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Jets set in Arizona

Close to 2,500 Winnipeg fans at Arena

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GLENDALE, Ariz. -- This clearly wasn't Winnipeg, what with the 38 C temperature and sun beating down on cacti. But there was that familiar "Go Jets Go" in the background everywhere you went on Saturday afternoon.

No, this is the home of the Phoenix Coyotes. But for one afternoon it felt a lot like home, with pockets of blue sticking out in the stands of Arena and filling the rink's surrounding bars.

The Jets took on the Coyotes Saturday afternoon and thousands of Winnipeggers made the pilgrimage to Arizona to cheer their new team in a 4-1 losing battle against their old team.

Estimates had close to 2,500 Winnipeggers at Arena and there were hundreds of fans in Jets colours rolling around the plaza at Westgate adjacent to the arena before the game. At game time, 15 private suites were filled with Winnipeg fans in Jets gear.

Winnipeg Mayor Sam Katz arrived at the game on a bus with 30 other Jets fans and hockey legend Thomas Steen.

Ena Warkentin of Winnipeg was sporting a grey Jets T-shirt as she hung out in a hotel lobby, getting ready for game time.

"We're very excited. We're so excited to see the first game (with) the new Winnipeg Jets against the old Winnipeg Jets. It's a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity," Warkentin said. "We're all wearing Jets gear, from hats to jerseys to T-shirts. We'll be seen in the stands."

Warkentin said even if she and her Winnipeg fans were outnumbered, they'd be heard.

"Winnipeg Jets fans have more heart and more spirit than any fans in the world," she said.

At McFadden's Pub, just outside the doors of Arena, Dave Tocher, 57, was sporting an original Jets jersey.

"I was at Portage and Main in 1972 when they signed Bobby Hull, and I got him to autograph a dollar bill for me," Tocher said. "I got divorced and I really didn't care about any of my stuff, but I wasn't letting go of that dollar bill."

Tocher couldn't believe the scene at a rowdy McFadden's: "This is mind-boggling. I drove 32 hours from Winnipeg to get here for this. I own a place here, and this is the best possible scenario, hockey in Winnipeg and hockey in Phoenix," he said.

Tocher and his pal Derek Langley were at the home opener last Sunday in Winnipeg.

"I was at the first game here in 1996, too, so I wasn't missing this for anything. To me, this is the Jets playing the Jets and the Jets are going to win," said Langley, who is the owner and pilot of Prairie Helicopters.

Jim Grey of Winnipeg was walking through the Westgate development on the morning of the game wearing his Andrew Ladd Jets T-shirt.

"Our plane was full; we came Thursday, flew out of Grand Forks. There were 300 of us, most of them coming to see the game -- even Thomas Steen," Grey said.

Grey doesn't care that the Coyotes didn't become the Jets again: "At the time it was a concern but now it doesn't matter," Grey said. "I think the team will move anyway."

Feraz Shere travelled to Phoenix from Toronto and his brother came in from San Francisco for the game.

"I'm here to see the game, and I'm here to support the team. I was 13 when they left and the feeling that Jets 1.0 is playing Jets 2.0 -- I could never have imagined it," Shere said.

As for the outcome, Shere said there's no mistaking who Jets fans are cheering for.

"I want the real Jets, the Winnipeg Jets, to win," he said.

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 16, 2011 A7

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