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Despite establishing its core, the Winnipeg Jets continue their long-term plan to build from within and to improve incrementally. (JOHN WOODS/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Despite establishing its core, the Winnipeg Jets continue their long-term plan to build from within and to improve incrementally. (JOHN WOODS/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

MacGregor: Young Jets ready to win now Add to ...

There may well be times when impatience is also a virtue.

Take the case of Evander Kane, for example. The young Winnipeg Jets forward – perhaps the fleetest player in the game when he is in full flight – is waiting for a nagging injury to heal and, frankly, is getting a bit tired of waiting on just about everything.

“I want to win,” he says.

He knows that patience has been the mantra, that there is a smart, long-term plan in place to build from within, to stick with what you have, to improve incrementally season by season by season. He understands that but he, after all, is just 22, just as top defenceman Zach Bogosian is 23, just as improving power forward Mark Scheifele is 20, just as top defensive prospect Jacob Touba (who is also injured) is only 19.

Doesn’t matter.

“We want it now,” Kane says. “We want to go for it now.”

It is early in the third season of the reborn Winnipeg Jets. They have not made the NHL playoffs. In the dozen years the team was located in Atlanta as the Thrashers, they made the postseason only once, in 2007, so success is not a quality familiar to the team even as it is usually a necessity to rabid Canadian fans.

“I didn’t even know where Winnipeg was, to be honest,” the Vancouver-born Kane says with a laugh. But he soon found out that there was far more difference than mere weather between Georgia and Manitoba.

Down there, no one knew who hockey players were and most didn’t even know what hockey was. Up here, at times to a young player’s discomfort, the spotlight is as intense and burning as the summer sun on Victoria Beach. Take a shift off, it’s noticed; make a good play, it’s expected.

Having already lost one NHL team – the original Jets relocated to Phoenix as the Coyotes in 1996 – Winnipeg fans understand better than most the importance of keeping the faith. So strong is belief in the franchise – fans roar “True North!” during the anthem as a salute to the ownership – that there remains a paid waiting list of 8,000 fans who want season tickets.

That, the proliferation of Jets gear, the sellouts and the obsessive daily bar and water-cooler talk is proof to Mark Chipman, chairman of team owner True North Sports & Entertainment, that the honeymoon continues strong.

That said, it is getting close to time to deliver.

The Jets hold a 6-8-2 record heading into Wednesday’s game against the Blackhawks in Chicago. The last time they played the ’Hawks, last Saturday in Winnipeg, they were squashed 5-1.

And yet, two nights later, these same Jets rolled over the equally powerful Detroit Red Wings 4-2.

The two games were a wonderful illustration of a team neither great nor grating. In both games, the swift Jets played magnificently in the first period, ending up tied 1-1 against Chicago, leading 1-0 against the Red Wings.

Against Chicago, they stumbled in the second period and fell completely apart. Against Detroit, they tripped slightly, falling behind 2-1, but then gathered themselves and again used their speed to come back for a most impressive, and needed, victory.

Forward Bryan Little, who has been the Jets’ best player most nights, had refused to call the Detroit game a “must-win” situation, but went on to say: “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 into the playoffs.”

A visibly relieved head coach Claude Noël said after the win it was time to “build on the positives – we’ve had enough other stuff.”

That “other stuff” – losing leads, sputtering power plays, defensive mistakes – has at times reared its head in this city that remains head-over-heels in love with the idea of the Jets. There have been rumblings of a coaching change – unlikely, insiders say – and talk about general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff trading someone.

The fans are acutely aware of all this. During last Saturday’s loss to Chicago, Noël said “the air [went] right out of the building” when his team stumbled. Conversely, the roof all but blew off the MTS Centre in the final minute of the win over Detroit.

Few are complaining there is jet lag in the long-term plan, but increasingly the expectations of the fanbase marry with the intentions of the young players like Kane.

They want to “go for it now.” They want to win. They want to aim for the playoffs, something the team shot hard for last year, and came up just short.

Noël is philosophical about competing with the more-established, top teams. His team has to learn how to win – and that takes time.

“We have what we have,” he said. “They have what they have.

“You’re not going to reinvent how to play.”

Follow me on Twitter: @RoyMacG

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