Naive, for sure. Self-delusionary, likely. But no less true for its flaws. The home team can be nothing but good and clean and devoted and, fingers crossed, better this year than last.
“There definitely was a different feeling around town,” says Jets captain Andrew Ladd. “Just going out shopping or to a restaurant, a lot of excitement now that everyone’s going to have something to follow and watch and take pride in again. We as players realize we’re a big part of this town and we appreciate the support.”
Ladd, who stayed and practised in Winnipeg during the lockout, wasn’t sure that this would be the case, especially in those dark days in December when it seemed the league and its players were determined to deep-six the season out of greed and spite for each other.
“Second lockout in seven years?” Ladd says. “You put fans through that – and there were still NHL fans here even though they didn’t have a team – and there are people who were going to be sour – and rightfully so.
“It’s such a hockey-crazy city, you figured they would come back the same way that they were last year, but you never know,” he adds. “You put people in that situation and you don’t really know. We’re lucky that they’ll come back in full force and this place will again be one of the best places to play in the NHL.”
Jets centre Bryan Little, who also stayed and practised in the city, says he was never accosted or insulted about the lockout. “It was more just, ‘Okay, get back to work as soon as you can,’” he says. “They were pretty supportive. They were just disappointed that they had finally got their team back and now they couldn’t watch them play. That frustrated a lot of people. … I think it would have been a lot worse if we had lost the whole season.”
Winnipeg, Little says, “is kind of a place where, especially for a player, there’s not much else to do apart from play hockey and come to practice. The fans really hold onto that. I think that’s why they get so caught up in it. It’s a small city and there’s not a lot to do and there’s not a lot of teams, so it’s big.
“Everyone’s happy now.”
And not only, it appears at least this weekend, in Winnipeg. But right across the nation.
Perhaps no writer has ever understood Canada better than Bruce Hutchison, who coincidentally was associate editor of the Winnipeg Free Press in the years in which his book, The Unknown Country, so perfectly defined Canada.
“I would be the last to disparage the genius of the politicians who make our laws,” Hutchison wrote around that time, “the writers who make our books, the artists who make our pictures, but in gauging the true culture of the nation and reckoning its tensile strength, let the student not neglect hockey.”
This hockey story – the week between utter contempt for the league and its players and total embrace of the Canadian teams again – is something that could be studied for an eternity.
Which is why it is best not to wonder why, but merely to drop the puck. In wonder.