WINNIPEG - It’s hard to imagine a scenario where a National Hockey League preseason game has created this much buzz and hype as what is unfolding right now with the Winnipeg Jets.
But Tuesday night’s split-squad preseason game against the Columbus Blue Jackets here – the teams are also meeting in Ohio – has the town giddy with anticipation.
And that excitement has spread into the Jets’ dressing room.
"This is getting closer to the real deal," said Jets’ winger Jason Gregoire, a Winnipeg product and one of four Manitobans suiting up for the game at MTS Centre. "I can’t be looking around the stands being oohed and aaahed and amazed. I’m fighting for a job here.
"I’m kinda used to this stage because we have great fans at UND every game. It’s not something new, but it will be pretty cool playing in my hometown. It’s really cool to be wearing the real Jets’ uniforms in front of a sold-out rink. It’s going to be unbelievable. I’m going to have a blast, I can tell you that. I’ll be looking around enjoying the crowd."
Ondrej Pavelec will start in goal for the Jets and play the first two periods before giving way to David Aebischer.
"It’s going to be really exciting. Not just the city, but all of us are waiting for this moment and for the first game," Pavelec said. "I’m pretty sure it’s going to be really exciting. We’ve had a few practices and now we’re ready for the games."
Jets’ head coach Claude Noel spent a good chunk of Tuesday’s game-day skate working on the team’s special teams.
"It’s pretty much as wild as you can get because of the frenzy here in Winnipeg," said Noel. "I really don’t know what to expect here tonight. I know our players are really excited and we’re really looking forward to it.
"It’s exciting around here. You can tell from the media alone at an exhibition game. It’s something you’re not really used to."
Indeed, while staring into a giant throng of media Jets’ captain Andrew Ladd was asked after the morning skate if he could remember the last time he faced this much press. Said Ladd: ‘yesterday.’
The Jets ‘other’ split-squad team will face the Blue Jackets in Columbus at 6 p.m. CT.
Watch a replay of our live pregame show from MTS Centre earlier: