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The Jets have some of the NHL's loudest, most passionate fans; so why is their MTS Centre record so poor?

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Vocal Winnipeg fans love to mess with visiting teams by taunting star players and putting the hex on goaltenders.

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Vocal Winnipeg fans love to mess with visiting teams by taunting star players and putting the hex on goaltenders. Photo Store

There's a way to complicate all this by plugging a swack of numbers into scientific formulas. And the team shrink could also weigh in with the psychological approach, undoubtedly beginning with something like asking the collective to breathe in the good thoughts and exhale the bad.

And then there is Evander Kane's theory as to how the Winnipeg Jets can make the MTS Centre -- already one of the NHL's loudest venues -- into a nightmare for the opposition.

"When you talk about being hard to play against, let's not kid ourselves -- it's about being physical," said the Jets winger on the eve of the club's 2013-14 home opener. "You have to be strong, you've got to be physical and you've got to want to punish the opposing team in your building. If you do those things, if you take it to them with your speed and are playing in their zone a lot, that makes it tough.

"I remember in junior we had a saying, 'Nobody is going to come into our barn to' -- I can't use the term, so I'll change it -- 'STEAL our sheep.' That's the kind of mentality you have to have. You have put the two points up in the standings board before the game and then work hard not to have them take it away from you."

Jets fans have seen some evidence of that over the last two seasons, particularly during a magical 9-2-1 run in December of 2011 that included wins over Original Six icons like Boston, Montreal and Toronto.

Then again, fans have also seen some of the absolute worst of the Jets at home, including back-to-back losses to Washington last winter -- by a combined score of 10-1, no less -- that seemed to derail their push for a playoff spot.

What the Jets hope to establish this season is more consistent play at the MTS Centre -- they had just the 21st best home record in the NHL last year; 15th the year before that. And the most-effective method to fuel the buzz that dominates the joint after the last few notes of O Canada are belted out is to set the tone early.

So, Blake Wheeler was asked on Thursday, just when do the Jets begin to make this a tough place to play?

"First shift tomorrow," said he said with a grin. "It's our home building. We're going to be getting the energy in the crowd. It's similar to playing in Montreal. The crowd is on their feet the first five minutes regardless, so you kind of have to weather that storm as an opposing team.

"It's fun to play in these atmosopheres. You want to play when the building is full and the fans are on their feet."

Just to further hammer home the message here, what the Jets want to establish is akin to the famous locker-room speech scene from the movie Rudy where the actor playing Notre Dame Fighting Irish head coach Dan Devine gathers the troops together before commanding:

"You all know what you have to do. Remember... no one -- and I mean NO ONE -- comes into our house and pushes us around..."

But there's also the flip side to all this: What NHLer wouldn't want to play in a building jammed to the rafters every night, with the home side's fanatics taunting stars and hexing enemy goaltenders?

"It's like any of the so-called tough buildings around the league," continued Kane, "I love playing in those buildings. If it's hostile, it's good. I know the fans when they're booing a guy, it might affect him, it might not. If I was that player I'd love it. I would try to hold onto the puck as long as possible just to hear them.

"Our first season was good at home. Last year... it's different with the lockout season. We were better on the road. But this year, full season, we'll be good at home. I don't think the guys are too worried about that."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 4, 2013 C3

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