From Avco Cup May 1979 to Heritage Classic Weekend – My Perspective

The WHA Jets … Winnipeg Jets 1.0 and 2.0 … ALL IN ONE WEEKEND! –

1978:  It was 1978, late winter almost spring; I was close to turning 14 and a gal (at that point I’d call her an acquaintance) I sat beside in a couple of classes at Elmwood High asked me out of the blue if I wanted to go to a Winnipeg Jets game.  I found out later she’d already asked her close friends and they all declined, lucky for me as it turned out!  I liked hockey and I liked this girl so jumped at the chance to possibly make a new friend.

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          The Jets Alumni salute their fans at the MTS Centre.

I didn’t grow up in a hockey loving family – my parents were die-hard baseball fans, but my sports fanatic uncle, who was at our house pretty much every day, made sure the TV was on CBC if hockey was on or the radio tuned to CJOB if the Jets were playing.  Like many, the ’72 Summit Series is indelibly branded in my born in Canada psyche although I was only 8 at the time.  Hockey caught my imagination more than baseball; I remember being particularly taken with Guy Lafleur flying down the right wing on HNIC – for those who know me, THAT is where my Habs love started.  Go to a Jets game?  Sure!  Sounded like a great idea.  

The Author in 1978

    The Author in 1978

Sylvia and I ended up at our first Jets game accompanied by Dad and my Uncle Jimmy.  I remember where we sat – maybe 5 rows up in the northwest corner of the old Winnipeg Arena. That was it, hooked.  The season was winding down and I don’t recall how many more games we attended that season – probably only a couple.  At least we got to see Ulf Nilsson, Bobby Hull and Anders Hedberg a few times live.  The Jets won the Avco Cup that season.  We could not wait for the 78-79 season to start!
Later on in the previous season, Sylvia and I figured out that we could buy tickets for I believe it was $4.75 at McDonald’s.  We also somehow caught on to the Jets practices generally being open on the weekends.  We attended a lot of games that season, and a few practices.  We took the bus from Elmwood; she lived at the west side and I the middle, so we usually took the bus home together and she slept at mine or I at hers.  We managed to get a lot of autographs, even a few of visiting teams.

We met Paul Henderson when he played for the Birmingham Bulls, and a 17-year-old Wayne Gretzky; I’m pretty sure he was still with the Indianapolis Racers at the time.  We also met Mark Messier, Mike Gartner, and obviously most of the Jets but unfortunately we never met Bobby Hull.  Hull wasn’t around much that season although I do remember seeing him close to us on ice one practice and being somewhat awe-struck.  I even managed to get a puck to the back of the head one practice but I didn’t feel it.  I was watching one second and the next Rich Preston was standing on the other side of the glass asking of I was OK.  I’d blacked out for a few seconds.  

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           The Winnipeg Jets won the final Avco Cup in 1979.

The highlight for me, was the Jets beating the Oilers for the Avco Cup at home in May 1979.  We were there, it was magic.  In the whirlwind days that followed, we managed to skip school for the first time to attend the victory parade down Portage Ave and somehow managed to get tickets to the after parade luncheon at the then Westin Hotel, currently the Fairmont.  Oddly, there are only two things I remember clearly from those couple of days post Avco Cup win; 1 – Our hockey fan math teacher Mr Johnson asking us `How was the parade, girls?” the next day, (BUSTED) and 2 – at the luncheon, defenseman Scott Campbell standing at the head table waiting for everyone to be seated, ramming an entire dinner roll into his mouth.  It was random, I`m a fan of random.  This tidbit came in handy many years later.

That was the last year for the WHA and we lost many of our favourites with the expansion draft.  We didn’t go to many practices when the Jets joined the NHL, many were closed.  We continued to go to games but not as many – life got busier.  The game I remember the most was the first time the Habs played the Jets, just coming off of winning the Stanley Cup in 1979 – Tuxedo night, televised on Hockey Night in Canada, no less.  I was there, standing room only.  No way could I miss Les Canadiens and my old favorite Guy Lafleur who didn’t make much of an impact that night.  Jets won handily (6-2) on a Willy Lindstrom hat trick and yes I was thrilled about that.  I also remember attending a Rangers vs Jets game and we managed to get some autographs post game.  I didn’t get Espo’s autograph but I sure remember seeing him – he was larger than life.

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Willy Lindstrom played for the Jets & Oilers during the Alumni Game.

