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Jets faithful give rivalry extra oomph

Wild players welcome Winnipeg fan invasion

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ST. PAUL, Minn. -- There's plenty enough drudgery in a long hockey season to make players eager to embrace the spice.

It's playoffs first and foremost, but rivalries play a strong supporting role. When the two intersect, you get magic.

The Winnipeg Jets and Minnesota Wild have started off on the right road -- two raucous games in 2011-12 -- but it was followed by no meetings in the lockout-shortened season and there has been no playoff action in Winnipeg's short return to the NHL.

But to hear the Wild tell it, we're just at the start of something that's going somewhere

"It's definitely going to be a rivalry," said Minnesota centre Kyle Brodziak, as certain as he could be Wednesday after the Wild's practice at Xcel Energy Center, site of tonight's Game No. 1 between the teams this season. "Every rivalry starts somewhere. It doesn't have to be in the playoffs.

"I think when they come here, there's going to be lots of their fans here. And when we go there, we'll have fans in their building. It generates a different buzz than guys are normally used to."

Wild forward Zach Parise said this one's a can't-miss.

"Geographically and how well those Jets fans travel, that's awesome," Parise said. "You'll get some of that and all of a sudden you create that hostile environment in the arena. I think that's going to be really good even though there's no playoff history."

The playoff angle does infect the battle, and it's something desirable, said Jets defenceman Mark Stuart, a Rochester, Minn., native.

"You get up for those games," Stuart said. "And while it may be just another game, because it's such a big rivalry, sometimes those games can change your season around or get you on a roll because you get up for them.

"When I was in Boston we saw Montreal in the playoffs all the time and those regular-season games amped it up and then the playoffs was even more fun."

Tonight, it's expected the number could again be in the thousands of Jets fans attending the fourth game of the season for both sides. The same luxury is not as easy for Wild fans who might like to visit the MTS Centre, given its smaller size (15,004 vs. 18,568) and scarcity of tickets.

No matter, Parise and the Wild say.

"They have a stranglehold on their tickets, not going to find a lot of Wild fans in there but it's awesome," Parise said.

"When I was playing in New Jersey, we had a lot of Rangers fans in our rink, so close to us, but it makes it awesome. Even Flyers fans then coming into our rink.

"It gets all the crowd into it."

"I haven't really thought of that," said Wild coach Mike Yeo. "I don't mind that. It just makes for a fun atmosphere."

The atmosphere has already become one of one-upmanship.

At the game here in Feb. 16, 2012, the approximately 5,000 Jets fans spurred the home supporters to a new, better level.

"I think that made our crowd louder," said Wild goalie Josh Harding. "I think that (the MTS Centre) is one of the loudest arenas in the NHL and when they came here two years ago, I do remember that game, our fans were loud, too. Nobody wants anybody coming into their house and running the show.

"I think our fans have done a great job standing behind us."

That might be the heart of the matter, said Jets coach Claude Noel,

"Our fan base goes down there quite a bit and voices their opinion so that creates some anxiety in different parties," Noel said. "I think that's healthy."

"It's a natural," Yeo said. "I wasn't surprised (in 2012), to be honest. I know that a lot of their fans are excited about this, the fact that we're in their division. I don't want to say it's a short drive but it's shorter than most for them.

"It made for a fun atmosphere. I think our crowd really responded well in that game and it was a fun building."

The payoff, said Harding, is going to be: "that it means a lot of good hockey."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

-- with files from Ed Tait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 10, 2013 D3

History

Updated on Thursday, October 10, 2013 at 9:14 AM CDT: adds video

9:44 AM: replaces photo

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