WINNIPEG -- Derek Meech grew up in Winnipeg and had just celebrated his 12th birthday when the original Jets departed for Phoenix in 1996.
Meech took in the original Jets' final game in Winnipeg on April 28, 1996 when the Detroit Red Wings eliminated the home club in the first round of the Stanley Cup playoffs. The loss sent the Jets on their way to Phoenix.
Fifteen years later, Meech's Jets connection was made whole again Saturday as a 27-year-old defenseman embarking on his eighth pro season.
"It was tough to see them go," Meech said after his first practice session with the Jets concluded on Saturday morning at the MTS Iceplex. "To come out to a cheer right off the bat was pretty cool. I've been to a lot of games in the past, and I was the one chanting ‘Go Jets Go' and I still am. It was pretty cool."
Meech signed this summer with the Jets after spending six seasons in the Detroit Red Wings organization. The shifty, puck-moving blueliner is bidding for a spot with the Winnipeg defense corps, and is the best local bet to earn a spot with the club. Should Meech not secure a spot coming out of training camp, he will head to the team's American Hockey League affiliate, the St. John's IceCaps.
Last season, Meech logged 74 games with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins. He underwent offseason surgery on his right knee, but he reported to camp in good health is hoping a fresh start with a new organization can be his ticket back to the League.
"It's a pretty surreal feeling," Meech said. "It's exciting to be here on the first day of camp. I'm fired up and ready to go."