Recently the JetsNation team put together a list of the most memorable moments of the last ten years of Winnipeg Jets / Atlanta Thrashers hockey. We came up with about 15 in total ranging from no-brainers like the day Mark Chipman announced the return of the NHL to the city of Winnipeg, to understated moments such as the fight filled affair in Nashville where an angry and frustrated Jets squad filled up the penalty box against a Predators club that was just starting to become a major team rival.
With our list in hand, we turned to all of you to help us narrow the list to ten iconic moments and memories that will last with us well beyond December 31, 2019. This is the third part of our five part series where we go over the top ten (in no particular order) and highlight what made each moment stand out and our memories of them.
You can check out part one here: “A Flying W And Laine’s Five”
You can check out part two here: “Regina Heritage Classic And Teemu’s Return”
“Big Buff And The Jets Say Hello”
September 20, 2011: Dustin Byfuglien sends Winnipeg fans into a frenzy on the first ever shift of Jets 2.0
After the announcement of the team coming back to Winnipeg, fans were dying to finally see their team out on the ice. It had been an awfully long time since 1996 and the entire city was buzzing for months before the team actually hit the ice. With so much hype surrounding the draft and the team coming into their first season, there was a chance that the on-ice product might not live up to the expectations. The Thrashers didn’t have success in their years before coming to Winnipeg and the new Jets club lacked the necessary skill to compete for a playoff spot.
But the skill or depth of the club didn’t matter. All that mattered was that they were back, and that the first drop of the puck was happening on September 20, 2011.
You would have never thought it was a preseason game with the stands absolutely packed and the seismic roar of the fans when the puck was dropped. I didn’t think it could get any louder until Dustin Byfuglien made his introduction and absolutely leveled a Blue Jackets player just four seconds into the game.
With one hit, an entire province was united in their passion for hockey.
The shift continued and Byfuglien leveled another player twenty seconds into the same shift. The shift ended a few seconds later as gloves came off and both teams started throwing punches.
Wow. This Byfuglien guy seems like the real deal.
Winnipeg’s first glimpse of big number 33 made a lasting impression on everyone watching the game. Byfuglien instantly became a fan-favourite as he made the first game back in Winnipeg extra special with his physicality.
It’s no surprise that such a dynamic player making such a big play on the first shift ever by Jets 2.0 cracks the best moments of the decade.
“Winnipeg Returns To The Playoffs”
April 2015: The Jets make the Stanley Cup playoffs for the first time since the move north.
Having the Jets back in Winnipeg was huge, but having a bad team that misses the playoffs every year isn’t fun no matter how passionate the fan base is.
That’s exactly what happened to Winnipeg in their first three seasons as they were struggling along at a .500 pace but couldn’t quite reach the playoffs. They seemed to be stuck in the range that was just outside of the lottery picks but also just outside of a playoff spot. That’s not a great spot to be in because the fans in Winnipeg were patient but wanted results after waiting so long to get their team back.
After a mid-season coaching change the year before, the 2014-15 Jets seemed a bit different. This team was led by the classic Ladd, Little, Wheeler line although the highest point total was only 62 by Andrew Ladd. Not quite the range of points we’re now accustomed to see from Wheeler, Scheifele, or Laine. While the scoring was a bit tough, the main difference of the 2014-15 season was the play in the crease. Pavelec and Hutchinson split their duties with Pavelec starting 46 games and Hutchinson starting 36 games.
Over the course of Pavelec’s entire NHL career, he has a .907 SV%. But, for one season, that save percentage was far above his career average. He ended the 2014-15 season with a career high .920 and led the ragtag Jets to their first playoff appearance since coming back to Winnipeg.
On April 16, 2015, the Jets clinched a playoff spot and a hockey crazed fan base became even more frenzied with the impending return of Winnipeg’s famed “Whiteout” which traced it’s roots back to the 1980’s and the original Jets franchise.
The hype was insane in Winnipeg with the first ever playoff appearance on the horizon. It was a great time to be a Jets fan with so many new and exciting things going on. It even prompted local celebrity Ace Burpee along with his radio station to create their own Jets anthem for the first playoff run.
The hockey itself was a hard fought series that could have went either way. It might sound silly given the fact that Winnipeg lost four straight games, but the series was much closer than the wins indicated. The Jets held a 2-1 lead in game one before giving up two powerplay goals in the third and losing the game. It was the same story in game number two as the Jets held the lead after two periods once again before allowing a powerplay goal against in the third. The real issue was the goal that Winnipeg gave up with 21 seconds left in the third period in game two.
Just like that, after playing two games and holding a lead for majority of the time, the Jets somehow found themselves down 2-0 in the series but they were heading home to Winnipeg where they were greeted as conquering heroes and when Lee Stempniak scored the first playoff goal in Winnipeg in over ten years, fans lost their collective minds.
Unfortunately, the all too common theme of giving up third period leads came back in game three with the Jets heading into the second intermission up by a goal. Kesler scored to tie the game in the third and Rakell slammed home the winner in overtime to take a commanding 3-0 lead.
Winnipeg got on the board first in game four as well, but the Ducks came out flying after that by scoring three straight goals. They ended up winning the game and sweeping the series 4-0.
Even though Winnipeg didn’t get a victory in the series, they played hard and gave the fans at home some playoff hockey for the first time since relocation. The return of the Whiteout left a lasting impression on the hockey world and had people talking about it for weeks after the Jets had long been eliminated. That in itself is the reason why the 2015 playoffs is included in our moments of the decade.