Northern Touch: A Special Week For Winnipeg Hockey

Well, Winnipeg. How was your Heritage hockey weekend? Heck, how was your whole week? It started back on Wednesday with a moment Winnipeg Jets fans won’t soon forget, and ended with another just as memorable.

  • Patrik Laine’s first-career NHL hat trick — what a thriller — a come-from-behind overtime victory in a matchup touted as the “No. 1-overall Auston Matthews vs No. 2-overall Patrik Laine” game, and was highlighted by Matthews being stopped on a breakaway before Dustin Byfuglien snapped a quick outlet pass to a streaking Laine who buried his third goal of the game (in a span of just 21:40, mind you). 
  • A new-era Leafs-Jets rivalry might have some legs. As the years go by, and these two young teams grow into potential contenders, will we look back at Wednesday’s first meeting as a touchstone for Laine and Matthews and their respective clubs’ cross-conference Canadian rivalry? I definitely think so. And I get the feeling a “centre of the universe” vs “scrappy blue-collar prairie town” feud on the ice is a marketable one too.
  • What sparked Laine’s hat trick? Paul Maurice switched up his lines in the second intermission Wednesday night against the Leafs, putting Drew Stafford up with Mark Scheifele and Laine, and Blake Wheeler with Mathieu Perreault and Nikolaj Ehlers. Maurice kept these trios for Sunday’s game against the Oilers, but it resulted in zero goals on the NHL’s first star of the week — Cam Talbot. Talbot capped his notable week with the Heritage Classic shutout, as he went 3-0-0 with a 1.00 GAA and a .970 SV% to put Edmonton at 5-1-0 on the season and atop the Western Conference standings.
  • Speaking of Laine — who I really like, by the way, in his new spot alongside a playmaking Mark Scheifele — did you catch goaltender Michael Hutchinson’s comments earlier this week on his shot? Working against Laine through training camp and practice this season, Hutchinson says Laine’s shot resembles a lacrosse shot — as in he seemingly picks the puck up and throws it at the net.

  • Randy Turner of the Winnipeg Free Press (@randyturner15) tweeted this weekend: “Still say lasting legacy of Heritage Classic will be finally reconnecting #NHLJets 2.0 with Jets 1.0 alumni. A long time coming, IMHO.” As per usual, Turner is right on the money. I think it’s pretty great how the hockey club is finally honouring Winnipeg’s pro hockey history. They hadn’t at all until this season, and i get it. It’s a branding thing, and branding and marketing is a delicate science with millions of dollars and countless hours of planning and execution invested to maximize for business’ sake. But making the Winnipeg hockey-historical connection — despite the franchises being two different and distinct entities, both still alive in the NHL — it’s obvious this eventually had to happen. Those new Avco Cup Championship banners do look pretty darn cool hanging from the rafters inside MTS Centre.

  • Let’s be blunt. Teemu absolutely OWNS this town. Is there a single athlete (or even solitary figure) that garners the love and attention Teemu Selanne does in Winnipeg? Mayor Brian Bowman gave The Finnish Flash the key to the City this week, and I can’t think of a more widespread beloved and idolized person than Selanne.

  • Another thing Winnipeg was treated to this weekend was quite likely the last time Wayne Gretzky will be seen on the ice, in a game, in an Oilers jersey. I’m sure 99 will don the oil drop again as a new vice president in the Oilers organization, but he likely won’t play in another alumni game alongside the likes of Messier, Coffey, Fuhr, and Kurri. That’s pretty special.
  • As (almost?) every other NHL team already has, Jets fans have been patiently waiting for a third jersey for a while now. And they got a beauty in the WHA-themed Heritage Classic Jerseys. I don’t think I’ve heard a single bad thing from fans or media alike about them, and if I was told more people were wearing the new duds than regular Jets jerseys on Sunday afternoon at Investors Group Field, I’d believe it. Talk about a cash-cow. They’ll be working hard to keep them in stock right through the Christmas shopping season. Well done, to whoever/whomever touched up those nearly-40-year-old duds and put the finishing touch on those babies.
  • The Jets will wear their new retro-styled jerseys again on January 9 at MTS Centre against the Calgary Flames, and then on the road in Ottawa against the Senators on February 19. One has to wonder, will Dustin Byfuglien break out his custom-made and matching blue, red, and white skates for those games? How about Michael Hutchinson’s Bob Essensa-tribute designed mask? I sure hope so.
  • Outside of the broadcasters, did anybody really care about the delay to the start of the Heritage Classic due to the sun? I was out and amongst the fans on Sunday as I took my father to the game, and all I saw and heard were people enjoying a perfect autumn day in southern Manitoba, soaking up the sun and all of the atmosphere at a rare event that likely won’t be back in Winnipeg for a while. Once they dropped the puck, it became apparent to me how serious the concerns for player safety would be — a “hot spot” reflection of a ball of fire bounced off the ice like a blinding orb that torched my retinas from my east-side upper deck perspective at Investors Group Field.

  • The “True North” shout during the national anthem on Sunday is most definitely the loudest naturally amplified sound I have ever heard. It left me in some awe.
  • The Jets are now off to Dallas to begin a home-and-home with a banged-up Stars squad on Tuesday and Thursday night. After a week of outdoor wintery fun, they’re now down in the sunbelt where it’s approaching daytime highs of 30°C. As you’ll hear in the expected clichés from players; early-season points against Division opponents are just as valuable as late-season points. Cliché or not, it’s true. Especially at 2-3-0, the Jets can’t allow Dallas to win both of these games. 
  • Paul Maurice pointed out at practice on Monday that his club will not see consecutive non-game days at home until December 12, 13 & 14. Practice time to work out the early season wrinkles will be quite limited, and you can bet the players (and coaches) will be missing their own beds come the holiday break (December 23-26).