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By Brad E. Schlossman / Forum Communications Co., Published October 09 2011

Jets get big ovation despite 5-1 loss to Montreal

WINNIPEG – As the final minute counted down, the 15,004 fans in Winnipeg’s MTS Centre came to their feet and gave a rousing ovation.

Then, they belted out yet another “Go Jets Go!” chant.

The crowd got louder and louder as the clock ticked toward zero.

Who cares if they were down by four goals?

That hardly seemed to matter here Sunday afternoon as the Jets returned to Winnipeg after 15 years of being away. The mere fact that NHL hockey is back was more important than the 5-1 loss to the Montreal Canadiens.

It was a Stanley Cup Finals atmosphere in Winnipeg on Sunday, complete with a seven-hour pregame show by the local radio station and fans gathering around downtown to celebrate the event. Those who couldn’t get into the MTS Centre packed the Convention Center to watch the game.

People filled up downtown bars before noon. By 1 p.m., there was a line outside of about 50 people waiting to get into the Jets team store.

“I think you’re seeing a lot of emotions that were many years in the making,” said Jets co-owner Mark Chipman, a UND graduate. “I get asked the question a lot about how I’m feeling and I don’t know how to answer it. I’m feeling a lot of emotions.”

The fans were into the game throughout, even if there wasn’t a lot to cheer about. The Jets didn’t score until the 2 minute, 27 mark of the third period when Nik Antropov slapped home a goal from the crease – the first Jets goal in 15 years.

Big hits, penalty calls or any other excuse to get in the game also received loud ovations.

“It’s nice to play in front of a full crowd again,” said Roseau’s Dustin Byfuglien, a Jet defenseman who got used to playing in front of sparse crowds when the team was in Atlanta. “Any time you can be in front of a full crowd that sticks with you throughout the game, it’s nice. All we have to do is go to work.”

Byfuglien will certainly have a share of fans make the short jaunt from Roseau throughout the season, but only his grandparents were at the opener.

“Just kept it to them,” he said.

Montreal scored one goal in the first, one in the second, then blew the game open with three in the third. But not even that could keep the fans from roaring at the end of the game.

“I thought that was people cheering for Montreal or something, because they were going to win,” Jets defenseman Chris Thorburn said. “But that shows what kind of fans we have here. They understand the game of hockey. They tried to get our enthusiasm and motivation up and it worked at times.

“They deserved better tonight. It’s up to us to give that to them. We appreciate everything they’ve done, the whole city, the whole organization. For us as players, we have to take it upon ourselves to show up and produce.”

Winnipeg is taking over a franchise that hasn’t won much. During the 11 years in Atlanta, the team made the playoffs just once and got swept. Last season, Atlanta finished 12th of 15 teams in the Eastern Conference.

The players hope they can turn around those fortunes in the new location, despite the rocky start.

“We just have to put our best foot forward and hopefully they will have something to be proud of in the near future,” Thorburn said. “They’ve been ready since the whole summer. To come out and lose 5-1 is not something to be proud of from our point of view.”

Schlossman writes for the Grand Forks Herald

Montreal 1 1 3 – 5

Winnipeg 0 0 1 – 1

First period: 1, Montreal, Cammalleri 1, 3:05.

Second period: 2, Montreal, Plekanec 1 (Moen, Weber), 14:17.

Third period: 3, Winnipeg, Antropov 1 (Stuart, Burmistrov), 2:27. 4, Montreal, Weber 1 (Plekanec, Desharnais), 4:51 (pp). 5, Montreal, Moen 1 (Plekanec), 10:31. 6, Montreal, Pacioretty 1 (Gorges), 12:32.

Shots on Goal – Montreal 7-9-6 – 22. Winnipeg 8-9-14 – 31.

Goalies: Montreal, Price. Winnipeg, Pavelec. A – 15,004 (15,015). T – 2:26.