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By Dan Cook, WCCO Radio
From the moment the gates opened on Saturday night, the vibe at Xcel Energy Center was a little different than usual.
Can a pre-season hockey game have a “vibe,” you ask?
It can when the Winnipeg Jets are in town.
Thanks to NHL realignment, the Minnesota Wild find themselves in the same division as their neighbors to the north. And if Saturday’s game is any indication, the contests between the two will be intense all season long.
It started with a quick glance at the main entrance to the X. Yes, there were more Iron Range red and green sweaters than their were blue and white, but not by much.
Once in the arena, it was clear that Jets fans travel in groups, as there were significant clusters of them occupying the end of the arena opposite the new “Budweiser Lounge.”
It continued during the playing of the Canadian anthem, when a loud chant broke out over the lyrics “True North,” and one couldn’t help by notice louder cheers for “O Canada” than for the “Star Spangled Banner.”
And it was driven home with the first raucous “Go Jets Go” chant during the first period, Wild fans, seemingly taken aback by the Canadian invasion, were only able to muster some loud boos.
(A few “Let’s Go Wild” chants were attempted, but never rose to the level of the “Go Jets Go” crowd.)
Asked about the incursion after the game, Wild forward Zach Parise says he was surprised.
“There were a lot of Jets fans here. I think as these two teams become more familiar with each other, you’re going to see a lot of that – fans traveling back and forth. That makes it fun. It makes it a good atmosphere,” Parise said.
On the ice, there wasn’t much physicality to speak of. Wild forward Zenon Konopka tried to goad Jets defenseman Mark Stuart into dropping the gloves in the second period after Stuart threw a big hit, but he wouldn’t bite.
It’s worth noting that Matt Cooke – expected to be the Wild’s main agitator – wasn’t on the ice, or the intensity would’ve certainly been ramped up a notch.
Still, the action didn’t belie the meaningless nature of the outcome of the game. And in of itself, that speaks to the burgeoning rivalry between the two squads.
Ultimately, the Wild got the better of Winnipeg by a score of 4-3 in a shootout.
“It’s going to be that way, that’s for sure,” head coach Mike Yeo said after the game. “We’re going to have fun games. They had a good turnout of fans already there tonight and they were loud. It’s going to be a good rivalry,” Yeo said.
The two teams meet a total of five times over the course of the regular season, beginning two weeks from Thursday, on Oct. 10 back in St. Paul.
If you like intense hockey, get your tickets now… before the mullet-wearing masses from Manitoba snap them all up!