“Keep the blue out!”
At this late juncture, it’d probably be hard to do, but maybe the Wild should take a page out of the Nashville Predators’ book (and the St. Louis Blues’, Buffalo Sabres’, Edmonton Oilers’ and even the Miami Dolphins’) and orchestrate a way to keep Winnipeg Jets die-hards out of its rink April 6 … and beyond.
It’s become a tradition since Atlanta’s move to our frigid neighbor to the north in 2011, but Jets fans — many who can’t get into MTS Centre because the small rink is overrun by season-ticket holders — travel by the busload to fill Xcel Energy Center whenever the Jets visit St. Paul.
That was the case Dec. 27. Jets fans were everywhere.
Lower bowl, club level, upper bowl, loud (we’ll call ’em) … passionate fans dressed in blue cheered the boys from Winnipeg and mocked Wild fans anytime the Jets scored. During the national anthem, they screamed in an ode to the Jets’ owners, “True North,” and chanted throughout, “Go Jets Go!”
When Andrew Ladd scored a fluky goal to win the game in overtime, it was so noisy, you would have thought the Wild won.
In 2013, in an attempt to keep Chicago Blackhawks fans out of Nashville, the Predators held a “Keep the red out” campaign that forced folks who bought tickets to any Blackhawks-Predators game to buy an additional game. The theory is out-of-towner Blackhawks fans wouldn’t waste their money on a second game.
As a Predators’ spokesperson said, “Our objective is to give our team the best home-ice advantage each and every game.”
It worked so well, the Blues made fans buy two extra games if they wanted a Blackhawks-Blues ticket.
April 6 is the Wild’s home finale. The way this season is going, that could be a must-win for the Wild heading into its final three road games at Chicago, Nashville and St. Louis.
Jets fans could turn Xcel Energy Center into a home-ice advantage for Winnipeg. It would be even more embarrassing if the Wild’s out of playoff contention, the Jets aren’t and fans dressed in Winnipeg blue arrive to really, really let the Wild know it.
Matt Majka, the Wild’s chief operating officer, doesn’t mind Jets fans because “it energizes our building and our fans respond to the Winnipeg contingent starting with the anthem.” But Majka admits that trying to eliminate or at least diminish the ability of the Jets fan to flood the X has come up in conversations “only because we’ve noted other teams doing this. But we haven’t taken any serious steps as of yet.”
And of course, with ticket brokers, scalpers and season-ticket holders selling their tickets privately or through StubHub, it’s impossible to completely shut them out until the Wild’s good enough where it creates enough of a demand for tickets in its own geographical area.
Regardless, the Jets could be making their first playoff appearance since Winnipeg got a team again. Despite playing much of the season without their top four defensemen, the Jets have overcome that adversity.
“We fall back on the way we play,” former Gopher Blake Wheeler said. “With injuries, we have our system to fall back on, we have our defensive posture to fall back on and we have our battle to fall back on.”
The Jets have bought into direct, detail-oriented coach Paul Maurice’s system and the culture change he brought. The Jets are not only getting great goaltending, they’ve been great defensively, quite the coup for a team that has been bottom-10 in goals-against average every year in Thrashers/Jets history.
They are big and skilled up front and, if they get into the playoffs, could be a tough because of the home-ice advantage their passionate fans give them in their deafening barn.
“There’s a lot of guys in here that haven’t experienced playoff hockey at all,” said Ladd, Winnipeg’s captain who won Stanley Cups with Carolina and Chicago. “We just want this team and city to experience it again.”
NHL short takes
Praise for his mentor
Nick Schultz, the Wild’s all-time leader with 743 games, was back in St. Paul recently after signing a one-year deal with Philadelphia last summer. The Wild’s Jared Spurgeon was excited to see Schultz resurrect his career in Philly after a couple tough years in Edmonton and Columbus. By all accounts, he has been the Flyers’ most consistent defenseman and leads them with a plus-8.
“To see how professional he was and how hard he worked was huge for my career,” Spurgeon said. “He’s just an all-around great guy, and it shows when you work as hard as he does, it’ll come around.”
Beginning of the end?
It can be unforgiving the way careers end, and Dany Heatley’s NHL career appears close to being over.
The former Wild veteran cleared waivers and surprisingly accepted a reassignment from the Anaheim Ducks to AHL Norfolk last week.
After a solid training camp, Heatley sustained a groin injury and never really caught up. How long the 33-year-old accepts riding buses, though, is a big question. Perhaps, some have suggested, he goes to Germany to finish his career playing alongside his brother, Mark.
Since Heatley entered the NHL in 2001-02, the former two-time 50-goal, 100-point scorer ranks fifth with 372 goals and second with 143 power-play goals.
Big money for the kid
Nick Bjugstad, the kid who graduated from Blaine High School and the University of Minnesota in three years each, didn’t waste time signing a six-year, $24.6 million extension with the Florida Panthers.
“I really like it down here, and the security is nice,” said Bjugstad, the Panthers’ leading scorer. “We have a good thing going. We’re going to have some really good chances in the playoffs the next few years, and that contributed to my decision.”
Wild’s week ahead
Tuesday: 7 p.m. vs. San Jose (NBCSN)
Thursday: 7 p.m. vs. Chicago (FSN)
Saturday: 1 p.m. vs. Nashville (FSN)
Player to watch: Patrick Kane, Blackhawks
The Blackhawks star, who many eons ago made his NHL debut in St. Paul, returns to Xcel Energy Center for the first time since he eliminated the Wild last postseason in overtime of Game 6. Brent Seabrook’s dump-in hit a stanchion, the puck ricocheted in front and Kane buried it.
« We need more complete effort from every guy who laces up their skates. »
Coach Mike Yeo on his spinning-wheels team.