Sports purists will tell you there’s no such thing as “Canada’s Team” in the NHL playoffs – that hockey allegiances are neither transferable nor temporary.
Don’t listen to them. The Winnipeg Jets are the perfect team for all Canadians to root for, and we should do so with abandon.
Their home is in the quintessential hockey heartland – the Prairies – and they are run by Canadians with deep ties to community and country. (Disclosure: The owners include the proprietor of this newspaper.)
Perennial underdogs, they are suddenly the Platonic ideal of a hockey club, a team for all seasons with the talent to beat opponents with skill and the brawn to do it in the alley. Conn Smythe would have approved.
Though its stars include Minnesotans, Michiganders and Europeans – e.g. Dustin Byfuglien, Connor Hellebuyck and Patrik Laine – the Jets’ best player is Mark Scheifele of Kitchener, Ont., a 25-year-old who leads the playoffs in goals.
Mr. Scheifele played his junior hockey for Dale Hawerchuk, one of the most beloved Jets of all (although Teemu Selanne, who flew in from California for game six of the second round, has surely surpassed him).
There is a whiff of destiny to Mr. Scheifele propelling his team to a stage of the post-season that eluded Messrs. Hawerchuk and Selanne, and indeed every other edition of the Jets and Atlanta Thrashers, this club’s direct ancestor.
Today’s Jets are nothing like the teams of the 1980s and 90s that bred an enduring streak of pessimism in the Winnipeg sporting public.
One senses the vast sea of white-clad fans who stood both inside and outside the Jets’ arena for Saturday’s opening game of the Western Conference final still can’t quite convince themselves this isn’t going to veer into the ditch at any moment.
That’s the best reason of all to root for a Winnipeg Jets Stanley Cup: the elemental, unbridled joy it would bring to a fan base raised to believe that kind of thing is reserved for others.
Plus, it’s been 25 springs since a Canadian team hoisted the Stanley Cup. That’s long enough. Go Jets go.