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Dream Teams

'All-Jets' Olympic hockey tournament puts spotlight on franchise's international flavour -- past and present

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 10/2/2014 (2307 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Clear your mind, stoke up the fires of your imagination and try to picture the scene unfolding, Winnipeg Jets fans:

The excited voice of CBC ace hockey play-by-play man Jim Hughson is filling your rec room as images from the men's Olympic gold medal hockey game at the Bolshoy Ice Dome in Sochi dance on the TV screen...

'We're in overtime of the gold-medal contest with Canada and Sweden tied 3-3 here and looking for another 'Golden Goal.' Dale Hawerchuk wins the draw against Ulf Nilsson and slips by Anders Hedberg. Now into the Swedish zone he's got Paul MacLean on his right but drops a pass to a charging Bobby Hull. Shot...'

Wait? What? Hawerchuk vs. Nilsson? Drops a pass to Hull? What is this?

Welcome to the 'All-Jets Olympics' hockey fans -- a fun little exercise we thought we'd throw together as the real battle for international glory begins to unfold on the Black Sea in faraway Russia.

 

It was early last month, not long after the Olympic hockey rosters were announced -- including Jets players Blake Wheeler (USA), Michael Frolik and Ondrej Pavelec (Czech Republic) and Olli Jokinen (Finland) -- when yours truly started thinking about this franchise's amazing international hockey pedigree.

During the World Hockey Association era it was the Jets who didn't just dabble with the idea of welcoming Europeans into their lineup, but embraced it. And, in many ways, helped fast-track the influx of Swedish and Finnish players -- and later Russians and Czechs -- into the North American game.

But it also got us thinking about the greats who have worn Jets colours during the WHA days of 1972-79, the first NHL era of 1979-96 and the current crop and all the different countries from which they hailed.

And that's where this little brainstorm -- an All-Jets Olympics -- was born.

So, All-Jets/all-eras starting sixes -- left and right wing, centre, two defencemen and a goaltender -- were put together for Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia and the United States from the days of the WHA, Jets 1.0 and Jets 2.0.

Picture Hawerchuk in his prime working with Hull in his WHA glory; Nilsson, Hedberg and Lars-Erik Sjoberg together again; Blake Wheeler on a line with Keith Tkachuk in the Stars and Stripes; Teppo Numminen dropping to block a shot in front of Markus Mattsson in the Finnish net with Teemu Selanne lurking for a stretch pass...

Undoubtedly the strict format here -- players can only line up where they predominantly did during their days with the Jets -- will spark some debate. Veteran Freep scribe Tim Campbell, a man who covered a large chunk of the team's first foray in the NHL and chronicling the work of the current bunch, thinks it's absolutely criminal that Thomas Steen isn't on the Swedish starting six.

We agree. But, rules are rules, even in our fantasy All-Jets Olympics and Nilsson had superb numbers in the WHA. So did Kent Nilsson, who older fans insist might have been the most gifted player ever to pull on a Jets jersey.

Still, that's what this exercise was meant to do: rekindle some old memories of the glory days of this franchise and prompt some healthy debate.

Read on...

 

THE CONCEPT

 

Imagine an Olympic hockey tournament featuring only those who have worn the colours of the Winnipeg Jets -- in the World Hockey Association, the NHL from 1979-96 and the current Jets 2.0 crew.

 

THE SET UP

Free Press hockey writer Ed Tait, with an assist from Tim Campbell and Jason Bell -- the Freep's breaking news editor and a man who can rattle off the stats of former Jets from Lindsay Middlebrook and Lorne Stamler as well as those of Ladd, Little and Kane -- put together a starting six (centre, left wing, right wing, two defencemen and a goalie) of Jets players, past and present, who would represent Canada, Sweden, Finland, Russia and the United States at an All-Jets Olympics.

One rule, which you will see did affect some of the selections: a player could not play out of position (a centre converting to wing, for example) and he had to line up where he predominantly played during his days as a Jet.

 

THE ALL-JETS OLYMPIC TEAMS

 

CANADA

C DALE HAWERCHUK (NHL, 1981-1990) Hockey Hall of Famer still is the Jets/Coyotes franchise all-time leader in goals with 379.

