HELSINKI — Ashley Bartlette easily wins wife-of-the-year honours.
And her husband, Ryan Bartlette, has a lifetime to show his gratitude to his new bride, who gave him the green light to turn their honeymoon into a Winnipeg Jets odyssey.
The Brandon couple had much of their European vacation planned out early in the year, including a longer stretch in Iceland, but Finland wasn’t on the itinerary.
Then the NHL announced the Jets and Florida Panthers would hook up in the 2018 Global Series at Helsinki’s Hartwall Arena, and couple’s list of must-do activities changed dramatically.
"I was faced with how do I convince my wife to let me go to a Jets game on your honeymoon?" said Ryan, a member of the Canadian military, based in Shilo, and a lifelong Jets fan.
"But I have a wife who’s both beautiful and smart, and she realized that’s a great card to have in her back pocket. ‘Remember that time we changed our honeymoon so you could go to a Jets game?’ It all worked out," he said.
"I did the whole thing of getting online at 3 a.m. the night the tickets came on sale, and we lucked out, because I know a lot of people didn’t get tickets."
The Bartlettes, married this summer, were among the 13,500 fans inside the super-charged building Thursday, filled with Jets blue-and-white jerseys and Panthers red.
It was the first time Ashley got to watch the team in the flesh, but not the first time seeing them partially undressed this week.
"We actually went to one of the city’s really big saunas, and a few of the players were actually there. (Blake) Wheeler was one of them," she said. The Jets captain just happens to be Ryan’s favourite Winnipeg player.
"(Ryan) was cute. He was like: ‘Don’t bug them, they need rest.'"
However, he couldn’t resist wishing the players well, with four points on the line in Finland this week.
"I couldn’t resist giving them a ‘Good luck Thursday, boys’ and then I left them alone," said Ryan, a huge Teemu Selanne fan, who saw his first NHL game at the old Winnipeg Arena, during the Finnish Flash’s remarkable rookie season.
Selanne dropped the ceremonial puck prior the start of the game Thursday and received as standing ovation, but the undisputed stars of the show were Jets winger Patrik Laine and Aleksander Barkov, the Panthers centre and captain. Both hail from Tampere, about 180 kilometres north of Helsinki.
Every time either touched the puck, the screams and whistled rained down from the crowd.
Best friends Sami Hasunen and Joona Sahinjoki, also in the building for Game 1, said they agree on the brilliance of the Finnish forwards, but remain at odds over who’s most gifted.
"Barkov for sure. He can do it all," said Sahinjoki, from Savonlinna, about 350 km northeast of the capital. He wore a Panthers No. 16 sweater to the game. "But I like Big Buff (Jets blue-liner Dustin Byfuglien), too."
Hasunen was wearing a blue Jets jersey, with Laine's name on the back.
"He’s so good. He’s younger. He can shoot," he said.
Assistant sports editor
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