Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Wild night in Winnipeg: But, that's the norm in this here hockey-mad town

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Norm Green and Richard Burke may have found the proceedings a little too steeped in hockey, but forget them.

Green moved the Minnesota North Stars to Dallas and Burke took the Winnipeg Jets to Phoenix, but their grubby fingerprints were missing from the scene of the action Tuesday night as two NHL reclamation projects played shinny in a place where the game is still played on frozen ponds.

If Minnesota is the State of Hockey then Manitoba is the Province of Puck and these two teams, both finally back where they belong, made this one count in all the right ways.

 

Full house, maximum excitement and a barn burner to boot. Hockey is back in the heartland and thriving, so excuse us if we take a few minutes to preen.

Here's our list of hockey happiness from a run-of-the-mill midweek game in the 'Peg:

1. The crowd. As great as the return of the NHL and big league players has been, it's the fans that seem to steal the show on a nightly basis. Loud, fresh and fun. The word is out in the NHL that Winnipeg's MTS Centre audience is as loud and involved as any in the league.

2. Evander Kane. A skater, a shooter and a burgeoning star. Kane has a nose for the puck and goes wherever he needs to in order to get it. The crowd loves him and we get the feeling it's mutual. Catching Kane in action is becoming a big part of the experience in Winnipeg.

3. Coach Claude. Jets coach Claude Noel is fairly impassive behind the bench but there's big mind spinning furiously under that salt and pepper mop. Noel is introspective, strong willed, funny and clever. He's got the Jets running and the media on the run. In Claude speak, "he's a beauty."

4. The Wild. Underachievers a year ago, rookie head coach Mike Yeo has them atop the NHL and playing stylish but systematic hockey. We're not sure they can keep it up -- they hardly ever win by more than one goal and sooner or later that usually catches up with a team -- but it's a great story while it lasts.

5. Ondrej Pavelec. Pav-electricity is what gets pumped through the building after one of his big saves and he had a dandy on Pierre-Marc Bouchard, outwaiting the sniper and then stacking the pads to shoo away the shot.

6. Dany Heatley. Still has one of the best one-timers hockey has ever seen. Heatley is a slower but more careful player after 700 games in the NHL and still very dangerous.

7. Tanner Glass. Somebody did something to his cornflakes and he was one angry cuss of a player this night. Hard to play against but real fun to watch.

8. Niklas Backstrom. As good as Pavelec was, Backstrom was full measure. Efficient most of the time and flashy when required -- this is a consistent goalie that gives his team what it needs to win every night.

9. Dustin Byfuglien. Gawd, can he be frustrating, but there's no question he's got big-time talent and offensive instincts. He pinched down on the winner and after taking a pass from Blake Wheeler found Bryan Little, locked and loaded, and bang -- it was in and the house was on fire.

10. The final score: 2-1 Jets for the club's fifth home win in a row.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition December 14, 2011 C3

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About Gary Lawless

Gary Lawless is the Free Press sports columnist and co-host of the Hustler and Lawless show on TSN 1290 Winnipeg and www.winnipegfreepress.com
Lawless began covering sports as a rookie reporter at The Chronicle-Journal in Thunder Bay after graduating from journalism school at Durham College in Ontario.
After a Grey Cup winning stint with the Toronto Argonauts in the communications department, Lawless returned to Thunder Bay as sports editor.
In 1999 he joined the Free Press and after working on the night sports desk moved back into the field where he covered pro hockey, baseball and football beats prior to being named columnist.

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