Saturday morning, the hottest seats in town were the free ones inside the MTS IcePlex as the Winnipeg Jets training camp hit the ice.
With True North's wildly successful Drive to 13,000 and ticket lottery keeping the MTS Centre's stands full all season, Saturday's open practice was the best and possibly only chance for some of the roughly 1,500 hockey fans in attendance to get close to the Winnipeg Jets.
People starting lining up to get into the IcePlex, which serves as the Jets' official off-site training facility, at around 7:30 a.m. The first group of players, including captain Andrew Ladd and Zach Bogosian took to the Winnipeg Free Press rink at 9 am, welcomed by a roaring crowd.
"It's very historic," said John Palson, standing rinkside with his six-year-old daughter, Jessica. "My daughter wasn't even alive when they left. I used to be a very dedicated fan and it's exciting to be here for the very first practice."
Jessica, sporting a brand-new Jets cap, is entering her second year of girls' hockey.
"Hopefully we'll actually get to take her to a game sometime this year," said Palson, one of many hopeful fans who didn't luck into tickets for the upcoming season. But that doesn't stop him from feeling connected to the team.
"I really haven't picked a favourite yet. I'm just starting to get to know the guys, really."
Just a few panels of glass away, Kevin Storimans is holding up his young son, Trevor, to get a better look at Winnipeg's new Jets.
"Probably not going to be able to see a game, the way they sell out and everything," said Storimans, who also missed the boat on season tickets for the upcoming season. "This might be as close as we get this year."
Storimans, who still fondly recalls watching Teemu Selanne at the old arena more than 15 years ago, still has hope for the future.
"Going to put our names in the draw and hope to see a game that way," he said. "It's starting a new generation now so it's really cool."
Training camp continues today at the MTS Centre but is closed to the public. The Jets' first pre-season, split-squad game is on Tuesday at 7:30 p.m. against the Columbus Blue Jackets at the MTS Centre, in conjunction with another split-squad game in Columbus, also Tuesday evening.