WINNIPEG – Winnipeg Jets fans had their hopes dashed Wednesday night as the team lost to the Anaheim Ducks and got knocked out of the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs.
But fans, many who have waited 19 years to watch playoff hockey in their hometown again, said they were thrilled the Jets made it this far and are already looking forward to next season.
“Vegas says we win in 2018 — you can place that bet,” said Mitch Page as he left the MTS Centre after watching the Jets lose their fourth straight game to Anaheim 5-2.
“We weren’t supposed to make the playoffs but we did.”
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was in the stands, one of the few fans dressed in a Team Canada jersey rather than a Jets jersey or white to create a “whiteout.” Those around him came into the game with high hopes and equally wound-up nerves.
Only a handful of teams have managed to come back from a three-game deficit to stay in the playoffs but Winnipeg fans were still hopeful their team could beat the odds. Some left dejected before the game ended, unable to bear to see the season end without one playoff game win.
“I’m not happy about it. I thought that we would maybe win tonight,” said Todd Jacobs. “It’s nice to know that we got this far this year so maybe next year we’ll go a little farther.”
“We’re disappointed obviously but … it was still very exciting,” said Susan Morris. “They’re just going to get better.”
Fan Jackson Bilash covered his face in white to match his clothes but left disappointed.
“They just don’t have the same motivation to win,” he said. “Hopefully they’ll do better next time.”
Bryce Campbell, a Winnipegger living in California, travelled back to his hometown to see his beloved Jets on home ice. The atmosphere in California is not as intense and animated as it is in Winnipeg, he said.
Even though they lost, Campbell said the team has a lot to be proud of.
“They did a lot better this year. I’m impressed,” he said. “It can only go up. They’re a different team than when they were the Atlanta Thrashers.”
Judy Preston, from Russell, Man., was a fan years ago before the team moved away and Wednesday’s loss didn’t dampen her enthusiasm.
“They have had an awesome season,” she said. “They can only build from here.”
Alyssa Gagne said she was thrilled to be a part of the electric — and loud — atmosphere of a playoff game in an appreciative town that knows what it’s like to live without an NHL hockey team.
“I’m very proud of them. They made it to the playoffs — 19 years since we’ve been in the playoffs,” she said. “I’m proud no matter what. Go Jets go!”
“Nobody expected them to make it,” said Josh Monasterski. “We were projected to be at the bottom. I think next year, we’re just going to improve.”