Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets just as excited as their joyous fans

Players can feel energy building, already pumped to start playing

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Giddy fans are no doubt counting the sleeps until the new-era Winnipeg Jets open their first training camp next Saturday.

Do not count the NHL team's players out of the countdown excitement.

"I've met quite a few people and it's been awesome around town. When you're driving around, you see people wearing their Jets shirts and the Jets flags on some of the cars," said goalie Chris Mason, one of the first players to arrive in Winnipeg this summer.

"You can't help but get taken into it. It's fun to be a part of this."

Jets defenceman Tobias Enstrom, who has been in town just more than a week and skating informally with several teammates, said you can't miss what's happening.

He was a wide-eyed spectator last Tuesday at 17 Wing, where the team's new jerseys were unveiled before a large invited crowd.

"That was great," Enstrom said. "This feels great. You hear a lot, and people in town are excited to have a (NHL) hockey team again.

"I spent four years in Atlanta, where it was a little bit up and down. So I'm really looking forward to this year being here, and hopefully we can do something good."

Enstrom grinned when asked how he and his teammates will react to the attention and the spotlight.

"You've got to love it," he said. "It might be a little bit different in the beginning for some guys with the pressure, but for me, I think most of the pressure comes from myself and not from people outside.

"We have a pretty young team, and hopefully we can adapt pretty quickly."

He said he hasn't been in town long enough to find the excitement in the streets.

"I've been spending some time with my agent (Don Baizley), been here working out and have met the guys who are here and the staff and so far everybody's been great," he said. "But not doing much else."

Mason has seen the public attention first-hand.

"We went to Assiniboine Park on the long weekend and we were walking, going to get a hotdog," he said. "We walked by a couple and the lady said to her husband, I'm assuming, 'Is that the Jets' goalie?' He said, 'No, that can't be the Jets' goalie,' but they stared at me for about 20 minutes. That was kind of weird."

The increased spotlight, Mason said, is a fact of life but shouldn't be a problem.

"It's going to be different for us," he said. "We're learning from some of the things that have already happened and we're not into the season.

"The publicity and attention on what players are doing and saying is there and there's lots of excitement. With that comes a little more responsibility to watch what you do and kind of maybe grow up a little quicker, things like that.

"But personally, for hockey this is going to be awesome. I know that every play and goal is going to be analyzed to death here, but it's something we'll just have to get used to and tune out when we need to."

A long summer has turned into a short, hectic one, the players said.

"Yeah, kind of both," Mason said. "Until this happened, it seemed kind of long because we were just sitting and waiting to see what we'd have to do.

"Once (the relocation) got underway, things shortened up and became a non-stop list of things to do," he said. "That's still going on today."

Added Enstrom: "This summer was way too long. We're going to try to make it short next summer, which is why I'm excited."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 12, 2011 C5

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