Thousands filed into Canada Life Centre on Thursday to watch the Jets take on the Ducks in the first regular-season home game in front of Winnipeg fans in 591 days.
The team played in front of a few hundred fully vaccinated health-care workers in Winnipeg during the playoffs in June, but Thursday night’s tilt against Anaheim was the first regular season game with fans since before the pandemic.
All spectators and staff were required to show proof they’ve been double-vaccinated before entering the arena.
“I’m feeling excited, I feel the Jets,” said Vanden Sanclemente, 9, who was decked out in a Jets jersey as he headed into the arena.
In total, 13,886 people took in the live action, a little over 1,400 shy of capacity. It’s the first time a home opener hasn’t been a sellout since the franchise relocated from Atlanta in 2011.
Bray Mullin and Allona Hadden were happy to be back. The couple are season ticket holders and brought their four-month-old daughter, Stevie, to her first game decked out in a mini Jets jersey.
“Looking forward just to getting back to being around people and the atmosphere and cheering and getting back to being in person,” Hadden said ahead of the game.
The Jets were without two-thirds of their top forward line, with captain Blake Wheeler and centre Mark Scheifele out due to being placed under league COVID-19 protocols. Wheeler tested positive earlier this week; Scheifele tested positive Tuesday but is asymptomatic.
Mike Daoust said even with those two not in the lineup, he was confident the team would trounce the Ducks.
“It’s been a long time, so it’s fantastic to be here and we’re happy to cheer on our Jets, even with players in COVID protocol,” Daoust said.
Shayne Kakegamic was particularly confident one player would pick up the slack.
“They’ll grind it out, they’ll figure it out, they’ve got Connor still, he’s a pure goal scorer so he’ll get it done,” said Kakegamic.
And he was right. The absence of Wheeler and Scheifele didn’t matter in the end thanks in part to Jets forward Kyle Connor’s two goals. That helped the team (1-2-1) nab its first win of the season with a final score of 5-1 against the Ducks.
The Jets take on the Nashville Predators at Bell MTS Place on Saturday.