It is becoming one of the more treasured honours in hockey.
Not a trophy, not the first star – but being roundly booed by Winnipeg fans whenever you touch the puck.
The booing, now an entrenched tradition, is usually directed at the other team’s top player – Washington Capitals’ Alexander Ovechkin, Pittsburgh Penguins’ Sidney Crosby – and visiting players now openly hope they will be the “chosen one” that night.
Saturday afternoon it was Chicago Blackhawks’ Patrick Kane as Chicago easily won 5-1. Some thought Chicago captain Jonathan Toews, a hometown hero, was rather disappointed that Kane, not he, was signaled out.
Monday night, the crowd couldn’t seem to make up its mind. First they went after Daniel Alfredsson, the former Ottawa Senators’ captain now with the Detroit Red Wings, then they picked on Jordan Tootoo, who 16 seconds into the match got into an absurdly meaningless scrap with Jets’ forward Chris Thorburn.
Tootoo would prove an inspired choice when, later in the period, he gave the crowd something to cheer about – as cheering has been in short order recently at MTS Centre.
And they were still cheering at the end, with the Jets winning 4-2.
Winnipeg had lost three games in a row – to Colorado Avalanche, St. Louis Blues and Chicago Blackhawks – before taking on the Red Wings.
Detroit, on the other hand, arrived in the Manitoba capital on a three-game winning streak, downing the other three Canadian teams in the West, Vancouver Canucks, Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers.
The pressure had certainly been mounting with the string of losses. The Jets had made a couple of minor roster changes by recalling defenceman Zach Redmond from their St. John’s AHL affiliate and had claimed defenceman Keaton Ellerby off waivers from the L.A. Kings.
Back-up defence, however, wasn’t the urgent need; it was offence. They needed victories.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a must-win [situation],” Winnipeg forward Bryan Little said before meeting the Red Wings. “But I think we’re at that point where we have to make up our minds.
“We don’t want to be sitting a month from now and looking at a huge challenge to even get in the playoffs. Right now it’s still relatively early and we still have a chance to get back on track and try to give ourselves a chance.”
They got back on track immediately. Once again, just as they had Saturday afternoon against the powerful Chicago Blackhawks, the Jets had a fast and effective opening period. They simply outhustled and out-raced the Red Wings and had an overwhelming shot advantage.
The problem was not the Jets but Jimmy Howard, the Red Wings goaltender.
Howard made successive fabulous saves off Winnipeg’s Zach Bogosian from the point, Andrew Ladd on a clean breakaway and Olli Jokinen on a good opportunity from the left side.
No one could solve Howard until the final minute of the period when Tootoo stumbled while going for the puck, given Little a clear breakaway. Little’s shot barely squeaked through Howard’s pads to give Winnipeg a 1-0 lead.
They had lost a lead on Saturday against the Hawks and sagged considerably under rising pressure in periods two and three.
This time, however, it would be different.
The Jets were as strong in the second period as they had been in the first – but still could not get pucks by Howard.
Winnipeg goaltender Al Montoya, who had come in in relief of regular goaltender Ondrej Pavelec in the Chicago game had to be sharp as well, at one point facing a two-man Detroit breakaway while the Red Wings were killing a penalty.
Detroit finally did score on Montoya but only because a Henrik Zetterberg pass went off the skate of Winnipeg defenceman Grant Clitsome and high into the Jets’ net.
Winnipeg’s troubles on the power play – only 6 goals on 55 chances heading into the game – allowed the Wings to go ahead 2-1, even though the Jets had, by this point, outshot Detroit 26-15.
Off a faceoff in the Jets end, defenceman Danny Dekeyser blasted a slapshot from the point that cleanly beat Montoya.
However, Winnipeg tied the game 2-2 late in the second when young centre Mark Scheifele sent a perfect cross-crease pass to Michael Frolik, who buried the puck behind Howard.
Scheifele and Frolik then set up Matt Halischuk for his first goal of the season, allowing the Jets to regain the lead at 3-2.
By now, the booing of Alfredsson or Tootoo was long over, the crowd chanting “How-ard! How-ard!” with all the dripping sarcasm that a happy sellout crowd could muster.
Jets captain Andrew Ladd made it 4-2 when he came out of the penalty box and joined the attack, sweeping a rebound into the Detroit net.
“HOW-ARD! HOW-ARD! HOW-ARD!”
“We’ve got to give them something to cheer about,” Little had said earlier.
And cheer they did, the sound deafening in the final minute of play and for several minutes after.