On the weekend, Mark Scheifele, the Winnipeg Jets’ leading scorer during the regular season, brought his pet goats – named after his favourite athletes, Tom Brady and Tiger Woods – out on the ice to see what would happen.
“They were buzzing around on the ice,” Scheifele told the media afterwards, “so it was pretty cool to see that. I don’t think the trainers were too happy because they kind of pooped everywhere.”
The Jets’ alternate captain will want to hope he and his goats aren’t a harbinger for Winnipeg’s Stanley Cup playoff series against the Edmonton Oilers, which opens Wednesday night at Edmonton’s Rogers Place.
It can be argued that Scheifele’s Jets have been pooping the ice when it comes to the Oilers for quite some time. During this highly irregular regular season, Edmonton and Winnipeg met nine times, with the Oilers winning seven of the games. Oilers superstar Connor McDavid, who somehow managed to score 105 points in his 56-game 2021 season, had seven goals and 15 assists against the Jets in those nine matches.
To make matters worse, the Jets foundered in the dying weeks of the season, losing nine of their last dozen matches.
The Jets have historically always had problems with their Prairie rivals, even supposedly losing out in the Wayne Gretzky sweepstakes back in 1978 when the then-17-year-old superstar was playing for the financially struggling Indianapolis Racers of the World Hockey Association. Racers ownership offered the blossoming superstar to two other WHA teams, the Edmonton Oilers and Winnipeg Jets. The Oilers won – legend has it a backgammon game was involved – and went on to become an NHL hockey dynasty.
At the height of that run, Edmonton defeated Winnipeg six times in Stanley Cup play between 1983 and 1990. When the Oilers won their five Cups, each spring included a series win over the Jets.
But wait … Wednesday’s game will mark only Edmonton’s second real playoff appearance (last summer’s play-in series shouldn’t count) in 15 years, while the Jets have made the postseason in three of their past four seasons.
The Oilers, however, truly feel their time has come. “We’ve learned a lot of lessons in my time here,” McDavid, who arrived in 2015, said Tuesday. “It’s time to do something with those lessons at some point.”
The larger question is can either the Oilers or the Jets – or the Montreal Canadiens or the Toronto Maple Leafs, who are meeting in the other North Division series – move on to somehow bring the first Stanley Cup home to Canada since the Canadiens last won in 1993?
The No. 1 song that year was Whitney Houston’s I Will Always Love You, and it could stand as a theme song for all seven Canadian franchises. The relationship has always been intense between fans and team, sometimes up and sometimes down, sometimes inexplicable – how else do you explain the rapturous fan feelings in Ottawa, where the Senators will once again miss the playoffs but ended their season 7-2-1 over the final 10 games, including beating the dreaded Leafs 4-3 in overtime in their final outing.
Jets fans have long tired of being regarded as a good team but not a great team. There is no Stanley Cup. But they do have a gold-standard goaltender in Connor Hellebuyck. His 24-17-3 record and .916 saving percentage were outstanding this season. Edmonton goaltender Mike Smith surprised this season, posting a 21-6-2 record with a .923 save percentage at the creaky goaltender age of 39.
For scoring, the Jets have Scheifele (21 goals and 63 points), Kyle Connor (26 goals, 50 points) and Nikolaj Ehlers (21 goals, 46 points). Ehlers missed the last nine games of the season with an injury, but has since resumed skating and may soon return to play.
Impressive as all that is, the Jets attack pales when compared to that of the Oilers. McDavid (33 goals, 105 points) and Leon Draisaitl (31 goals, 84 points) may be the two best forwards in the game. McDavid will almost assuredly be named the NHL’s MVP this season, taking the Hart Trophy from Draisaitl, who won it last year.
There has apparently been some South Park-style grousing from south of the border that the only reason McDavid was able to crest 100 points is because he was playing in the weak North Division. If Nathan MacKinnon was playing there instead of in the tough West Division, or if Sidney Crosby was playing in Canada instead of the highly competitive East Division, they’d be heading for 150 points …
McDavid, however, is true value. Ridiculing Canada is easy for a cartoon – “It’s not even a real country, anyway” – but each time the Stanley Cup stays south of the border Canadians are reminded that Lord Stanley of Preston gave it back in 1892 to “be held from year to year by the champion hockey team in the Dominion.”
Each spring is a fresh start for both farmers and those teams that do make the playoffs.
“It’s going to be fun,” Hellebuyck said earlier this week. “It’s going to be a grind, it’s going to be fast – and it’s going to be fun.”
And with luck, let this be the year in which a Canadian team doesn’t poop on the ice when the semi-finals and final rolls around.