LW BOBBY HULL (WHA, NHL 1972-1980): The Golden Jet helped give the Jets and the WHA credibility and provided the star power. Had four 50-plus goals in the WHA, including 77 in 1974-75.

RW PAUL MACLEAN (NHL, 1981-88): Officially born in France, but played for Canada's National Team in 1979-80. Playing primarily on Hawerchuk's right side, averaged 35 goals from 1981-88.

D DAVE BABYCH (NHL, 1980-85): Fans expected so much so fast from the second-overall pick in 1980, but he was steady before being traded to Hartford for Ray Neufeld at just 24. Still ranks third in Jets 1.0 franchise history in points by a D-man.

D RANDY CARLYLE (NHL, 1984-93): Was a co-captain, appeared in two all-star games and had 306 points in 564 games as a Jet.

G JOE DALEY (WHA, 1972-79): Daley -- a product of East Kildonan -- was part of three Avco Cup championships, was the WHA's First Team All-Star in 1976 (second team a year later), was named the top goaltender at the prestigious Izvestia Cup in 1976 and is a member of the Manitoba Hockey Hall of Fame.

NOTABLE CANADIAN OMISSIONS FROM OUR STARTING SIX: Some pretty dandy left wingers still available in Morris Lukowich, Doug Smail and current Jets Evander Kane and Andrew Ladd. Terry Ruskowski's one year with the Jets in the WHA finale was superb and other WHA Jets like Norm Beaudin, Pepe Bourdeleau, Fran Huck, Ab McDonald, Peter Sullivan, Barry Long, Ted Green would give Canada depth. We've always been a fan of current No. 1 pivot Bryan Little's unappreciated game, too.

 

FINLAND

C VELI-PEKKA KETOLA (WHA, 1974-77): Was the first Finnish player to sign with a North American team and in 218 games over three years had 80 goals and 173 points.

RW TEEMU SELANNE (NHL, 1992-96): What needs to be said about 'The Finnish Flash' that hasn't already. Dominant in his rookie year with 76 goals and 132 points -- both still NHL records -- and one of Winnipeg's sporting icons.

LW PETRI SKRIKO (NHL, 1991-92): Pretty thin on the left side for the Finnish Jets. Skriko played just 15 games for the Jets and gone was the touch that saw him score 30 goals in four straight seasons in Vancouver.

D HEIKKI RIIHIRANTA (WHA, 1974-77): Wasn't dominant and the coaching staff tried to convert him to forward, but he was part of the first Jets' Finnish foray.

D TEPPO NUMMINEN (NHL, 1988-96): Quietly efficient and one of the best defencemen in Jets' history. Finished his career with 1,372 games played with the Jets/Coyotes, Dallas and Buffalo.

G MARKUS MATTSSON (WHA/NHL, 1977-81): Lots of promise, but never really established himself as the No. 1 stopper.

NOTABLE FINNISH OMISSIONS FROM OUR STARTING SIX: Olli Jokinen has reclaimed his game with the Jets this season after a disastrous 2013 and is heading to his fourth Olympics in Sochi. But Ketola had solid numbers during his three years with the WHA Jets. Anssi Melametsa played only three games for the Jets in 85-86, but did suit up for Finland at the 1984 Olympics.

 

SWEDEN

C ULF NILSSON (WHA, 1974-78): Centered the 'Hot Line' with Hull and fellow Swede Anders Hedberg. How about these numbers? In 300 games with the Jets he had 140 goals, 344 assists and a whopping 484 points.

RW ANDERS HEDBERG (WHA, 1974-78): Dominant, just like Nilsson. Scored 236 goals in 286 games before the pair headed to the New York Rangers.

LW BENGT LUNDHOLM (NHL, 1981-86): Seems criminal to not have Thomas Steen, Kent Nilsson and Willy Lindstrom in the Swedish starting six, but rules are rules and this squad needed a left winger.

D FREDRIK OLAUSSON (NHL, 1986-94): Put up some pretty gaudy numbers for the Jets -- 335 points in 496 games -- including 20 goals in '91-92.

