For the first time in a year and a half, the Winnipeg Jets will play a regular-season home game in front of thousands of fans against the Anaheim Ducks Thursday night.
Self-described Jets superfan Greg Burnett said it was tough to be kept away from the arena for so long.
“Everyone has their joys and passions in life — some like gardening, some like travel — mine are events,” Burnett said.
The top of his events list includes going to nearly every Jets home game.
Since he couldn’t go last season because of COVID-19 rules, he tried to replicate the live game experience at home.
For the 2020-21 home opener, Burnett took his family to his basement, which he pretended was a bar for a pre-game bite to eat.
“I’d be looking at my watch, ‘Hurry up, finish up, we got to get over to the rink,” Burnett said.
The “rink” was his couch, where he handed out glow-in-the-dark sticks to the other fans — in this case, his wife, daughters and mother.
“They were looking at me like I was kind of crazy,” he said.
While Burnett was trying to mimic the traditional NHL game experience, so was the Jets presentation team.
Kyle Balharry, the senior director of game presentation at True North Sports and Entertainment, said although it was important to give off that traditional game vibe — with music, goal horns and fake crowd noise — nothing can replace real people in the stands.
“The fans are organic, the fans start chants out of nowhere, the fans get on the other team,” Balharry said.
On top of the usual entertainment Balharry is responsible for, his team is bringing in some new elements this year, including a new on-ice projection system that will turn the ice surface into a massive TV screen.
“We did use it in the pre-season — gave (the fans) a little bit of a teaser — but in the regular season we’ve got some great stuff planned,” he said.
Jets public address announcer and Power 97 radio host Jay Richardson said he is a excited to have a crowd reacting to his announcements again.
He recalls a number of last season’s biggest moments that he wished a crowd could’ve been in the arena for.
“Saying, ‘Last minute of play,’ in a game the Jets are clearly winning in the third period, and to get that response from the crowd, it sends shivers down my spine every single time and it was missing badly last year,” Richardson said.
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Only fully vaccinated fans with a QR code and ID will be allowed inside Canada Life Centre.
The team is encouraging fans to get to the arena early Thursday to take in the full four-hour experience.
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