Jets take off

Win­nipeg’s coach says there’s a ‘parental car­ing’ for team in a town that long missed out on play­offs.

Los Angeles Times - - SPORTS - By Lisa Dill­man lisa.dill­man@la­times.com Twit­ter: @re­al­lisa

Tick­ets for first two games in Win­nipeg sold out in five min­utes.

Not only is Paul Mau­rice a play­off-bound hockey coach, he also hap­pens to be the teacher/care­taker of a beloved civic trea­sure, the Win­nipeg Jets.

And the proud he­li­copter moms and dads are fig­u­ra­tively peer­ing over his shoul­der on the eve of the city’s first play­off se­ries in 19 years. The fran­chise re­lo­cated to Win­nipeg from At­lanta for the 2011-12 sea­son.

Win­nipeg, the eighth-seeded team in the West­ern Con­fer­ence, plays No. 1 Ana­heim on Thurs­day night in the open­ing round of the play­offs at Honda Cen­ter.

“They lost their team,” Mau­rice said, re­fer­ring to a pre­vi­ous Jets fran­chise that left for Ari­zona in 1996, “and it came back to them. It’s a lit­tle bit like, for me, be­ing the teacher in school and you’ve got their kids. …

“But never lose sight of the fact that it’s their team. So there’s an own­er­ship be­yond that. There’s a parental car­ing about this team in Win­nipeg that’s re­ally spe­cial.”

Game 2 is on Satur­day in Ana­heim and the se­ries moves to Win­nipeg for Game 3 on Mon­day and Game 4 on Wed­nes­day. In­di­vid­ual tick­ets to those games at MTS Cen­tre sold out in less than five min­utes.

Firetrucks are driv­ing around the city with Jets flags, and en­thu­si­as­tic par­ents just named their new­born boy Jett af­ter the team, ac­cord­ing to a Canadian Broad­cast­ing Corp. re­port.

“The city’s been ex­cited all four years we’ve been in Win­nipeg, but it was some­thing dif­fer­ent,” said Jets goalie On­drej Pav­elec, who had four shutouts, a .949 save per­cent­age and a 1.46 goals-against av­er­age over the last 13 games.

“When you went to the gro­cery store or to Star­bucks, ev­ery­where you went, I think even peo­ple who didn’t fol­low the team, they know we’ve made the play­offs and they cheer for you. A lit­tle bit more ex­cite­ment for those peo­ple.”

If Pav­elec, whose stel­lar play sparked the Jets down the stretch, wins the first round, he may never have to buy an­other Star­bucks drink in Win­nipeg again.

Mau­rice no­ticed the height­ened an­tic­i­pa­tion around Win­nipeg even be­fore the Jets qual­i­fied for the play- offs.

“You know they ap­pre­ci­ate it just as you drive to the rink,” he said. “And there’s just Win­nipeg Jet hoodie af­ter hoodie af­ter sweater. They’ve fallen in love with it.

“I’ve coached in U.S. cities and when we’ve got­ten into the play­offs they are as pas­sion­ate and ra­bid about their team, but it wouldn’t nec­es­sar­ily be the en­tire city. … But the fo­cus on that [here] is very spe­cial.”

The Jets got into the play­offs af­ter their sec­ond-last game of the sea­son. They lost to the Colorado Avalanche in a shootout on April 9 and were in their dress­ing room in Den­ver when word ar­rived that the Kings had lost to the Cal­gary Flames, mean­ing the Jets were in.

It was an in­stant mood changer that night in Win­nipeg. A few hun­dred fans cel­e­brated the mo­ment at the fa­mous in­ter­sec­tion of Portage Av­enue and Main Street.

Hours later, around 2:30 in the morn­ing, a smaller gath­er­ing was on hand when the Jets re­turned to Win­nipeg at the pri­vate air­port ter­mi­nal.

“We had a bunch of fans wait­ing out­side, as we drove out,” said de­fense­man Tyler My­ers. “That was pretty spe­cial to see. We saw the pic­tures of the all fans down­town, cel­e­brat­ing. You can feel all the ex­cite­ment.”

Win­nipeg is one of five Canadian teams that qual­i­fied for the NHL play­offs. Last sea­son, Mon­treal was the lone rep­re­sen­ta­tive for Canada.

“It’s what we want for our sport and the game of hockey, and I think you see it in all of the Canadian cities,” Mau­rice said of the ex­cite­ment. “It’s March Mad­ness and then some across Canada.”

This is no or­di­nary No. 8 ver­sus No. 1. Ana­heim is not a uni­ver­sal pick across the board, and the teams have not played each other since Jan. 11.

“The first 10 min­utes are go­ing to be very in­ter­est­ing,” Mau­rice said. “It’ll be ex­cit­ing. You don’t want to show up late.”

David Lipnowski As­so­ci­ated Press

JETS FANS gather at Portage Av­enue and Main Street in Win­nipeg af­ter the team clinched a spot in the NHL play­offs last week. The Jets are one of five Canadian teams in the play­offs.

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