‘Long time coming’: Health-care workers grateful for chance to watch the Winnipeg Jets in person

From the front lines to seats between the blue-lines, vaccinated health-care workers got a dose of normalcy at a Winnipeg Jets Stanley Cup playoff game.

Five hundred health-care workers won a socially distanced seat to watch the Jets lose to the Montreal Canadiens 5-3 in Game 1 of their second-round series Wednesday night. Names were chosen lottery-style out of more than 6,000 applicants across the province. 

The workers only needed to bring ID cards and proof of vaccination. They lined up at the Donald and Graham street entrance of Bell MTS Place, wearing face masks and Jets jerseys.

“I’m proud and excited … and fortunate to be here,” said Ron Geronimo, a COVID-19 relief nurse at Simkin Centre in Winnipeg, adding it was the first time he was seeing a Jets game live.

“I’m hoping one day soon we’ll be out of this … everyone can come watch the Jets and cheer them on.”

Fans inside Bell MTS Place before Wednesday night’s Game 1 of the Winnipeg Jets’ second-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens. Manitoba’s public health orders were amended to allow 500 fully vaccinated health-care workers, as well as family members of Jets players, coaches, managers and administrative staff, to attend the game. (True North Sports and Entertainment handout)

Richard Mathurin, a housekeeper at Concordia Hospital, said he wished the circumstances allowed for the stands to be full.

“I’m a huge Jets fan. I was just so lucky to be one of the chosen ones but … there’s so many more deserving people. It’s too bad … all 15,000 can’t be here,” he said.

It wasn’t a traditional Winnipeg Jets whiteout, but the few fans allowed to attend did their best to recreate the playoff atmosphere. (True North Sports and Entertainment handout)

Once inside the arena, fans were seated apart from each other throughout the stands, masks were mandatory and cleaning protocols were kicked into high gear.

Teresa Jensen, a nurse with the Manitoba First Nations COVID-19 Pandemic Response Co-ordination team, said she appreciated being able to attend the game with everyone involved in the pandemic fight.

“There’s been so much work done by all these people here and I’m grateful and I’m hoping that one day soon we’re going to be out of this and most of Winnipeg can have a chance to come watch the Jets and come cheer them on in the near future,” she said. 

Jensen’s team goes in to Manitoba First Nations to help with the pandemic response, which she said has had its ups and downs this past year.

“Tonight it’s about just a little bit of self care,” she said.

Dr. Marcia Anderson was one of the fans in attendance at Bell MTS Place June 2 for Game 1 of the Winnipeg Jets’ second-round Stanley Cup playoff series against the Montreal Canadiens. (Sportsnet)

Provincial public health orders forbid social gatherings of any kind. However, the order was revised Wednesday to allow 500 fully vaccinated health-care workers and immediate family members of Winnipeg Jets players, coaches, managers and administration officials to attend a home playoff game.

“Just any fans is awesome,” Jets centre Mark Scheifele said before the game. “To get some health-care workers is awesome.”

Terry Grawberger, left, and Laura Korolyk, who work as support staff at Johnson Memorial Hospital in Gimli, Man., were two of the 500 fully vaccinated health-care workers invited to attend Wednesday night’s Stanley Cup playoff game between the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens at Bell MTS Place. (Erin Brohman/CBC)

University of Manitoba marketing professor Fang Wan said the move provided a much-needed lift and allowed the Jets to cast themselves as good corporate citizens by offering an incentive to get vaccinated.

“Very creative, very uplifting, and I think very much needed,” she said.

“It is a form of giving back. And I think that’s really nice.”

Terry Grawberger, a dietary support service worker at Johnson Memorial Hospital in Gimli, said she had no concerns about safety given that she’s fully vaccinated.

“It’s nice. It’s been a long time. Long time coming, so that’s good,” she said.