Back to the Future For Jets
It didn’t quite match the first time hockey took over our most famous intersection, or even the second.
But when the Winnipeg Jets and the NHL decided to use Portage and Main as the backdrop for some Friday news regarding October’s outdoor game, between 2,000 and 3,000 people, primed for hockey news of any kind, showed up.
Safe to say former Edmonton Oilers Kevin Lowe and Dave Semenko had never seen Canada’s coldest corner like this. Or received anywhere near this temperature of reception.
Call it a small preview of the celebration the Heritage Classic promises to be.
Jets vs. Oilers, then and now, in throwback sweaters before 33,500 fans in the biggest backyard rink anyone’s ever flooded in this town — what’s not to like?
“It’s going to be a special day for the city,” Jets star Blake Wheeler, sporting the new jersey — which will soon wear a ‘C’ if the chanting fans get their way — said amidst the din. “The team coming back was huge. And the playoffs were huge for us. We’re excited to get in front of a big audience.
“It’s a pretty cool venue … and we’re going to pack that house. It’ll be nice and loud.”
The news that came out of this gathering won’t have the impact of Bobby Hull’s signing here in 1972, or of Dale Hawerchuk’s nine years later.
The sweater is nice enough — a combination of the old Jets logo from the World Hockey Association days and today’s Jets colours — and will no doubt sell by the thousands.
The Oilers jersey, well, who cares?
NHL marketing poobah Brian Jennings dropped by to say some tickets (maybe a few thousand) not already spoken for will be made available to the general public in September.
Perhaps the most interesting news was the release of the rosters for the greybeards game.
Hawerchuk and Edmonton’s Lowe read out a list of some 20 players each, and flashbacks came with every one.
Gretzky, Messier, Kurri, Anderson, Coffey, Fuhr, Tikkanen, the lovable Semenko — every name a curse word for every middle-aged Jets fan.
Winnipeg’s roster, not quite as Hall-of-Fame tinted.
Hawerchuk, Selanne, Numminen, Babych, Ellett, Essensa, Smail, Lukowich, et al, will try to exact some sort of old-age revenge on their old nemesis.
You think beating the Oilers legends will be hard? Picking the Jets roster might have been harder for Hawerchuk.
It seems everyone who’s ever skated a pre-season shift for Winnipeg wanted in on the alumni action.
“We’re not going to please everybody,” Hawerchuk said. “Some guys haven’t played that long here, but they felt a closeness to Winnipeg … I knew I’d be stuck with that job.
“The guys understand there’s a bit of a pecking order. So for some of the guys to get in, they’re elated.”
The process would have been even harder if active NHL coaches like Randy Carlyle, Scott Arniel and Phil Housley weren’t going to be tied up with their real jobs.
Hawerchuk still has a goalie and a skater to add.
As for the current teams, for two non-playoff squads there’ll be an impressive collection of young talent.
How about Mark Scheifele, Nikolaj Ehlers and the newly drafted Patrik Laine for the home side vs. Connor McDavid, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins and the other super-Finn, Jesse Puljujarvi, for the visitors?
“We’re both young, up-and-coming teams,” Edmonton goalie Cam Talbot said. “Seven or eight games in — it’s a great way to start the season.”
Two points will be up for grabs, of course, in the real game, bragging rights and maybe a post-game beer in the oldtimers game.
Which one’s the better draw?
“Cam and I were talking back there,” Wheeler said. “The amount of star power on those two teams, the alumni game might trump the main event.”
Wheeler and Talbot have done this before, the former playing for Boston at Fenway Park, the latter suiting up for the Rangers at Yankee Stadium.
For Winnipeg, though, this is a first.
And nobody’s more pumped than the man in charge of the Jets, a man who wanted to acknowledge the “brilliance” of the Hull and Hawerchuk signings at our most famous street corner.
“Of all the events we could have landed … to me this was the best way to celebrate the heritage of our hockey,” Mark Chipman said. “And it’s already exceeded my expectations.”
Wait until October.
EXPECT OLDTIMERS TO BE COMPETITIVE
The hair isn’t nearly as intimidating and he isn’t likely to throw any haymakers if someone touches Wayne Gretzky.
But former Edmonton enforcer Dave Semenko says there will be an ounce or two of competitiveness in October’s Heritage Classic alumni game between the Jets and Oilers, even if a post-game beer is the only thing at stake.
“When we did the first one against Montreal, I thought it would be exchanging goals, left and right, like 15-12,” Semenko was saying Friday. “It ended up 2-0. Nobody really cared (at first) who was going to win the game. Then once we got out there that kind of changed. Now we wanted to win. That pride kicks in.
“That will probably happen again. It doesn’t leave you.”
Semenko, who’s 59, provided an early Oilers scouting report, based on a recent visit to Gretzky’s fantasy camp in Vegas.
“Jari moves around pretty well,” he said of Jari Kurri. “Gretz moves around pretty well. Paul Coffey’s always going to be able to skate.
“I’m not sure what the average age of these teams are. Or weight. We’ll find out.”
Former Jets captain Dale Hawerchuk is 53 and not quite in the shape he used to be.
“My own training was going to start July 1,” Hawerchuk said. “But I moved it to Aug. 1 — and I’m thinking about Sept. 1.
“It’s probably like going out and playing golf with your buddies. We’re all hunky-dory for 15 holes, and then the last three guys are grinding hard to come out on top.”
Semenko’s goals are humble.
“Try not to fall down,” he said. “Because it’s very difficult to get up.”
THE OLD GUYS
Rosters for the Heritage Classic Alumni Game:
- Dale Hawerchuk
- Thomas Steen
- Dave Babych
- Laurie Boschman
- Mike Eagles
- Dave Ellett
- Bob Essensa
- Mike Ford
- Kris King
- Jim Kyte
- Mario Marois
- Morris Lukowich
- Moe Mantha
- Andrew McBain
- Brian Mullen
- Teppo Numminen
- Teemu Selanne
- Darrin Shannon
- Doug Smail
- Tim Watters
- Ron Wilson
- Tom McVie
- Serge Savard
- Wayne Gretzky
- Dave Semenko
- Mark Messier
- Glenn Anderson
- Paul Coffey
- Grant Fuhr
- Jari Kurri
- Kelly Buchberger
- Randy Gregg
- Charlie Huddy
- Ken Linesman
- BJ MacDonald
- Craig MacTavish
- Marty McSorley
- Bill Ranford
- Dwayne Roloson
- Craig Simpson
- Ryan Smyth
- Esa Tikkanen