When the Vancouver Canucks claimed Dale Weise off waivers on October 4, 2011, he ran straight to his calendar.
“It’s pretty much the only spot we don’t go to in the league,” said Weise, “I was a little upset about that.”
The Canucks travel to 23 cities this season and Winnipeg isn’t one of them. Weise, born and raised in Swaggerville, aka Winnipeg, Manitoba, will have to wait to make his NHL debut in his hometown.
He won’t have to wait much longer to see the Jets make their re-debut on the west coast.
The Jets and Canucks will meet in Vancouver Thursday for the first time since the Canucks overcame a 4-1 second period deficit en route to a 5-4 win over the Jets on February 13, 1996; the last time Vancouver and Winnipeg met overall was February 21, 1996, at Winnipeg Arena, as Kirk McLean made 33 saves backstopping the Canucks to a 5-3 victory.
The Jets moved to Phoenix and became the Coyotes following the 1995-96 season, breaking the hearts of every hockey fan in Manitoba, including myself.
I was always a Canucks fan first and foremost (this has been my dream job since I was 10-years-old), but the Jets were a close second. It was a two-hour drive from my hometown of Brandon to Winnipeg and it felt like a 10-minute jaunt when my dad would take my brother and I to see the Jets.
I distinctly remember two games. The first had the Chicago Blackhawks beat the Jets in overtime, and in typical kid fashion I was in the washroom for the game-winner. The second was a monster Canucks win over the Jets, one that featured a hat trick and four points from my hero Pavel Bure, in a lopsided 8-4 Vancouver win.
The funny thing is, Weise was at that same game.
“I went to a couple of games and the one that I can really remember vividly was against Vancouver. I don’t remember the score, I just remember Pavel Bure had a lot of goals, and watching the Canucks. It was great.”
Weise was eight-years-old when the Jets left. He remembers people being up in arms about it, but didn’t understand the situation and why the team meant so much.
Weise’s parents still live in Winnipeg and he was back home this past summer when the NHL officially moved the Atlanta Thrashers to Manitoba’s capital and he saw first hand what it meant to get a team back.
“It was absolutely incredible the amount of people wearing jerseys and shirts, it was amazing. The brand is such a unique thing, I’ve been all over the States and they have Winnipeg Jets shirts and stuff and that was even when they didn’t have a team.
“I don’t really understand it, but it is an old school logo, it’s great and it’s just such a hockey crazed city. It’s some of the most passionate fans in the world, if not No. 1. I can’t explain why it’s so crazy, but they definitely love their team there.”
It’s a safe bet Jets fans will love their team here, too.
The circus comes to town whenever Vancouver host the Toronto Maple Leafs or Montreal Canadiens; the atmosphere in Rogers Arena is that of playoff intensity with every on ice move cheered or jeered and a friendly battle raging in the stands for home ice advantage.
Winnipeg games will likely be added to that exclusive list with Jets fans coming out of the woodwork to cheer on their team for the first time in 15 years, beginning tomorrow.
“It’s going to be awesome,” smiled Aaron Rome, a fellow Manitoban also excited to see the Jets. “I’ve heard it’s crazy playing there, I got to play there a few times with the Moose and as a visitor a few times against the Moose and the atmosphere was good in the minor leagues, so we’ll see how much that’s increased and if it spills over to away games.”
Rome recalls visiting Winnipeg Arena for one Jets game as a kid, it was for Wayne Gretzky’s final game in Winnipeg with the Los Angeles Kings. He was also too young to fully grasp why the Jets were leaving in 1996, but with three channels on his TV growing up, Hockey Night in Canada was the be all and end all and not having the Jets to cheer for forced him to turn to the dark side.
Rome became a Maple Leafs fan.
“I hate to say it,” he laughed. “I liked Doug Gilmour and Wendel Clark, those were the guys that I liked to watch when I was a kid.”
Rome dropped that affiliation a long time ago, but he still has a soft spot for the Jets. So does Weise. So do I.
Welcome back Winnipeg, we can’t wait to renew this Canadian rivalry.