Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Jets lose, Winnipeg wins

Forget scoreboard, it was a great day Bedlam at the barn as province celebrates NHL's return

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Were those tears streaming down your face?

Did you squeeze your daughter's hand a little tighter?

Did you turn and kiss your husband?

Was it the first time you saw your father cry?

Did you stand up and stomp your feet and yell yourself hoarse? Did you look down at your shoes and stop for a moment and let it wash over you?

Was it everything you hoped for -- except the final score?

On a day when the game didn't live up to our expectations and the Jets lost 5-1 at the MTS Centre to the visiting Montreal Canadiens, the celebration went on undaunted.

Winnipeg stepped back onto the ice like a veteran making a comeback after years away from the game. The first steps were hesitant, the shot didn't have the old zip, it was tough to find the open man and by end of a shift, it was tough to breathe.

But wasn't it glorious just the same? Didn't it leave your cheeks flushed and your heart pumping and your lips smiling? Damn, it was beautiful.

It was a loss in the record books and the Jets are now 0-1 and winless going on 15 years. But wasn't it much more than a hockey game?

Win or lose, this was going to be a day we all held dear, while the loss takes a bit of the shine off the immediate moment, the sting of defeat will fade as the memory burnishes.

"What a day. This means everything to me," said fan Sandy Thomson. "My bro started bringing me to games when I was a kid in the '70s. I can't believe this day has come. It was so emotional when they hit the ice. I'm not saying for sure, but I may have shed a tear."

Freeze the moment in time, Winnipeggers, and remember and cherish it. The NHL and the Winnipeg Jets returned on Sunday and put an end to your wait. It's finally over. The Jets are back and the entire country turned in our direction for a few hours to watch this watershed moment.

"There was so much adrenaline. When they came on to the ice, the buildup was so amazing. I couldn't hear myself talk," said Ainsley Ferguson. "It was so incredible. I'm so glad I was here."

You came in white and you came in blue and you came and stood and you wouldn't leave. The Jets were unable to give you a win but that couldn't spoil the day. It was your day and you owned it and carried it. Congratulations to you.

"It's an emotional day for all the old players. I'm glad it happened, absolutely," said Jets legend Dale Hawerchuk, in town for the afternoon.

There's no question the players missed the moment, or perhaps got caught up in it. So many seemed sluggish, almost overwhelmed.

"It's a tough moment with lots of emotion. I brought my kids up to see what Winnipeg is like and what hockey means here," said former Jets forward Keith Tkachuk. "This is a great building and boy is it loud. The old building was my first and it was special, but this is a beautiful place and this is a beautiful day."

Somewhere late Sunday night in the offices of True North, a collection of staffers likely put their feet up on the desks, cracked cold beers and sighed in relief. Back on May 31 when Mark Chipman announced True North's purchase of an NHL franchise, a frantic race began and it finally ended Sunday.

True North put on a display with a moving tribute to Rick Rypien and a whirlwind video of its days as the organization behind the Manitoba Moose to its present status as an NHL outfit.

"It's hard to characterize," said Chipman, following the second period, when asked about his emotions as the game and the new era of the Jets began. "I can't over-emphasize the importance of what (Rypien) Ryp meant to us, and to have his mom here for this was very special to me. Obviously the whole opening was very emotional. But after that it gets down to the business of trying to win a hockey game."

That comes next as the hoopla will fade and the exuberance of being back in the league will diminish. Now it's up to the Jets and Winnipeg to live up to the responsibilities of membership.

Winning and losing and cheering and jeering. Isn't it great?

It's back and it's ours and to be honest, even losing felt good on this day.

gary.lawless@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @garylawless

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 10, 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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