WINNIPEG – The Minnesota Wild and Winnipeg Jets have sown the first seeds of a rivalry that will take full root next season with NHL realignment.
The two clubs are each other's nearest geographic rivals, with plenty of open highway connecting the two fan bases that roughly split somewhere among the open plains of North Dakota. Both teams will be part of a new eight-team conference next season, so they wasted little time on Tuesday night acquainting themselves with each other inside the cozy MTS Centre, a building tailor-made for heating up on-ice tensions.
"I think as you could see the two teams don't like each other out there," Minnesota coach Mike Yeo said, "and I'm sure that the next one will be very interesting [on Feb. 16 at the Xcel Energy Center] as well."
Both clubs staged a very physical contest that also featured multiple after-whistle scrums and a spirited second-period fight between Minnesota defenseman Clayton Stoner and Winnipeg's Tanner Glass.
"They seem to want to get involved in a lot of scrums and stuff like that after the whistle," Yeo said. "Obviously the next time we play them it's going to be a pretty exciting game as well."
Jets coach Claude Noel concurred.
"Both teams clearly wanted to win the game," Noel said. "That was very clear. That leads to the dislike."
The 15,004-seat MTS Centre could also play a key role in the rivalry between the two clubs divided by 466 miles of open highway. Opponents must quickly familiarize themselves with the building's tight confines and its vocal fans.
"The emotional level in this building is pretty intense," Noel explained, "and I think teams are ready when they come in here."
With the Wild leading the NHL with 43 points, and the Jets working on establishing a home-ice presence, Tuesday night was the first step toward setting the tone for next season's meetings. The MTS Centre's growing reputation around the League means that opponents are ready when they arrive in Winnipeg, and the Wild were no exception.
"People hear what's happening, and they get ready for that," Noel said. "I think that's good for us. I think we're the recipients of that. It makes us way better. It's like when you're best the team in the League, it's really a good challenge, because everybody gets jacked up for you. It makes you better. It makes you mentally stronger."