Sunday, September 11, 2011

30 Fans in 30 Days: Jlabossiere & the Winnipeg Jets

As a lead-up to the new season, here at HockeyBroad we'll both be reviewing How Teams Spent Their Summer Vacation, and also profiling one fan from each team's fandom, covering 30 Teams In 30 Days. The teams will be profiled in order determined by their points standing last season, highest to lowest, with the exception of Chicago, which will be profiled last to coincide with the date of their Training Camp Festival.

Team 24 of 30: the Atlanta Thrashers Winnipeg Jets

Jets 2.0 history at a glance, as seen worn by these fans at the 2011 Draft at the Xcel Center. (L-R: Atlanta Thrashers; original Jets logo; Manitoba Moose)


The better question to ask this summer about the Jets is "What didn't they do this summer".

At the end of May, it was announced that the struggling Atlanta Thrashers had been sold to True North Sports and Entertainment Ltd, and would be relocating to Winnipeg, which had previously lost its team in 1996. (The original Jets became the Phoenix Coyotes.) The Thrashers fan base - however small it might have been - was crushed; and the citizens of Winnipeg were elated.

The team's name was officially announced at the 2011 Draft, held in Minnesota. When Kevin Cheveldayoff was introduced to announce their draft pick, so too was the team's name. Many Jets fans had made the trek to St. Paul for the Draft, and the energy in the building was electric. Mark Scheifele became the first draftee in team history.

Winnipeg and Manitoba have supported their AHL team, the Manitoba Moose, very well. The Moose had been the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks, but since both teams were owned by True North, upon moving the Thrashers to Winnipeg, the Moose got moved to St. John, Newfoundland and Labrador, and was rechristened the IceCaps. The IceCaps are now the Jets' AHL affiliate, and the Vancouver Canucks became the new NHL affiliate of the Chicago Wolves, the Thrashers' previous AHL affiliate.

The team will be playing in the 15,000-seat MTS Center, which makes it the smallest building in the NHL. The team sold out 13,000 season ticket packages between June 1-4 with the first three days (and 7,158 sales) going to Moose season ticket holders; the remainder sold out in 17 minutes once opened to the public. The waitlist was capped at 8,000 after just two hours. For the players, that means they'll be going from a building that rarely had a sellout in Atlanta to one that is packed every night.

It's been a wholesale rehaul up in Winnipeg. Out with the GM and head coach; in with Kevin Cheveldayoff and Claude Noel. Staff turnover happened as well as the team moved north.

However, due to the timing of the team's change of ownership, the Jets will play out the 2011-12 season in the Eastern Conference; and are expected to shift into the Western Conference starting in 2012-13. Last season, the Thrashers started off the season strong before dropping off in the second half; the demands of playing before a hockey-mad home crowd is going to place different expectations on the team, and no doubt that the results will be different.

Winnipeg shared in the sadness this summer when Rick Rypien died. Rypien had signed with the Jets for the 2011-12 season; but the gritty center had spent his entire career with the Vancouver Canucks. 

New to team - listed on current roster/team acquired from: Eric Fehr (WSH), Tanner Glass (VAN), Randy Jones (TBL), Derek Meech (DET/AHL), Kyle Wellwood (SJ)
Players who appeared in games for the team during the 2010-11 season that have been traded or not re-signed/(team now signed with): Eric Boulton, Radek Dvorak (DAL), Ben Eager (EDM), Rob Schremp (Sweden), Brent Sopel (KHL), Anthony Stewart (CAR),

Thrashers captain Andrew Ladd re-signed with the team, becoming the first captain of the Jets in the process; he will lead a team that has most of its pieces in place from last season and certainly has enough skill to be competitive in the Eastern Conference. 

The team did some tweaks, added in a power player in Eric Fehr, brought in some more grit with Tanner Glass. The team now has several players with a wide variety of playoff experience from across the league, not the least of whom is Ladd himself, who won the Stanley Cup as a rookie with Carolina and more recently with Chicago.

Defenseman Dustin Byfuglien in particular has a lot of expectations to deal with. After winning a Stanley Cup with Chicago, he was traded to the Atlanta Thrashers and proceeded to put up such good numbers in the first half of the 2010-11 season that Norris Trophy talk swirled around him. He then trailed off considerably in the second half, but still managed to sign an impressive new 5-year contract. He needs to live up to the contract he was rewarded with, because he has repeatedly shown that he is capable of doing so. Questions swirled around Byfuglien's fitness readiness for the new season when he was arrested recently under a charge of BWI (boating while intoxicated) and his weight was listed as 286 pounds.

Expect a lot out of Winnipeg this year. They have a lot to prove to their new home city, and the expectations will be set very high.

* * * 

For the Jets, we talked with @Jlabossiere.

How long/approximately how long have you been a fan of this team?

31 years - with a few years off when they went away to that place in the sun, but they're back now and I couldn't be happier!

Let's talk about your fandom a bit.

