WINNIPEG -- Winnipeg native John Kirby and his son, Nathan, can't wait to be a part of the incredible celebration that will take place inside MTS Centre today when the Jets finally touch down to the delight of the hometown faithful.
It's been 15 years since the Jets last played an NHL game in front of the rowdy Manitobans, but that all changes when the team hosts Montreal Sunday in front of an expected 15,000-plus.
John Kirby, born and raised in Winnipeg and a fan of former Jets captain Dale Hawerchuk
, has an idea what the atmosphere will be like.
"Think of a Stanley Cup final game when the crowd is on their feet and the whole place is just rocking," Kirby told NHL.com. "That's what it was like in some of these preseason games. That's the only way I can describe it."
The Kirby's were taking in all the pomp and circumstance leading up to the big match at The Family FanZone at The Forks. The Forks happens to be Winnipeg's number one tourist destination nestled in the heart of downtown with more than four million visitors annually. There, fans were able to win Jets prizes, purchase Jets attire and memorabilia, listen to music, mingle and have their picture taken with the legendary Peter Puck.
"I was actually out of town the day the Jets left Winnipeg in 1996, but my son turned 1-year-old the day they left," Winnipeg native Doug Quark, who donned a Evander Kane
"My wife and son were down at the corner of Portage and Main when the Jets left and now he's back when he's 16 and we're cheering them on," he continued. "It's going to be a phenomenal atmosphere in MTS Centre. The place is going to be rocking 10 minutes before the guys are on the ice."
Kirby remembers the range of emotions he felt when he got the news the Jets were relocating to Phoenix.
"It was a heartbreak when they left, but I understand because of the fact that the financial numbers just didn't jive," he said. "Management did all they could, but it was a different time back then. There was no support and we had an old arena. It needed upgrading, so it was a huge loss for the city. I think it's great now because the new Jets are bringing us all back together.
"The passion is back and we have our team back. They're home … that's the best way to say it. They're home and we're really happy about that."
Kirby took the time to credit NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and Jets co-owners Mark Chipman and David Thomson for making certain professional hockey returned to Winnipeg.
"I'd like to personally thank Mr. Bettman," Kirby said. "He had to make tough business decisions and I respect that. The League has changed during the last 15 years and I'm just glad we had the opportunity to get them back. We've got great owners with (Chipman and Thomson) and they're passionate about the game and about the city, so I think we're well on our way."
Kirby also went as far as to make a bold playoff prediction as well.
"We're going for the Cup," he said. "One of these years, maybe this year or next. But we're going to get the Cup here somehow. Without a doubt, the Atlanta players they brought in are good. I just didn't think they had the fan support, they didn't have what they have here.
"When you look in the papers or watch on television, there's always something involving the Jets so I think their publicity is better, which will only help the team and the players. It's sold out for the next three years so I would think, as a player, that's really motivating. You're going to want to play and want to do it for the fans."
Follow Mike Morreale on Twitter at: @mike_morreale