Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Something more is required

As Jets fold for the season, the honeymoon is clearly over

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And the last period would mean nothing.

The Winnipeg Jets played 47 games and two periods of meaningful hockey this season before finally succumbing.

They stepped on the ice for the final 20 minutes of their regular season knowing they had been eliminated.

Their fans came back to their seats for one more period of hockey knowing their post-season dreams would not come true.

There was an opportunity for this to be one more moment of magic. A hard-fought period on the ice punctuated by a sonic send-off from the stands.

But it wasn't to be. And in the drying of one final sweat and the spilling of beer suddenly gone flat, a new message began to ring.

No longer is playing in the NHL enough. That novelty has faded and a more lasting impression is craved. One of success.

The final score was 4-2 for the visiting Montreal Canadiens and by the time the buzzer arrived, there was no steam left in the players or the fans. The promise of this season had been broken. And hearts in Jets jerseys, both on the ice and in the stands, were stopped.

The Jets, having been dealt one final cruel blow, had nothing left to offer. Their will had been broken. Weeks of tottering on an emotional ledge had taken its toll, and now with their fate determined, the Jets went fetal. No fight, no push-back, no nothing.

Taking its cue from the players, the audience many consider the best in hockey lost its voice.

The Jets led 2-1 as they cleaned the ice after 40 minutes, but a series of gifts quickly made it 4-2 and the end of the season was all but official.

With five minutes left, the house tried once more to urge on its soldiers, but they couldn't muster any emotion from themselves, let alone have it cascade down to the ice. As the final minute of their season came upon them, the crowd turned to their standard rainmaker and pumped out one more version of Go Jets Go.

But it lacked punch.

In those final moments last night, clarity was reached for this franchise. Membership no longer filled the void. More will be needed to move the needle going forward.

Is the honeymoon over? Only the fans know that answer, but the end must certainly be in sight. It'll take more than just a wink to get things warmed up going forward. A little work, a little romance will now be required. The playoffs will certainly turn the trick for all involved, but that's far from a guarantee going forward as the Jets enter an off-season fraught with uncertainty.

Head coach Claude Noel turns to his coaches after a victory and shakes all their hands on the bench.

Thursday night, as the curtain drew, Noel just slipped down the tunnel not breaking stride to look up. His disappointment was palpable even from the heights of the press box.

In an unfortunate quirk of planning, the Jets were forced to leave the ice, take off their jerseys and then come back to the ice to award them to contest winners.

The looks on their faces and the slump in their shoulders plainly told the story. They were spent and shrouded in regret.

By the time the players were done with this exercise and got around to moving to centre ice to salute the fans, the building was less than half full.

The symbolism couldn't be missed.

No longer can Winnipeg be satisfied with just being there.

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 26, 2013 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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