It’s a big weekend for Winnipeg Jets fans.
Not only will the team welcome Winnipeggers back for the first Jets Fan Fest in two years on Saturday, but the players kick off the 2022-23 campaign with a pre-season road game against the Edmonton Oilers Sunday evening.
Fan Fest — which includes an opportunity for the Jets faithful to watch team practices in person at the Bell MTS Iceplex — was cancelled two years in a row due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the team’s general manager says he can’t wait to get back on the ice in front of a crowd.
“It’s a special time, and it’s amazing — you lose sight of it when you haven’t had one since 2019. It’s amazing how time flies,” GM Kevin Cheveldayoff told 680 CJOB.
“I love watching the kids on a day like that. Hopefully it’s a nice day so they can mill around outside and have some fun and really get to enjoy what being a Jets fan is all about and getting a chance to see the players up close.
“Those are the things that make an impression on young kids and probably live with them for a long time.”
Cheveldayoff said a return to normalcy is good for the players, too, after a couple of years of uncertainty and playing in the NHL’s COVID-19 bubble.
“When fall comes in the air … it’s just a feeling. During the COVID time, the bubble time, that’s something the guys talked about that was really different — your body clock is different,” he said.
“Not having training camp, or having training camp in January, it just didn’t seem right. This seems right, and we’re looking forward to it.”
One key member of the Jets, new head coach Rick Bowness, will be experiencing training camp for the first time with this team, but it’s not his first go-around with a Winnipeg hockey club.
Bowness played for the old Winnipeg Jets for a brief stint in the early 1980s, and also served as an assistant coach and, eventually, head coach for the club.
The coach said his previous experience in Winnipeg — as well as the birth of his daughter in the city in 1986 — has given him and his family an affinity for the city and its hockey fans.
“I worked for the Jets for nine years through the ’80s,” Bowness told Global News.
“We have an affiliation to the city, we have a tie-in to the city and the province, we understand the passionate following this team has, which we’ve always admired.
“I’ve always followed the Jets since they came back in the league — which I was thrilled when they did — so it’s a great honour for me and a great privilege to be given the opportunity to come back as their head coach this year.”
Bowness has already made his presence felt on the team — including his recent decision to demote longtime captain Blake Wheeler — and said he’s looking to bring the Jets back to success after a disappointing season.
“One of the things I remember a couple of years ago is coming in here and saying, ‘Wow, that team is very, very hard to play against.’
“For whatever reason, the team lost its way a little bit last year and it wasn’t as hard to come in here and get two points. What we have to re-establish is making our arena a very, very difficult rink to play in and to make the Winnipeg Jets a very difficult and frustrating team to play against.”