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Top 5: The best and worst of the 2011-12 season

The best and worst of 2011-12

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Games to Remember

1- Oct. 9, 2011. Canadiens 5 Jets 1

Will be one of those "Where were you when...?" games in Winnipeg hockey history; 5,642 days passed between meaningful NHL games in the Manitoba capital. The build-up to the game was unprecedented. "It's such a unique situation that I don't know if it'll ever happen again," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said. More than 250 media credentials were issued for the opener. It seemed big at the time but it's entirely possible that Montreal's participation will wind up being a mere footnote.

2- March 16, Jets 3 Capitals 2

There were some intense home results this season, including wins over Pittsburgh, Philadelphia, Phoenix, Minnesota, Boston (twice), Toronto (twice, much to the glee of Jets fans) and Buffalo, but this one took the cake in terms of in-arena decibels and commitment by the fans and their team ('Crosby's better!'). A high-water mark for noise and hope.

3- Dec. 17, Jets 5 Anaheim 3

This game -- the entire day, in fact -- put all of the passion possessed by Winnipeg hockey fans on display for the world. Second to the opener, this was the "event" of the season, with the return of Teemu Selanne of Jets 1.0, the in-game switches from cheers to boos back to cheers, and of course, another win by the home team.

4.Oct. 17, Jets 2 Penguins 1

Nothing like sending a message early. After flopping in their opener, the Jets corrected that issue in Game 2 at the MTS Centre, scoring eight seconds after the opening faceoff. Kyle Wellwood had that goal, and Tanner Glass added another before the first period was over for the team's first win of the season. On this night, the Jets and their fans started something good in downtown Winnipeg, making it a tough place for opponents.

5- Oct. 27, Jets 9 Flyers 8

If ever a game had it all -- or most of it, at least -- this was it. Goals and comebacks and intrigue and a rare Jets road win. In particular, coaches and goalies were still twitching days after this one was over, but in the end, the Jets left town happy when Andrew Ladd scored with 1:06 left in the third period.

 

Games to Forget

1- Dec. 10, Red Wings 7 Jets 1

Immediately after an encouraging win over Carolina at the MTS Centre, their fourth in a row, the Jets flew into Detroit. They might as well have stayed home. The beating illustrated just how much trouble the Jets had and would have a) on the road, b) in back-to-back games and c) often against good teams. Those items make this the all-in-one night to forget of the season.

2- Feb. 5, Montreal 3 Jets 0

There are many games to choose from during Winnipeg's puck-anywhere-but-in-the-net phase from January and early February. You've no doubt forgotten most of them already, but just to remind you of the pain -- losses to New Jersey twice, the Rangers, earlier to the sad-sack Habs, San Jose, Carolina, Florida -- preceded this weak afternoon in Montreal. Their offence was eventually rediscovered but this period of the season did not harbour a lot of happy memories.

3- Nov. 12, Columbus 2 Jets 1

On the subject of losses to sad-sack teams, Winnipeg's one-off meeting against Columbus was a low-water mark in terms of record on the season, the loss sending the team four games under. 500. Having been booed off the ice by some fans two nights earlier in a sad home loss to Florida, the Jets had some game but not as much as the low-game, last-place Blue Jackets. This defeat, though, served as a rallying point in the weeks that ensued.

4- March 20, Pittsburgh 8 Jets 4

It's demoralizing to fans when their team is outmatched AND outplayed. The Jets tried to keep up with the Penguins in the first 30 minutes and almost did, but in the end had no answers to the weapons they faced. It actually happened twice, because an 8-5 result Feb. 11 was eerily similar. This one, though, was an ominous sign for the games to come that saw the Jets officially slide from the race.

5- Feb. 21, Philadelphia 5 Jets 4 (OT)

The Jets had their share of last-minute heartbreak during the season; a home loss to Washington, a late-season playoff-crusher to Carolina among them. But this defeat against the Flyers, Philly's only win over the Jets all season, really hurt momentum. The game was in hand and the Jets seemed like all was under control until the Flyers tied it with 10 seconds left, not on zone pressure but a mere rush, and then won it in overtime. It ruined a defining goaltending evening by Ondrej Pavelec and for the rest of the seaon, Winnipeg was unable to string more than two wins together at any one time.

 

Moments to remember

1- Draft day, June 24

A coach. A name, A draft pick. Beyond the actual announcement of the acquisition of the franchise, there has been no more magical time than the Friday of draft week in Minneapolis/St. Paul. The team named its first head coach, Claude Noel, in the morning. Co-owner Mark Chipman went to the podium at Xcel Energy Center to speak the team's new/old name for the first official time. New GM Kevin Cheveldayoff winked at Mark Scheifele on his way to that same podium, then announced the young Kitchener, Ont., native's name as the new team's first first-round draft pick in the seven slot. It was a day unlike any other if you are a Jets fan.