We graduated High School, life moved on.  I attended games with my then boyfriend John, who of course, played hockey.  Sometimes Dad tagged along. April 1996 was traumatic seeing the Winnipeg Jets 1.0 leave for Phoenix but my former boyfriend now husband John and I became big Manitoba Moose fans. Little did we know they would become our hockey buffer between NHL teams and I wasn’t initially entirely happy we were losing the Manitoba Moose, a team I grew to love and could afford to see frequently, BUT when Mark Chipman announced  …. “on behalf of the Winnipeg Jets “ at the 2011 NHL Entry Draft – I admit, I got goosebumps and tears.  I caved.  THE JETS WERE BACK!

On a morning break sometime in the Spring of 2013, I checked my Twitter feed. Patrick Williams had just sent out a tweet pointing out former WHA/NHL Jet Scott Campbell was on Twitter and included his handle.  I had to respond.  I believe it was something along the lines of “I remember Scott!  Big D man with a fro!” Scott in short time responded that there was no fro anymore.  I was impressed that he’d taken the time to reply; contact from one of the Jets players who figured large in that very happy time in my youth.  I didn’t expect any more to come of that but he made my day.  As it turned out, the big former D man sans fro had taken to Twitter like a duck to water and was more than happy to engage with the fans of the current incarnation of his former team and short time home.  All of the Jets family on Twitter appreciated this immensely; he was a former Jet but also one of us; a fan.  I was comfortable enough to remind him of the bun incident in short time – he was amused and seemed mildly mortified but I think for the most part he was pleased that he made enough of an impression on my then young mind to remember it 34 years later.  Three years and change later and big D man formerly with a fro is now someone I and a handful of others on Twitter now consider a friend.

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             Thomas Steen and Teppo Numminen

The Twitter Jets family had been hoping Scott could come out and revisit Winnipeg.  It sounded like a possibility if the Jets made the playoffs.  That didn’t pan out but then the Heritage Classic was announced.  The Twitter Jets 2.0 community were hoping dearly that the stars would align and we’d see him here with a good number of the WHA Jets along with NHL Jets 1.0.  Jets 2.0 hadn’t paid much homage to the earlier version in the 5 years they’d been back but this opportunity opened the floodgates.

Heritage Classic weekend and change had finally arrived.  So much excitement in the city!  The real start for me was attending the first home game for the Manitoba Moose on October 18 when I saw those WHA Avco Cup banners in the rafters for the first time.  I was all verklempt.  Then, watching the Leafs versus Jets game where Hedberg, Nilsson, and unfortunately without Bobby Hull in attendance were inducted into the Winnipeg Jets hall of fame. There were a few camera pans of the Jets alumni watching from the box seats; including Nilsson, Hawerchuk, King and yes, Campbell.  The young guns sure put on a show for their predecessors that night, particularly Patrik Laine with that hat Trick.  Magnificent!  

John and I attended the Winnipeg Hockey Legends Captain’s Party on Thursday that week and I was able to meet Scott and Morris Lukowich face to face for the first time since this young girl asked the then, two young men for autographs 38 years prior.  

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    Scott, Carol, and Luke 38 years later.

Scott is as much fun face to face as he is online.  I told Luke about being at that last WHA game and skipping school for the parade; he thanked me for being such a great fan and 45 minutes later introduced me to another fan, recalling what I’d told him earlier.  The Avco Cup, the “52…53…54…BOSSY’S RECORD IS NO MORE!” banner from Teemu’s rookie year and the Winnipeg Arena Queen Painting were there!  So many wonderful memories shared with the rest of the attendees, many also met through Twitter who have become friends.

I booked a half day off to attend the Jets and Oilers Alumni practice at the MTS Friday.  My pictures support my assertion that the players were smiling as much as the thousands of fans in attendance and even the hated 80’s and 90 Oilers were greeted with cheers and applause.  My highlights were all the on ice smiles and seeing Lukowich, Lindstrom, and Selanne in a Jets jersey again.

I even inadvertently caught a few pictures of Scott “coaching” from the player’s bench, or perhaps spying as he was there when the Oilers were on ice as well.

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   Teemu Selanne

We didn’t attend the games but had been looking forward to watching from the comfort of our home, sharing the experience with good friends.  The Alumni game did not disappoint!  Selanne and Hawerchuk clicking for a goal, the mid-game trade when the Jets got Lindstrom back, Selanne playing a game in a Jets jersey again!

Sunday’s game?  Well; I was very proud of how impressive the IGF looked. Five days I will never forget!  Ah yes, the girl I was hoping to make a new friend of back in 1977, that worked out well too.  Hockey was the catalyst to a lifelong friendship; we were even in each other’s wedding parties many years later.

Thanks hockey and Go Jets Go!

 

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