Fans of the original Jets team will be in for a treat tonight as the Ducks host Winnipeg for the first time in 17 years (7 p.m. PT, Prime Ticket, AM 830). The last time a Winnipeg team visited Honda Center was Apr. 14, 1996 when the Ducks skated to a 5-2 victory over the Jets. In that contest, Paul Kariya led all players with two goals and teammate Roman Oksiuta had a three-point night (1g/2a).
Also in that game was Teemu Selanne, who earned an assist as a member of the then-Mighty Ducks of Anaheim. Originally drafted by Winnipeg in the first round (10th overall) of the 1988 NHL Draft, Selanne has faced his former team twice over the past three seasons, both in Winnipeg, where fans cheered every time he touched the puck. Both were highly emotional games for the 43-year-old, who says he’s excited to face the Jets on home ice.
“I haven’t really played against them here, so it’s going to be a neat experience again,” he said. “I’ve got a lot of respect for their players and the organization. It’s fun.”
Although Selanne hasn’t played for the Jets since the 1995-96 season, he holds the city of Winnipeg and its fans close to his heart.
“That place is very special for me,” he said. “I had great times and great memories there.”
The Jets played their last game on Apr. 28, 1996 before relocating to Arizona where they became the Phoenix Coyotes. It wasn’t until May 2011 when True North Sports and Entertainment announced it had signed an agreement in principal to purchase the Atlanta Thrashers. The Thrashers relocated soon after and played their first regular season game on Oct. 9, 2011 at MTS Centre in Winnipeg.
“I’m so happy the city has a team again,” Selanne said. “They really deserved that. It’s a good thing.”
Earlier today the Ducks announced they had reassigned defenseman Sami Vatanen to Norfolk of the American Hockey League. Because Vatanen’s on a two-way contract, he doesn’t need to clear waivers to be sent down to make room for fellow blueliner Luca Sbisa.
Head coach Bruce Boudreau says that’s the only move that can be made under these circumstances. “Sami’s played really well for us,” he said. “But the CBA [Collective Bargaining Agreement] allows you to send guys down who don’t have to clear waivers. He’s the odd man out right now. But he did a great job and I’m sure, at some point, he’ll be back.”
NEW COACH, NEW ATTITUDE
Since Paul Maurice took over head-coaching duties on Jan. 12, the Jets have won three consecutive games after losing five in a row. Despite their recent success, the Jets are still last in the Central Division and 12th in the Western Conference. But the Ducks know they’ll be facing an energetic and confident team tonight.
“They’re going to be excited,” said Nick Bonino. “You look at their team, and they’re pretty solid through all four lines, defense and in net. With us and our winning streak, it’ll make them play a little harder.”
Mathieu Perreault says being the No. 1 team in the NHL gives opponents more motivation. “We know they have a good team that can really skate,” he said. “We’re going to have to be ready for them. We can’t take anybody lightly. Right now we’re first in the league, so everybody is coming after us. We have to be ready.”
Anaheim hosts the Winnipeg Jets for the first time since the franchise moved from Atlanta prior to the 2011-12 NHL season. The Ducks are 8-6-1 all-time vs. the Jets/Thrashers franchise, including a 3-3-1 mark at Honda Center. Tonight is the second of a three-game season series between Anaheim and Winnipeg. The series opened on Oct. 6 in Winnipeg, a 3-2 Ducks win. These two teams meet again Mar. 31 in Anaheim.