‘This is Winnipeg’s team’: General manager reflects on 10 years since Jets’ return

On this day a decade ago, Winnipeg got its long-awaited NHL team back.

On May 31, 2011, the official announcement that the team would be returning to it’s hometown could hardly be heard over the thunderous cheers of hundreds of happy hockey lovers.

“You could see from the moment that the team was announced, you know, the passion that was there,” said Kevin Cheveldayoff, the Jets’ general manager, on CBC Manitoba’s Information Radio.

A Prairie boy at heart, he was raised in Saskatchewan and played junior hockey in Brandon, Man. He says he was happy to move from Chicago to Winnipeg for the next era of the city’s NHL team.

“I remember when the team left. So, certainly, seeing it come back was something that I was very, very happy [about] for the city and for the people that were involved. And little did I know at that point in time that a short time later they’d be reaching out and we’d be having a conversation about joining the team as the general manager,” Cheveldayoff said.

Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said he was very happy when he learned the Jets would be returning to Winnipeg. (John Locher/The Associated Press)

When the team name was decided, that was the cherry on top.

“It really ushered in a new era, the 2.0 era. I think it just really set off another wave of emotion,” he said.

Before 2011, Winnipeg had been without NHL hockey since the Jets moved to Phoenix and were renamed the Coyotes in 1996.

But for many Winnipeggers, the absence made their hearts grow fonder.

Highlights from the decade

Cheveldayoff says one of his highlights of the last 10 years was when the Jets made it to the playoffs, for the first time since their return, in 2015.

The build up to the game between the Jets and Anaheim Ducks was 19 years in the making — the last NHL playoff game in Winnipeg was April 28, 1996 — and the city’s hockey fan base had pent-up passion for their beloved team.

Although the Jets lost, the fans made the series memorable.

Winnipeg Jets fans celebrate a first-period goal against the Anaheim Ducks on April 20, 2015. (Trevor Hagan/Canadian Press)

“Coming out to hearing the ‘Go Jets Go’ chants starting long before the guys even got out there for a warm up, and just the passion that was there during the whole entire warm up, you felt like you were in the regular part of the game,” Cheveldayoff said.

“It’s the closeness that everybody in the city has to the team. And I think Paul Maurice said it best that one time when he said this is Winnipeg’s team. And, you know, it’s not like that in a lot of other markets.”

Some wins were off the ice, though.

He also fondly recalls seeing the improvement in players like Mark Schiefele, one of the team’s first draft picks.

“Having to make the tough decision to send him back to juniors so he could develop into the player he’s become,” Cheveldayoff said.

“You take pride when you draft players and see them come to fruition.”

Jets fans celebrate the team’s first regular season goal after returning to Winnipeg.(Marianne Helm/Getty Images)

Pandemic playoffs

The Jets are facing something altogether new this year — a playoff series with no fans in the stands.

On Wednesday, Winnipeg will face off against either the Toronto Maple Leafs or the Montreal Canadiens in game one of the second round.

Cheveldayoff says it’s strange without spectators, but the team knows they’re supported.

“We know that the fans are watching, and we’re going to do our best to do this right.”