D LARS-ERIK SJOBERG (WHA/NHL, 1974-80): Was the WHA's top D-man in '77-78 WHA, the last Jets' captain in the WHA and the first in the NHL. Long-time Jets fans will insist he was the best to ever patrol the blueline in franchise history.

G - CURT LARSSON (WHA, 1974-77): Part of the Jets' Swedish invasion in 1974. Primarily a back-up, but our Swedish Jets need a puckstopper.

NOTABLE SWEDISH OMISSIONS FROM OUR STARTING SIX: Again, some dandy Swedes don't make the top six here, but Thomas Steen, Kent Nilsson. Dan Labraaten, Willy Lindstrom and current D-man Toby Enstrom would make the Tre Kronor Jets a gold-medal favourite in our fictional Jets Olympic tourney.

 

UNITED STATES

C ED OLCYZK (NHL, 1990-93; 1995-96): Posted 201 points in 214 games as a Jet and was most-famous for vowing to bring the Stanley Cup back to Winnipeg at the 1.0 franchise's funeral in 1995.

LW KEITH TKACHUK (NHL, 1991-96): Very productive and notched 50 goals in '95-96, but his days in Winnipeg were also pockmarked by contract disputes.

RW BLAKE WHEELER (NHL, 2011- ): Current Jet and US Olympian has a coveted blend of speed and size. No current Jet has scored more in the team's rebirth than the big Minnesotan.

D PHIL HOUSLEY (NHL, 1990-93): Twice scored 23 goals for the Jets and had 97 points in 1992-93. Member of the US Hockey Hall of Fame.

D DAVE ELLETT (NHL, 1984-91): Ranks behind only Teppo Numminen for goals by a Jets' D-man. Remembered for his double OT goal against Edmonton in the first round of the 1990 playoffs.

G AL MONTOYA (NHL, 2013- ): The only other notable American to play goal for the Jets was Marc Behrend.

NOTABLE AMERICAN OMISSIONS FROM OUR STARTING SIX: Olcyzk edged out Dave Christian as our starting centre and Brian Mullen averaged 25 goals over a five-year span in the 80s. There are also some solid Americans on the current Jets, including Dustin Byfuglien, Zach Bogosian, Mark Stuart and impressive rookie Jacob Trouba.

 

RUSSIA

C ALEXEI ZHAMNOV (NHL, 1992-96): Picked up 267 points in 235 games as a Jet and was a NHL Second-Team All-Star in 1994-95.

RW EVGENY DAVYDOV (NHL, 1991-93): Scored 28 goals in his one full season with the Jets before being traded to Florida.

LW SERGEI KHARIN (NHL, 1990-91): Kharin played in only seven games with the Jets, scoring twice and adding three assists. Again, our Jets Russians are thin on the left side and it became a choice between Kharin and the immortal Yan Kaminsky, who played just one game before being traded to the Islanders.

D BORIS MIRONOV (NHL, 1993-94): Played just part of one season with the Jets before being traded to Edmonton, but was on the NHL All-Rookie Team in 1993-94.

D IGOR ULANOV (NHL, 1991-95): Classic defensive defenceman suited up for 176 games for the Jets before being traded to Washington.

G NIKOLAI KHABIBULIN (NHL, 1995-96): Earned his nickname 'The Bulin Wall' while helping the Jets to their final playoff appearance in '96 before the franchise moved. Helped Tampa later win their Stanley Cup in 2003-04.

NOTABLE RUSSIAN OMISSIONS FROM OUR STARTING SIX: For all of Mike Smith's push for Russians, the list here is not that impressive. Missing is Sergei Bautin, a defenceman taken in the first round of the 1992 draft and referred to by Smith as 'the Jack Tatum of Russian hockey' -- a reference to the hard-hitting Oakland Raiders safety. The left side, again, was so weak we thought of including Alex Ponikarovsky, who played only 10 games for the Jets last season before being traded. Alex Burmistrov was also under consideration, but was primarily a centre and wasn't going to bump Zhamnov.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

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