Heritage Classic offers chance to connect Winnipeg Jets to its past
True North wisely focused on establishing a new identity of the Jets upon arrival from Atlanta, but now's the time to revisit Jets history.
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The wait is over for Manitoba hockey fans this weekend as the long-awaited Heritage Classic takes over our city and Investors Group Field while the Bombers enjoy a much-earned bye week in the CFL.
Over the past two weeks, IGF has transformed into a 33,000-seat hockey rink that will host the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers in the first prairie outdoor NHL game on Sunday afternoon – plus the legends of both franchises on Saturday in the Alumni Game.
But the weekend event offers something even more significant than outdoor games themselves. It's the chance for the new Winnipeg Jets to make the long overdue connection to the team's rich history. True North wisely focused on establishing a new identity of the Jets upon arrival from Atlanta, but always had hoped to connect with the history of the Jets in a significant way on a big stage in due time. That time is now.
For many fans who were around to remember the Jets' 1.0 days, the Alumni Game on Saturday will be the highlight of the weekend. Jets legends Dale Hawerchuk and Teemu Selanne will lead the Jets alumni against the meat of the Oilers’ dynasty teams – a roster packed with Hall-of-Famers including the likes of Gretzky, Messier, Kurri and Coffey. Just seeing all of these players together again will be a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity for many generations of hockey fans to celebrate some of the greatest players ever to play the game. While the Oilers dominated the Jets for years through the old Smythe division era, it is still a time that is remembered fondly for the incredible entertainment we watched at the old Winnipeg Arena.
While it will be special to see these legends get out and play again, the real highlight of the weekend will be Sunday afternoon when the current Jets and Oilers face off outdoors. On its own, it will be a unique experience to pack 30,000-plus into the football stadium to watch an NHL game. It will also be a historic event for our city and a great showcase for two of the most exciting young teams in hockey on a national stage.
Connor McDavid is already a superstar in the NHL. The youngest captain in NHL history is worth the price of admission alone every night he puts on an Oilers jersey. His presence makes the Oilers a must-watch every night. He's a perfect opponent for the Jets in the Heritage Classic.
The Jets, like the Oilers, are also an exciting young team on the rise. With established veterans and a group of talented rookies in the lineup, Winnipeg is looking to create its own identity this season and take the next step to becoming an NHL contender. They have the chance to provide their fans with one of the most memorable wins in franchise history outdoors at IGF on Sunday.
When captain Blake Wheeler leads the Jets out in the Heritage Classic in those beautiful WHA-era jerseys, it will be a special moment for our city connecting our history with the present and future.
Let’s hope the Jets can begin a new tradition of giving the Oilers the same treatment Edmonton gave Winnipeg throughout the '80s.