2- Sept. 6, 17 Wing

Real jerseys, Real jets. Real Jets in jerseys. A big day for the franchise and its look for years to come. A perfect, warm, sunny late summer day and a perfectly choreographed event to unveil the team's uniforms and colour scheme. Classically understated and leaning to the traditional, the colours and the look were trending positive pretty much from the start.

3- Feb. 16, Xcel Energy Center; Jets 4 Minnesota 3

It was a game worthy of the "Games to Remember" list but this evening -- back at the downtown St. Paul arena, already the site of our No. 1 item on this list -- seems like it's a good place to be part of Jets Nation. Of all the road games this season, it was very likely the best spectacle, and proved that Jets fever travels well. The game itself was excellent, hotly contested. The building, which included about 6,000 Jets fans, was absolutely abuzz and the back and forth between the fans (as well as the teams) was something to behold, indicating this rivalry, when eventually the NHLPA approves, will be fascinating and worth waiting for six times a season.

4- "TRUE NORTH"

It is a moment prior to the start of each Jets game, home and most of those on the road, that is actually better than the passé white out. It is a salute and a point of pride and since its origin is fan-generated, all the more meaningful. It's obviously the name of the company that built an arena and then brought an NHL team back to Winnipeg, but it's got the perfect nationalistic overtones. Best of all, it's uniquely Winnipeg's.

5- "GARY, GARY"

There are so many other noteworthy moments that this list could have been a whole lot longer. Storytelling days by Jets coach Claude Noel is up there, the franchise celebrations downtown and at The Forks ought to be included, as well as the league-sponsored parties ahead of the season-opener. But really, the overriding element to the entire season has been the fans, who are clever in a lot of places, and they do inventive stuff. The faithful at the MTS Centre have acquitted themselves spectacularly this season, making it the epicentre of something very special in sports. You've no doubt heard about "Sil-ver Me-dal," and "Cros-by's bet-ter," and "Prong-er," among the best. But when NHL commissioner Gary Bettman was here to help Winnipeg celebrate its season-opener, the fans actually chanted his name in the arena's atrium. There aren't a lot of times or places where you can ever have claimed to have heard that but it was just the right touch of enthusiasm and appreciation to again set Winnipeg fans apart. Adding to the legend. And belonging on our list.

 

Goals to Remember

1. March 5, Blake Wheeler

As far as the definition goes, this one includes all the must-haves: style, pressure and relevance. Wheeler's game-winner on Buffalo goalie Ryan Miller came in the third period, on a breakaway and was a shot to the shelf, scoring A's in all categories. Oh, and it pretty much rattled the MTS Centre's four walls and roof to their max. We considered Chris Thorburn's quasi-toe-drag insurance marker just a few moments later because of the setting and style and drama of it, but Wheeler's mattered more because it was the deciding shot in a huge game.

2. Feb. 16, Evander Kane

Already with two goals during the game, Evander Kane's number came up during the shootout. With the game on the line, he hopped over the boards to witness a hat come sailing down from the seats before he started his attempt. No pressure there. Kane calmly skated in and buried the goal that decided the outcome. It was the closest thing a Jets player came to a hat trick all season.

3. March 1, Bryan Little

Well, there's always room for a little humour, so we're abandoning our criteria to fit this amazing goal into the list. It didn't decide the 7-0 game against the Florida Panthers, but when was the last time you ever saw a five-on-one? Little converted the all-in rush -- known now as the "Flying W" -- by the Jets, clearly the exclamation mark on another important win at the MTS Centre.

4. Oct. 9, Nik Antropov

Same for this entry, since most of the drama and circumstance had left the building by the time Antropov pulled the trigger. But the first official goal in new era of the Jets is significant enough to remember, the setting for its scoring be damned. It took until early in the third period of Game 1, but Antropov's goal at 2:27 of the third on Montreal goalie Carey Price, briefly made the game 2-1, though it quickly turned into 5-1 for the enemy. Mark Stuart and Alex Burmistrov were the official first helpers.

5- Feb. 9, Dustin Byfuglien

Known as the "magic puck" goal, Byfuglien's shot from the centre line skipped and hopped over the ice and behind Caps goalie Tomas Vokoun with 2:03 left in the third period, and combined with Evander Kane's goal 12 seconds earlier, tied the game and paved the way for a Winnipeg victory in a shootout. The Verizon Center was pretty good to the Jets in 2011-12, offering five out of six points and also included another stylish goal, Tim Stapleton's in overtime on March 23 that at the time kept Winnipeg playoff hopes alive.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 7, 2012 ??65532

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