Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Lockout? What lockout?

Fans in forgiving mood -- at least heading into the game

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Lockout? It was more like a "love in" at the Winnipeg Jets season opener at the MTS Centre on Saturday.

Of course, that was the mood going into the game. After a lacklustre performance and a 4-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators, faces were a bit more grim as fans left the arena.

Most reader comments left at winnipegfreepress.com matched that mood.

"What a dreadfully boring game. I can understand that there may be a little rust and that the timing may be off but a little enthusiasm would be nice," one reader posted.

Nevertheless, as the puck left the referee's hand to start the game, the lockout was like so much ancient history to raucous Winnipeg Jet fans.

"We really, really, really love the Jets," said season-ticket holder, Gary Zimak, who doesn't anticipate any residual ill will among Jet fans over the three-month lockout. "You can feel the buzz."

You certainly could, and hear the noise and see the happy faces.

"I think it's right back to where it was in the first place," said Kerry Knudsen, also a season-ticket holder, of the fan support. "This buzz is going to happen all season long."

Knudsen and Zimak saw some pluses to a lockout-shortened season, too. "It's hard to get to 42 home games. So 24 games is great," said Knudsen. That is, instead of a regular 82-game season, there are just 48 this year, half of them home games. "The games are so close together this season that winter is just going to fly by," he added.

A few fans agreed when asked if it wasn't better to save some money from a shortened season, but only a few.

"I got $1,000 back" in December, said David, attending with his son, Alex. That's just in time for RSP season. But he has other plans. "The first round of the playoffs is paid for," he said.

Some fans, like Jeff Harris and Suzanne Mulaire, couldn't wait to get the season started.

"We're pumped. There's not much else we've been thinking about the past couple days," said Harris in his Jets sweater sporting Andrew Ladd's monicker on the back. He said money saved from cancelled games wasn't important to him.

Raymond Dubourg and Fern Kerr drove through snowdrifts and snow squalls from St. Claude, about an hour west of Winnipeg, to get to the Jets game. They share season tickets with other people and have saved at least $1,000 from the lockout. But that's not an issue for them, either.

"We've got to spend the money on entertainment one way or another," said Dubourg. And Dubourg was starting to go stir crazy. It got so bad, he said, "that I even started watching the Toronto Raptors, if you can believe it."

Of course, Dancing Gabe was primed for the start to the season. He shrugged off suggestions he might not be in mid-season form to do his dancing in the aisles. "I'm still in shape," he said confidently.

Don's Photo kicked off a new feature where fans can have their photos taken as a Winnipeg Jet. People stick their head through a hole of a Winnipeg Jet figure and have their photograph taken, compliments of the Winnipeg-based company. They are then given a number to look up their photo online only they can see. They can have a print made or use the photo on Facebook or Twitter.

People were making all kinds of scheduling changes so they could make Saturday's game. Gilles Grenier of Somerset missed his curling game at the MCA bonspiel so he could attend Saturday's game with his son, Nolan. Nolan, 5, was worried he might be kept at home because of an ear infection. "This first thing he said when he woke up today was, 'Can I still go to the Jet game?' " said his dad.

A new season also heralded renewed optimism. "I think (the playoff race) is going to go down to the wire and we're going to just make it in," said Joanna Young, at the game with husband, Bill.

bill.redekop@freepress.mb.ca

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 20, 2013 A3

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