The Winnipeg Jets may be the parent team of the St. John’s IceCaps, but Monday night for 6,000-plus Newfoundlanders, they played more of the part of the cousin the family had never met before. The connection was obvious. It just took them a little while to warm up.
The Jets iced a very strong NHL exhibition lineup as they downed the Ottawa Senators 3-1 in the 2011 Kraft Hockeyville game, officially hosted by the community of Conception Bay South (C.B.S.), but played at Mile One Centre in St. John’s.
There have been NHL pre-season games before at Mile One, but in those cases, there was a pre-established attraction to one or both of the contestants who were of the Original Six club — the Montreal Canadiens, Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins.
But Monday, none of that existed and the packed house (the vast majority being residents of C.B.S.), were left to choose between the Senators, who offered a local connection in the form of sophomore forward and St. John’s native Colin Greening, and the Jets, just re-established to the NHL, but owners of the IceCaps American Hockey League franchise.
In-the-stand garb gave little indication of the crowd's leanings.
There were some Senators jerseys and very little, if anything, in the way of Jets merchandise, which is just hitting the market. In fact, the overall fashion was a potpourri consisting of sweaters of just about every description.
Maybe it was because of the way they played, maybe it was because Winnipeg dressed so many certain NHLers like Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little, Evander Kane, Tobias Enstrom, Blake Wheeler and goalie Ondrej Pavelec; maybe it was because of a growing sense of a hockey kinship.
By the time it was all over, the Jets received the warmer embrace.
Nice building and a real good crowd and it made for pretty good game. I think we all appreciated being here," said Winnipeg defenceman Mark Flood, who may be ticketed for the IceCaps, but remains in the mix for a job with the Jets.
Eighteen year-old Mark Scheifele, the 2011 first-round draft pick who has been a pleasant surprise in training camp, tryout forward Troy Bodie and Ben Maxwell had the goals for Winnipeg. Mika Zibanejab, the Senators' first-round draft choice in June, had the only goal for Ottawa, which was officially listed as the home team.
Pavelec made 27 saves, 17 of them in the third period, perhaps reminding folks in these parts of how he led the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles to playoff wins over the St. John's Fog Devils a few years back.
"I always liked playing here. I always liked this rink," said Pavelec. "I have some good memories of St. John's. I never thought I would be back here, but now I have another one."
There were a few dustups: Bodie taking on Senators veteran Chris Neil after the latter mistreated Jets' forward Patrice Cormier; Cormier doing the same after teammate Ben Maxwell was levelled by a clean hit by big Ottawa defenceman Eric Gryba; and a squabble at the final buzzer, with Neil again at the centre of the melee.
The crowd gave a healthy round of applause at the finish, but the biggest ovation had come at the start of the night, given out for a young hockey player who won't see any ice time this season. That was 13-year-old Cody Porter of C.B.S., who dropped the puck for the ceremonial opening faceoff. Cody collapsed during a tryout at a provincial bantam camp in Gander last month, and the teenager's vital signs actually flatlined twice, the second time while being airlifted to the Janeway Hospital in St. John's. There, it was discovered he had a growth on his heart, a condition which led to his having to cancel plans for hockey this year.