Friday, February 17, 2012

Home Game Feel for Jets in St. Paul

Sportmentary wasn't able to attend last night's game between the visiting Winnipeg Jets and the Minnesota Wild but one thing was clear from the start, it felt like a home game for the Jets at Excel "No" Energy Center. There were thousands of fans who made the trek from Winnipeg.

Winnipeg is a 467.5 mile drive to St. Paul, which made it easy for the legion of Winnipeg fans to travel to the Twin Cities and cheer the Jets on to victory. It was evident, right from the start that this wasn't an ordinary home game for the Wild. Jets fans, an estimated five to six thousand of them, were loud and boisterous. It was hard to tell the home crowd from the visiting crowd.

In all intents and purposes, this was another home game for the Jets. Their fans were louder than their Wild counterparts. Yes, the home crowd tried to show their support but Winnipeg fans are just louder and more passionate about their team.

The Jets do not have to compete with another major professional sports team during the hockey season. The Jets rule in Manitoba. The Wild on the other hand, have to compete against the NBA's Minnesota Timber Wolves for the entire season  and the NFL's Minnesota Vikings until the first Sunday in January (Vikings don't make the playoffs). Their passion for their favorite team is split with 3 other teams (Don't forget that this is also Twins territory).

They call Minnesota the state of hockey but it's more like the state of depression when it comes to their sports teams. Minnesota has fielded losers in all major sports recently and the Wild aren't helping their cause by losing six straight and 21 of their last 27 games. In fact, the Jets started the Wild's poor record back on December 13th at the MTS center and continued it last night with a dramatic victory in the Shootout.

When the Jets netted the OT winner, the home away from home crowd went bananas. It was great to see. This is a great rivalry in the making between these two teams and when the NHL realignment plan is finally signed by the players, Winnipeg will have a few more home away from home games.

By now, you might be asking yourselves why I'm making such a big deal out of this game and the Winnipeg crowd. Winnipeg has done well at home this season with a 16-9-2 record but has been a disaster on the road. It's great to have a crowd that cheers you on to victory on the road, like the Jets had last night. It meant that their away record was improved. Earning those two points were huge, especially since the Jets are fighting to make the NHL playoffs.

I want to make one last point about the state of hockey. It's true that Minnesotans love their hockey. The problem is that they seem to be more passionate about college and high school hockey than their professional hockey team. Yes the Wild do draw well for an NHL team and that's great but do they capture the headlines?

Sometimes they do but this morning, I opened the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the headline story on the front page was about some Gophers Hockey player. A Minnesota Wild article on the other hand was placed in a little corner down the right side of the page.

If it were Winnipeg or any other Canadian city that had an NHL team, the NHL team would make the front page; Win or Lose. That's the difference between Minnesota's sate of hockey and Canada's culture of hockey. Canadians will support all levels of hockey, especially their NHL teams.

In the end, it was the culture of Canadian/Winnipeg hockey that prevailed over Minnesota's state of hockey last night. Winnipeg won a close and exciting game in their home away from home!

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