SPORTS

Jets fans come together to support Winnipeg's return to playoff hockey

04/16/2015 11:52 EDT | Updated 07/02/2015 01:59 EDT
WINNIPEG - Ryan Gallinger knew ahead of time his son and daughter would be skipping school on Friday, but he was OK with that.

In fact, he and his fiancé, Ashley Jowett, gave their blessings for Ethan, 10, and Rieley, 9, to be absent because of a late night watching Winnipeg Jets hockey.

"It's a Jets holiday at our household," Gallinger said with a laugh on Thursday night while the family watched Winnipeg's first playoff game against Anaheim in the local Park Theatre.

All clad in Jets shirts and jerseys, the family joined a capacity crowd of 250 fans to stand and sing the national anthem before the game started at 9:30 p.m. local time on the theatre's 32-foot, high-definition movie screen.

While there were groans when Sami Vatanen opened the scoring for the Ducks at 1:57 of the first period, the crowd roared when rookie Adam Lowry tied it up 49 seconds later.

Then came the "Go Jets Go" chant.

The Jets play sold-out home games on Monday and Wednesday, the first playoff games in Winnipeg since 1996 — the year the franchise relocated to Phoenix.

Gallinger was wearing a Jets shirt with the word "Believe" on it, and on the seat next to him was a jersey from the original team.

To be able to finally watch a playoff game in person or on a screen after the former Atlanta Thrashers franchise relocated to Winnipeg in 2011 was hard to put into words, he said.

"To me, it's a dream come true, to be honest," said Gallinger, 33. "I saw the Jets leave and I've seen them come back now. To make the playoffs is unreal."

So does he think the team can win its series against the Ducks?

"Of course. We believe," he said, pointing to the word on his shirt.

That was also the sentiment of Connor Lawrence, 18, who was wearing a Jets jersey and had a team flag.

And the jersey he was wearing was an Ondrej Pavelec one, which he proudly noted he'd bought when the team returned to Winnipeg — not when the much-maligned goalie started getting hot before the playoffs.

"I'm looking pretty smart now after his back-to-back-to-back shutouts," Lawrence said with a smile.

Lawrence went to the theatre to watch the game because he wanted to "celebrate with the rest of Winnipeg" and support the team.

"This is kind of like our uprising — like poor little Winnipeg, we're kind of against the world," Lawrence said. "It's kind of us against everybody and that's what I'm proud of."

And if the Jets lose the series against Anaheim?

"We wouldn't be devastated," Lawrence said. "It's a great thing to be here. I know a lot of people doubted they could be here this year.

"It's a big step forward for our team. We've got a bunch of young players, get some nice experience in regardless."

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