All together, now…

For as long as this blissful hockey-fuelled moment lasts, we are Winnipeg, and it is intoxicating

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At the final buzzer, it felt as if the game had somehow spanned a whole lifetime, or maybe two. A journey written through 60 minutes of play; the story of a fervent hope that surged up and faded away, only to be reborn again.

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Opinion

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 04/05/2018 (1672 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

At the final buzzer, it felt as if the game had somehow spanned a whole lifetime, or maybe two. A journey written through 60 minutes of play; the story of a fervent hope that surged up and faded away, only to be reborn again.

One goal, two goals, three goals, four. A crescendo of belief, and then — this still seems hard to believe — three more. Or, depending on how you look at it, just one more that mattered: power play, Blake Wheeler. Aye, captain.

Watching this play out Tuesday night, the body plays along with it. The heart races. Thoughts go for a spin.

The sold-out crowd of 15,321, in full whiteout regalia, seemingly know each other. (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press)

It’s remarkable what you can learn about your own values in the depths of a vicariously played hockey game. Especially one that asked so much of those invested, putting us through so many changes of tenor and pace.

Through the first 20 minutes of play: dismay, followed by dread, followed by an uncomfortable shifting. A sudden realization that time currently paced in day-by-day increments, passing the hours between games, will soon end.

And then what? Back to the same? How will the city slip into normal when all of this just goes away? What will we talk about when we don’t share these games in common? What did we used to talk about? I’ve already forgotten.

Second period. Elation. Paul Stastny ignites a flickering pilot light of hope, which soon becomes a conflagration. Here, now, it seems the whole city is suspended, riding on that chunk of rubber and that glaring sheet of white.

The clock is ticking. Twenty minutes now left. Tie game, and yet doesn’t it seem the Jets have the momentum? Across Manitoba, thousands of voices hiss in unison, an incantation to hockey gods: hold on, hold on, hold on.

To think we are only a handful of years out from the Jets that never could recover from a deficit, who reliably fell flat in second periods, who seemed almost congenitally unable to seal the deal. A quick pinch, just to check: is this real?

And then — how else to say this? — the whole city seems to explode. There’s the seismic shudder of collective triumph and the honking of horns.

On social media, in bars, in texts, we turned to each other and said: “I’ve never seen them do anything like this.”

To think we are only a handful of years out from the Jets that never could recover from a deficit, who reliably fell flat in second periods, who seemed almost congenitally unable to seal the deal. A quick pinch, just to check: is this real?

Well, it’s real, and it’s ongoing. Whatever else happens in the second round — as I write, Thursday’s match is a few hours away — we will always have that Tuesday-night ride, that turnaround that tested our most fervent convictions.

In the space between that game and the next, there is time to think about what else churns in these feelings.

Jacob Trouba and Blake Wheeler celebrate Trouba’s goal on Tuesday. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press files)

The totality with which playoff fever has swept Winnipeg is not unexpected, though its sheer force is a sight to behold. Yet it would be a disservice to the phenomenon to touch only its surface, leaving its depths unexplored.

Sports is as simple, or as complicated, as we want to perceive it. It can be contained to just the thwack of rubber on boards, the red light over twine, the exhale, the roar; it can also be the vessel that holds all the storms of the world.

For instance: how do you untangle the thrill of professional sport from the corporate welfare that often supports it? How does one reconcile love of the team with how private companies use that love to pry loose public dollars?

Or, how does one receive the snarl of fighter jets shrieking overhead? Do we spare a thought for those of our neighbours who might reflexively cower, minds flashing to a time and place when that roar meant only terror?

And then, a warm story: Jets fans raised thousands of dollars for Main Street Project. That money ensured the shelter can throw pizza parties for every playoff game. The message, loudly: this joy belongs to all who need it.

Sports is as simple, or as complicated, as we want to perceive it. It can be contained to just the thwack of rubber on boards, the red light over twine, the exhale, the roar; it can also be the vessel that holds all the storms of the world.

But when this ride reaches its destination, when this spring of great expectations glides into summer, one hopes we remember how we saw each other as fellow Jets fans, above everything else. No matter our struggles or barriers.

Winnipeg seems a gentler sort of city when we are inclined to focus on what most unites us.

In the first minutes of Tuesday night’s broadcast, the announcer looked over the crowd inside Bell MTS Place, and said: “15,321 of them, and they all know each other.” An old Manitoba joke, and yet it has never before felt so good a fit.

Because that’s the crux of this, isn’t it? We like each other right now. The sheer mass of hockey’s big show draws everyone into its orbit, making fellow travellers of otherwise disparate people, bathing us in its white-bright glare.

In that light, the cracks that divide this city seem just a little smaller. It does not mean they aren’t there, or that they will go away. Only that for these weeks of shared belief and Stanley Cup dreams, we know we feel the same thing.

The Jets whiteout party packs Donald Street. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)

On a downtown street, a man in a Jets jersey turns to a man panhandling for change, tosses a loonie his way and ends it with the familiar refrain: “Go Jets go,” he says. The other man’s eyes light up and a grin splits his tired face.

“Go Jets go,” he says, and then with even more vigour: “Gooooooooo, Jets!”

They laugh together, just briefly, trading those three words like a secret password that every Winnipegger knows. It does not change anything, really. And yet, something meaningful has been exchanged, and freely.

In this moment, all I hope is that we never let go. Winnipeg is a force to rival any in the world, when its people are captured by a singular current. We have always been stuck here, together; now, we are jostling to move forward.

Think of what else we could accomplish with that momentum. We know what it looks like now. We have felt it. We have watched it spill through the streets, washing away decades of shattered faith, lifting a city’s heart on its wave.

It’s about the Jets, and it’s not about the Jets. It’s about what can happen when we believe.

It’s about the Jets, and it’s not about the Jets. It’s about what can happen when we believe.

melissa.martin@freepress.mb.ca

Heidi Streu (left) and Judy Wilson show off matching face tattoos (Phil Hossack / Winnipeg Free Press)
John Woods/Winnipeg Free Press Winnipeg Jets' Adam Lowry (17) and Brandon Tanev (13) celebrate Tanev's goal against the Nashville Predators during the third period of Tuesday's game. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)
John Woods/Winnipeg Free Press Nashville Predators' fans surrounded by cheering Winnipeg Jets' fans after Jets' Dustin Byfuglien (33) scores during second period NHL round two game three playoff action in Winnipeg, Tuesday, May 1, 2018.
Fans fly their flags at the Jets whiteout party on Donald Street. (Mikaela MacKenzie / Winnipeg Free Press)
Melissa Martin

Melissa Martin
Reporter-at-large

Melissa Martin reports and opines for the Winnipeg Free Press.

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