This article was published 28/12/2018 (799 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Winnipeg Jets supporters have always known how to throw a downtown party.
From the historic signing of Bobby Hull at Portage and Main way back on June 27, 1972, to Save the Jets rallies in the mid-'90s, to impromptu street-hockey games after the official announcement of the NHL's return in May, 2011, fans have massed downtown.
And when the Jets finished the regular season as the second-best team in the National Hockey League and began their remarkable Stanley Cup playoff run in April, the crowds just outside the doors of Bell MTS Place grew larger with every game.
Thousands stood in the surrounding streets and watched on massive TV screens as the Jets soared past the Minnesota Wild and then ground down the Nashville Predators to advance to the Western Conference Final. Businesses across the city proudly displayed Go Jets Go signs in their windows and workplaces all over the province were filled with jersey-wearing employees.
All the cool kids were Jets fans.
Those fortunate enough to obtain tickets to the on-ice action were treated to a level of sporting entertainment and euphoria not seen in these parts in decades.
And the combination of the team's sensational regular-season finish, their chase for the championship and the soaring spirit of Jets Nation has emerged as the Winnipeg Free Press news story of 2018.
Listen to what some of our readers had to say about the Jets' magical run:
"I'm not even close to being a hockey fan but even I was talking about it," wrote Mardie, who didn't provide her last name. "I've never watched a hockey game in my life, yet I did during the playoffs."
"Single biggest community event in the past decade," summed up Ron Arnst.
"It is hard not to pick this positive newsmaker. The enthusiastic and respectful fans represented Winnipeg, Manitoba and Canada. The Jets story shows us all that with hard work and persistence dreams can become reality. Go Jets Go!" said Sue Ralph.
Alas, the dream of a Stanley Cup parade down Portage Avenue died during the afternoon of Sunday, May 20 with a 2-1 loss to the upstart Las Vegas Golden Knights.
Buoyed by the stunning, acrobatic goaltending of Marc-Andre Fleury, Vegas captured the best-of-seven conference final, winning four straight games after the Jets took the series opener.
"It was (the Golden Knights') time; they're just playing really well and you have to give them all the credit," Jets captain Blake Wheeler told reporters after the game.
"Typically, in a seven-game series, the better team wins. Coming into it, I thought we had the best team. I felt that way and obviously I'm a little bit biased, standing in this room feeling that we had a great opportunity.
"They made it really tough for us. We had to work for everything we got and even when we broke them down, we just couldn't seem to ever gain the type of momentum we needed to get this thing on our terms."
But what a sensational season it was for the Central Division squad, constructed by GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and the rest of his management and scouting team, and led by head coach Paul Maurice and his staff.
The lows were relatively few, although armchair experts likely condemned anyone associated with the True North ownership group for the team's 0-2 start following terrible performances against the Toronto Maple Leafs and Calgary Flames in early October 2017.
But the team found its groove and won seven of its next 10 games, including an overpowering 7-1 triumph over Sidney Crosby and the visiting Pittsburgh Penguins on Oct. 29.
At the end of the regular season, Winnipeg posted a glitzy 52-20-10 record to finish behind only the Predators in the division, conference and league standings. No other team protected the home front like the Jets, who went 32-7-2 at the downtown arena.
Individually, Wheeler had a super year, although he began to fade from the Hart Trophy conversation for league MVP as the second half of the season progressed. The talented right-winger finished ninth in league scoring with 91 points, while defining himself as one of the NHL's premier playmakers by tying Philadelphia's Claude Giroux for the league lead in assists (68).
Patrik Laine, meanwhile, was in the hunt for the Rocket Richard Trophy as the league's top goal scorer but finished with 44, five behind Washington's Alex Ovechkin. Nikolaj Ehlers set a career high with 29 goals, and Kyle Connor fired 31 to lead all NHL rookies.
Between the pipes, Connor Hellebuyck grabbed the reins as the Jets' starting goalie and was nothing short of brilliant. He won 44 games, tying him with Tampa Bay's Andrei Vasilevskiy for most in the NHL. His 30 wins at home tied an NHL record as well.
Hellebuyck posted a 2.36 goals-against average, a .924 save percentage and six shutouts, and finished second in the Vezina Trophy voting for the NHL's top goalie behind Nashville's Pekka Rinne.
In Round 1 of the post-season, the Jets finally exercised some demons, hammering the visiting Wild 5-0 on April 20 to win the best-of-seven playoff series 4-1 — a monumental first for the franchise. It also came 31 years after Jets 1.0 dumped the Calgary Flames 4-2 in a first-round, best-of-seven series.
That set up a second-round meeting with the powerhouse Predators. And what a series it was, as the teams split the first six before the Jets put in a near-perfect performance on a grand stage in Music City, dumping Nashville 5-1 in Game 7.
"It’s huge. It was an awesome series," said top-line centre Mark Scheifele, who led all shooters in the playoffs with 14 goals in 17 contests. "I think (the Predators are) an unbelievable team. They just battled to the end. We’re definitely happy that we came out on top. You know, it was fun hockey.... Top to bottom, they’re so solid. And we think we’re pretty good, too. It was a fight to the end, as you saw."
The scars of that battle — the blood and sweat that it took to prevail — left little in the tank when Winnipeg faced the Golden Knights, who went on to the Cup final, eventually losing to Ovechkin and the Capitals.
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Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
Earlier this month we asked readers to select the news story of the year, or nominate their own. Here are the options we provided:
Manitoba Hydro generates controversy: There is no denying the importance of the province’s largest Crown corporation. But never before has Hydro generated the amount of political heat it did this year. Whether it was the mass resignation of the board and chairman Sandy Riley, questions about its deals with the Métis community or long-standing allegations of sexual assaults committed by its workers on Indigenous women in remote communities now being probed by police, Hydro was often rated as a front-page story.
Breaking bad breaks news: Crystal meth went from a drug that was the subject of a popular crime thriller on TV to an increasingly ugly reality show in the streets of Manitoba cities and towns. Police blame a spike in violent crime on the drug. Hospital workers have been living in fear while treating patients under its effect. And politicians have been slow to figure out what to do to contain its spread.
Hot. Dry. Smoky. Deadly: The summer that was broke records, worried farmers, triggered air-quality warnings and produced an August tornado that killed a 77-year-old man in Alonsa, 165 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg on the west side of Lake Manitoba.
Jets playoff run: Yes, Winnipeg has witnessed playoff hockey before. And yes, we’ve had Avco Cup parades to Portage and Main. But never before was the town painted white while the Stanley Cup hopes and dreams of a country focused on the Jets’ remarkable run that fell just short of the final dance.
From harassment to sexual misconduct: By the time 2018 rolled around, we were already well into the #MeToo era. Alas, Manitoba institutions — government, universities and business — all struggled with how to respond when allegations surfaced.