Winnipeg Jets forward Bryan Little was surveying the mass of 40 or 50 reporters, cameramen and other media personalities that were piling into the visiting dressing room at the Air Canada Centre on Wednesday morning.
"I've never seen anything like this," Little said. "Usually when Atlanta went on the road, it was pretty empty dressing room. Now it's kind of the opposite. It's hard to get around in here."
"We haven't been that many places [on the road]but it wasn't like this in Phoenix," coach Claude Noel said. "Let's put it that way."
Opposite seemed to be the word of the day with the reborn Jets in Toronto for the first time since their reincarnation in the off-season. Every member of the Jets seemed to have a different story about just how different life is after moving from Atlanta to Winnipeg and how often they get recognized around town.
"I see kids on the street now, when I'm driving home, playing road hockey every day," backup goalie Chris Mason said. "I haven't seen that in years [playing in Nashville, St. Louis and Atlanta] That brings everyone back to when they were a kid. I just love it."
"It's really crazy," Little said. "It's a whole different level [of attention]than what we were used to in Atlanta. It's not bad. It has its ups and downs. It's nice to have the attention and following for once but at the same time it puts a little more pressure on the team."
The Jets haven't exactly been off to a flying start so far, but they are coming off their first win, over the Pittsburgh Penguins on Monday, and are being leaned on hard by coach Claude Noel to really battle to be competitive every night.
They've been written off as a poor team by many, but the fact is that the Jets (as the Thrashers) were really only five points behind the Toronto Maple Leafs in the standings a year ago. Toronto may have a slightly better team than a year ago, but this should be a competitive game.
Both teams realize they've got a big, national audience and seem geared up for it.
Reimer gets the start
One player looking forward to the game is Leafs netminder James Reimer, who grew up an hour and a half outside Winnipeg in Morweena, Man., and went to two Jets games as a seven year old during their final season.
"I was pretty choked [when they left]" Reimer said. "I was sad. I remember going to games and it was tough ... All my family and my friends, it's the Jets are back to them, and they're all excited about it."
Reimer said he has already been trying to lineup tickets for when the Leafs play in Winnipeg on New Year's Eve. "I've talked to the ticket guys and they say it's going to be pretty tough," Reimer said. "We'll see. I'll do what I can."
The start will be Reimer's fifth in a row to start the year, but Toronto plans on starting backup Jonas Gustavsson on Thursday in Boston as the Leafs head out on a difficult four-game road trip.
"We're trying to get off to a good start and he's clearly our No. 1 goalie," Leafs coach Ron Wilson said of Reimer. "More than likely [Gustavsson]will play tomorrow night and we have confidence that he can get the job done. But James is our No. 1 goalie and there's a number of teams in our league who have played more games than us who have only used one goalie so I don't think [overuse]is an issue."
Ondrej Pavelec is expected to start for Winnipeg in this one.
- GM Brian Burke announced Wednesday that the club has assigned forward Nazem Kadri to the Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League. Kadri, 21, played in five preseason games before suffering a knee injury on Sept. 27 at Ottawa and was placed on injured reserve October 1.
- Wilson said rookie defenceman Jake Gardiner will get back into the lineup after sitting the past two games as a healthy scratch. He's also expected to get more ice time than he has so far this season. Cody Franson is headed back to the press box after he was a bit of a goat on Colorado's OT winner on Monday.
- Noel said winger Evander Kane will play after missing Monday's game with a lower body injury. Ron Hainsey is out with an upper body injury.
Lupul - Bozak - Kessel MacArthur - Grabovski - Kulemin Frattin - Lombardi - Armstrong Steckel - Dupuis - Brown
Gunnarsson - Phaneuf Liles - Schenn Gardiner - Komisarek
Ladd - Little - Wheeler Burmistrov - Antropov - Wellwood Kane - Scheifele - Stapleton Glass - Slater - Thorburn
Enstrom - Byfuglien Stuart - Bogosian Oduya - Meech