I was born just after the Jets' first year in the NHL and grew up in a hockey-crazed household. My dad, a huge hockey fan, ensured his two daughters got to see all the greats when they came through Winnipeg. I have many memories of listening to broadcasts, after my bedtime, on a blue transistor radio. Visits to the Winnipeg Arena was like visiting Mecca for a young kid like me. I feel so fortunate having memories of watching Gretzky, Lemieux, Lafleur, and my all-time favourite, Teemu Selanne, play in Winnipeg.

I was a teenager when the Jets left, and was at the last two games. It was crushing, to me personally and to the city. I remember crying my eyes out in the balcony of the Winnipeg Arena on April 28, 1996, holding the hand of my then-high school sweetheart (who is now my husband of eight years). He said he knew that day that I was the girl he was going to marry because he knew he would never get in trouble for watching too much hockey on TV. He was right.

I have spent the last 15 years cheering for the Habs and Canucks (due to their AHL team, the Manitoba Moose), travelling around North America to watch NHL hockey, but now, my true love (other than that hockey-fan husband of mine) has returned.

On May 31st, 2011, I watched with a giant smile as Mark Chipman and David Thomson announced the news Manitobans have been waiting so patiently, for so long, to hear. That morning, I went to the corner of Portage Avenue and Main Street, Winnipeg's windy corner just blocks from the MTS Centre, the site of Bobby Hull and Dale Hawerchuk's famous signings, because I wanted to experience history in the heart of the city. Even though I'm a communications professional, I cannot put my excitement about the return of the NHL to Winnipeg into words. It's amazing. Unbelievable. It has restored a piece of Winnipeg's soul, taken from us for the foolish promise of successful hockey in the sun and sand of Phoenix in 1996.
It's been an incredible ride this summer and it's just going to get better. I don't know if I'm going to believe my Jets are back until they drop the puck on October 9th. It's like a wild, impossible dream come true.

Which player that your team signed/acquired this summer are you most excited to see take the ice this season?

Kyle Wellwood - has shown potential & even if he doesn't meet it, he's a skating punchline & that has to count for something!

Taking into consideration your team's performance last year/recently, and any player/personnel (coaches, GMs, ownership) changes made in the past few months, talk about your team in 2011-2012: How do you think they've improved (or made worse)? What do they need to work on?

I honestly didn't watch a lot of Thrashers hockey over the past few years because I am located in Winnipeg, and didn't really believe they were coming here until it was announced, but am excited to see what this Atlanta/Chicago/Vancouver hybrid team will look like. I say hybrid due to GM Cheveldayoff's history and the blockbuster trade he was involved in last year between the Thrashers and the Blackhawks. It will be interesting to see how year two of the trade shakes out and how his knowledge of prospects in both the Chicago and Atlanta systems will bear fruit. And, many of the depth players the Jets have signed this summer are former Vancouver Canucks property who played for the AHL's Manitoba Moose.

True North is known in Winnipeg as a very loyal organization and they made that very apparent in the transition from AHL to the NHL. Craig Heisinger, Assistant GM and Director of Hockey Operations, is known as a great judge of undrafted talent (Alexandre Burrows as an example) and it will be great to see what he can do with some of the non-household names like Jason Jaffray and Mark Flood, solid AHL performers who could provide solid depth with the big club.

Rick Rypien, one of Heisinger's finds, was going to be one of my favourite Jets to watch (loved him with the Moose!) but alas, that is not meant to be. RIP Rick, one of my favourite Moose of all time.

From what I do know of the Thrashers, goals against are a major issue. I'm curious to see what head coach Claude Noel does with this defensive core -- the +/- stats from last year are just plain nasty. Zack Bogosian, highly touted (and still unsigned), was a -27 last year and that can't happen again as he's expected to log decent minutes on the blue line. I'm excited to see what Dustin Byfuglien and Tobias Enstrom can do -- Enstrom has no idea what kind of a superstar he will now be in a hockey-crazed city like Winnipeg.

I'm concerned about the lack of scoring from our top six forwards, but am expecting a breakout year from Bryan Little and have heard good things about his chemistry with captain Andrew Ladd. Eric Fehr, an off-season addition, is rehabbing a bad shoulder and if he's back to the player he was in last year's Winter Classic where he had two goals, will be an excellent complement to our crop of forwards.

Blake Wheeler is already endearing himself to me by quoting "Arrested Development" on Twitter. At 6'5", 205lbs, he needs to grow into his power forward potential.

Overall, Winnipeggers don't really know what to expect from our Jets but we're already in love with them. It's going to be a shock for some players, going from quiet Atlanta to the loud MTS Centre, full of passionate fans who have been waiting for this team for 15 years.

Whether or not you think your team will make the playoffs, where do you predict your team will place within their conference?

It's been 15 years since a "White Out" and since making the playoffs is something the Thrashers were not very good at, I'm going to be conservative and expect an 8th place finish [in the Eastern Conference]. The Thrashers started hot and finished cold in 2010-11 -- consistency will be the key to making the playoffs.

What existing hockey rule would you change (and how) if you could?

I love the hybrid icing idea that has been spoken about in the last few weeks as I hate touch icing. It's dangerous and unnecessary.

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