Jets fans pack arena for first open practice of season; players, coach praise fans
Hundreds of Winnipeg Jets fans filled the lobby of the MTS Centre for the first practice of the season for the team on Sunday.
Published Sunday, January 13, 2013 10:45AM CST
Last Updated Wednesday, January 23, 2013 12:39PM CST
The MTS Centre was packed with fans Sunday, all to see the Winnipeg Jets hit the ice for their first training-camp practice of the season.
Sunday marked the team’s first practice of the season after a months-long lockout ended Saturday night with the National Hockey League’s player’s association agreeing to a collective bargaining agreement.
The deal means teams will play a protracted season, and the Jets spared no time getting back on the ice.
The on-ice practice was held at the MTS Centre from noon to 1 p.m. and was open to the public. Two hours before the doors even opened at the MTS Centre, fans began to line up.
“Yeah, we were waiting by ourselves here for quite a while,” said Jessie Cheswick, the first Jets fan in line.
Doors were slated to open at 11:30 a.m. and by 10:45 a.m., hundreds of people wered waiting in line to see the players hit the ice.
By noon, the MTS Centre was packed. The skate provided non-season ticket holders a chance to see the Jets on ice without trying to track down hard-to-find tickets.
Fans cheered, "Go Jets go!" and players posed for photos together at either ends of the rink.
Admission was free to fans, and free popcorn and drinks were promised to those who attended. Hundreds waited in line for the free snacks.
“We had around 5,000 people here today,” said head coach Claude Noel, who added he thought the crowd’s “passion was terrific!”
That passion didn’t appear to be dampened by a 113 day lockout.
“I was pretty upset about the whole thing,” said fan Chad Cote. “Now that it’s going on again, I’m pretty excited again.”
And Cote wasn’t alone. The massive turnout for the practice was overwhelmingly positive. Fan Sara Espenell said that type of energy is what she’s going to look forward to all season.
“Having that camaraderie with all the fans and everything,” said Espenell. “It’s such an amazing atmosphere.”
And the dedication of fans was not lost on the team.
“It’s awesome. I think we all know how privileged we are to play in a market like this,” said Jets right-winger Blake Wheeler.
Fans will convene next in less than a week on Jan. 19 to watch the first Jets game of the season.
The puck drops at 2 p.m. Saturday when the Jets host the Ottawa Senators at the MTS Centre.
The Jets will play a 48-game season. Their first away game is scheduled for Jan. 21 in Boston.