The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. And the sound of silence that’s going to come with summer playoff shinny.

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The thrill of victory. The agony of defeat. And the sound of silence that’s going to come with summer playoff shinny.

Yes, it’s safe to say playing in empty arenas is going to take some getting used to for athletes who often feed off frenzied crowds when the stakes are highest. In fact, of all the unique aspects of the NHL’s return-to-play protocols in the middle of the COVID-19 pandemic, the in-game experience has been mentioned the most at Winnipeg Jets training camp this week.

Consider this: The last time the Jets faced the Calgary Flames, there were more than 30,000 die-hards jammed inside a Regina football stadium screaming their lungs out. But when the puck drops on Aug. 1 inside Rogers Place in Edmonton for the start of the best-of-five qualifying series, nary a seat will be filled.

The last time the Winnipeg Jets played the Calgary Flames, it was outdoors in front of 30,000 hockey fans at the NHL Heritage Classic in Regina last October.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/LIAM RICHARDS

The last time the Winnipeg Jets played the Calgary Flames, it was outdoors in front of 30,000 hockey fans at the NHL Heritage Classic in Regina last October.

"It’s going to be a lot different. I’ve thought about it quite a bit. Obviously, the game itself doesn’t change, the ice surface doesn’t change, the nets are not any bigger or smaller. All of that is really still the same. During the play, it’s going to be different, communicating is probably going to be easier. You’re going to hear every little single stick on the ice or hitting of the boards, passing, stickhandling," defenceman Josh Morrissey said Thursday.

Blue-line partner Dylan DeMelo believes television networks will have to have their fingers at the ready over the censor button, unless artificial noise is added to the broadcasts to drown out the on-ice chatter.

“I’m trying to picture a Game 7 Stanley Cup finals in overtime with no fans and how weird that would be. You can’t prep for it, it’s never been done before. I think you’ll just have to stay focused on the game.” — Jets defenceman Dylan Demelo

"I think it will be definitely interesting, and guys will have to work on their trash talk. Especially if it’s going to get picked up, might have to keep it PG, but you might hear some funny things," said DeMelo. "I’m trying to picture a Game 7 Stanley Cup finals in overtime with no fans and how weird that would be. You can’t prep for it, it’s never been done before. I think you’ll just have to stay focused on the game."

Jets defenceman Dylan DeMelo.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jets defenceman Dylan DeMelo.

Sports teams will often pump up the volume at practices to prepare for going into hostile environments, like the Winnipeg Blue Bombers did last season prior to heading west to play the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the CFL’s West final. In this case, maybe the Jets ought to to consider piping in the sound of crickets at Bell MTS Iceplex.

"Obviously, there’s not going to be the big swings in emotion where you score a goal and the building erupts and you don’t have to weather that storm on the road. With no noise in the building, you’re going to be able to hear everything. You’re going to know where guys are. It’s not going to be that deafening whiteout sound that we’re used to when the playoffs roll around in Winnipeg," said forward Adam Lowry.

"I think creating that energy on the bench is going to be important but, at the same time, I don’t think it’s going to take much to get the guys jacked up and ready to play. We know what we’re playing for. We know what we came back to chase and what our goal at the end of all of this is."

"It’s not going to be that deafening whiteout sound that we’re used to when the playoffs roll around in Winnipeg.” — Jets forward Adam Lowry

Winnipeg Jets fans crank up the whiteout noise during NHL hockey playoff action against the Nashville Predators in 2018.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/TREVOR HAGAN

Winnipeg Jets fans crank up the whiteout noise during NHL hockey playoff action against the Nashville Predators in 2018.

In that sense, there is truly no such thing as home-ice advantage in these unique, 24-team playoffs. Yes, the designated "home team" will get the benefit of last change, but that’s it, unless you consider wearing their dark jerseys some kind of reward.

"It’s going to be different. Everyone’s in the same boat though, so there’s no excuses. If you look at it in a positive way, you’re going to come out feeling better than if you’re feeling negative about the whole situation. We just have to be positive, keep working hard at our game, keep enjoying playing this beautiful game and that’s all you can do. That’s all you can think about and let the rest take over," said forward Mark Scheifele.

Throw in the fact teams are all coming off a lengthy hiatus and are healthier than ever, and there’s the potential for one heck of a hockey tournament — provided you can get past the fact there will be no fans in the building to see it.

Winnipeg Jets fans celebrate Mark Scheifele's goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in January. The Jets could always count on some fans in the building celebrating their goals, even on the road. That won't be the case during the playoffs this year.

THE CANADIAN PRESS/JOHN WOODS

Winnipeg Jets fans celebrate Mark Scheifele's goal against the Toronto Maple Leafs in January. The Jets could always count on some fans in the building celebrating their goals, even on the road. That won't be the case during the playoffs this year.

"I anticipate that guys are going to come out flying. Everyone is excited to come back and play and having all that time off and thinking about today — thinking about coming back, being back on the ice — you have that feeling, that fire, that was burning for two, three months. It’s nice to be back. I expect the games to be very intense," said defenceman Luca Sbisa.

There have been some suggestions the Stanley Cup winner this year should have an asterisk beside their name, but Jets players aren’t buying it. After all, they’ll have to win five rounds of hockey instead of the traditional four, 19 games instead of the usual 16, to reach the promised land.

"It’s just going to be like every other Stanley Cup that you can win. Obviously, you won’t have any fans, but at the end of the day when you win the Cup, it’s the 20 guys that are on the ice and the coaches and the GM and the organization that does it. It’s going to feel the same," said forward Mathieu Perreault.

“It’s just going to be like every other Stanley Cup that you can win. Obviously, you won’t have any fans, but at the end of the day when you win the Cup, it’s the 20 guys that are on the ice and the coaches and the GM and the organization that does it. It’s going to feel the same.” — Jets forward Mathieu Perreault

Jets head coach Paul Maurice said he may end up having some flashbacks to his days behind the bench of the Carolina Hurricanes, particularly one night at the old Greensboro Coliseum when a freak snowstorm meant there were plenty of good seats available — like nearly all of them — inside the 22,000-seat facility.

"There’s, I don’t know, 200 people there, 250, in a building like that, so I do know what it’s like to be in a very, very thin crowd but in an NHL game," said Maurice.

The noise is completely different. The communication on the ice is fantastic — except you can hear the other team calling plays. The one that you don’t get over is the silence after a goal. Even on the road, right? The road team scores a goal, there’s a lot of bad language from the fans and some disappointment and then, for us, we always have Jets fans at road games, so there’s a pocket of people losing their minds up in the corner. This is going to be really quiet. And that was maybe the one thing I would say I never got past — the fact that the home team would score, your bench jumps up and... it’s quiet. Right? That will be something."

 

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.