WINNIPEG - The curtain is about to be opened on NHL hockey in Winnipeg after 15 years of a dark stage.
The Jets will take on the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight (7:30 p.m., Sports Radio 1290, TSN) in front of a capacity crowd at the MTS Centre.
The only thing pre-season about this game is the title. No, two points won't be awarded for the winning effort but the atmosphere, emotion and colour of this game is more playoff than exhibition.
"It's going to be really exciting. I don't know how many guys in this room have ever felt something like this," said veteran defenceman Mark Stuart. "We don't really know what to expect but it's going to have unique intensity."
The arena has been jazzed up with new paint, Jets logos and the scoreboard was lit up with the names Winnipeg and Columbus at this morning's morning skate - two NHL teams competing in an NHL game in an NHL city. Forgive me - but wicked cool was my reaction as I settled into my seat at this morning's warm up.
In the days of the Moose the morning skate was often a solitary experience with as few as two media members often in the stands. Tuesday's crowd maxed out at 30 as the Jets took their pre-game twirl.
For the players the moment is upon them and they're just as excited as the fans.
"I'm going to take a minute to soak it up and get that out of the way," said Stuart. "After that it will be business. But I want to see and feel the crowd and enjoy that for a moment."
Portage La Prairie native Troy Bodie will be in the lineup tonight and he's passed three tickets along to his parents and his brother.
"I've only got three tickets but there's more than that coming. I kind of just left it out of my hands so I can focus on the game and what I need to do," said Bodie. "They're pretty excited. They were hoping I would be in this game. I'm pretty excited too. I just hope I don't get too nervous. I need to play my game. Get in there on the forecheck and hopefully get a big hit early to get the crowd into it."