets hero, Teemu Selanne, at MTS Centre Saturday night. There was a feature on his career on the big video board. The crowd gave him a standing ovation when he came out for his first shift. The fans even started playing this silly game in which they would boo every Ducks player who touched the puck and then cheer when Selanne touched it.
"It was kind of comical," said Zach Bogosian, the game’s first star with a goal and two assists. "Our fans always boo the other team’s top players, but what we saw tonight is something I’ve never seen before."
It was fun and, in a strange Winnipeg kind of way, rather classy. In fact, it looked like "old jersey" night. Even Jets fans who owned new jerseys, broke out the old royal blue, white and red jerseys from the 90s. There were more Selanne Jets jerseys than Ladd Jets jerseys on Saturday.
"The emotion was very high," said Selanne after the game. "I tried to stay focused, but I was very emotional. It was just a great feeling. Even in the warm-up, just seeing all the signs and the No. 13, all the Winnipeg Jets jerseys. I felt like everybody was watching me."
Of course, by the middle of the second period, it didn’t matter anymore, Anaheim’s Dan Ellis should have been charged with impaired goaltending as he fanned on five shots and the Jets hung on to beat Selanne’s Ducks 5-3.
The Jets weren’t great last night, but Ellis was awful and the Ducks were exposed as one of the slowest teams to play at Winnipeg’s downtown rink this season. Sure, Selanne might be a freak, but at 41, he’s the fastest skater on the Ducks and that can’t be good. He also played 19 minutes. While the Jets often struggled to get the puck out of their own end, goalie Chris Mason was good enough to keep the Jets in front and Winnipeg took full advantage of the chances they had.
Selanne picked up a pair of assists, on two goals by Corey Perry, but in the end, the Ducks were no match for a Jets team that probably got its best performance of the year from its checking line –Tanner Glass, Jim Slater and Chris Thorburn — a group effort from the goal scorers — Wellwood, Wheeler, Burmistrov and Ladd — the return of Tobias Enstrom and a solid performance from the 15,004 in attendance, a performance that was likely unmatched anywhere in the NHL this season.
"We would have picked Chris Mason as our first star," said Kyle Weelwood after the game. "He really was the story of the night at the end of the game. He made some great saves, especially in the third period, and he kept us in it."
Say what you will about went on down on the ice on Saturday night, the Jets crowd is becoming the talk of the NHL. Selanne even mentioned it before the game. He said he was excited to "be part of the atmosphere." While it was certainly fun for him, it wasn’t for the rest of the Ducks. The crowd started before the advertised 6 p.m. CST starting time and seldom stopped cheering, chanting, singing or deriding Dan Ellis. Long-time Alberta journalist Bruce Penton compared it to a British soccer crowd. Jets fans start screaming before the anthems and don’t stop until the Jets players give them the post-game salute at centre ice.
In fact, while the fans saluted the Jets at the end of the game, Tanner Glass cheered them right back.
Good for him. This Winnipeg crowd is incredibly important to this Jets team, a team that is now 15-13-4 this season and 11-5-0 at home (and a wonky 4-8-4 on the road). Winnipeg is in the midst of a huge December homestand. Starting Nov. 29, Winnipeg will play 13-of-15 at home and right now they are 6-2-0 in the first eight. After losing back on Nov. 29, they won five straight before losing 1-0 to Washington on Thursday. Saturday night’s win over the Ducks had better start another home winning streak — the Jets play Tuesday, Thursday and Friday, go to Colorado on the 27th and then play back home on the 29th and 31st before heading off in January to play 15-of-the-next-19 on the road.
"i was happy we won the game," said head coach Claude Noel. "They are a big physical team. We struggled to handle their size and their pressure game. But we got some big goals and Mason made some key saves and battled his heart out. It was a hard game to play for our players. It was a big, tough physical game."
On a night when Teemu Selanne was the centre of attention, Chris Mason, Zach Bogosian, second star Andrew Ladd and that big, loud, tireless crowd was the difference.