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Three Michigan products push Jets to win over Red Wings

"It must be something in the water."

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton /

DETROIT - It was the first time in over two years that the Winnipeg Jets were in Michigan, and the three home grown products on the Jets roster made sure they left Little Caesars Arena with nothing but good memories.

Andrew Copp - the former captain of the University of Michigan - scored his first two career goals in Detroit against the Red Wings (which gave him 10 on the season), while Kyle Connor notched his 20th of the campaign in a 3-0 win.

"It must be something in the water, I guess," Connor laughed after the game.

Oh, and not to be forgotten, Connor Hellebuyck - the pride of Commerce, MI - made 33 saves for a shutout, the 26th of his career.

"I think this one's probably going to be up there in the top three. It's a different feeling coming home," said Hellebuyck. "You get a little more nerves and you get a little more excited and then, maybe you get off your routine a little bit because I went home and was able to spend the night in my own bed, which was nice. But being home in front of family and friends, people are going to remember this one and I am, too." 

The lead-up to the game was full of storylines. Declan Chisholm and Dylan Samberg made their National Hockey League debuts. Additional reinforcements arrived from the Manitoba Moose in the form of Austin Poganski and Mikhail Berdin as the number of Jets on the COVID-19 protocol list grew earlier in the day.

The fact that Copp, Connor, and Hellebuyck were making their return became the third or fourth storyline.

That was until the puck dropped, and the Michiganders took over.

"We haven't played here in a while, first off, and we spend a lot of time here, grew up here, and all three of us have idolized watching the Wings growing up so it's a little bit extra pep in your step," said Connor. "It was definitely motivating having family and friends out in the stands as well."

The Jets (17-12-5) got an ideal start as they had the game's first five shots on goal. They were rewarded for that pressure, when former Red Wing Evgeny Svechnikov sent a pass to Copp, who fired a wrist shot from a sharp angle - the release point was just below the goal line, in fact - past Alex Nedeljkovic.

"I felt like I could have had more, but happy to come away with a big win, especially missing some guys and not having played in a little while," said Copp of his two-goal performance. "I think maybe a little extra motivation, maybe getting a home-cooked meal and seeing some familiar sites, some familiar friends and family."

Copp's ninth of the season came in his home state, with defenceman Dylan Samberg earning his first NHL point with the secondary assist in his first NHL game.

Samberg finished with 17:52 of ice time with five blocked shots, while Chisholm had four shots on goal in 13:44.

"I thought they played like they've been in the league," said interim coach Dave Lowry. "They were extremely comfortable. They both skate real well. They were able to skate their way out of trouble a couple of times. They were very relaxed and very poised."

Copp's Michigan homecoming wasn't done there. He had a couple chances early in the second, with the puck bouncing off his stick blade on both occasions. But he made up for it just seconds after a Jets penalty expired, as Connor sent Copp in on a partial break. Copp snapped a perfect wrist shot past the blocker of Nedeljkovic, giving him 10 on the season, the fourth straight season he's hit double-digits in goals.

"When we landed, they got off the plane and got on the tarmac and they ran. They were excited," said Lowry. "We should maybe tell them more often that we're playing games in Michigan."

Connor would add an empty netter with 2:31 to go, but it was anything but routine. It went down as a shorthanded marker, but it came at the end of a 6-on-3 penalty kill. Winnipeg killed off 1:13 of 6-on-3 before Neal Pionk hopped back on the ice, and with a second left in Dominic Toninato's tripping penalty, Connor sent one the length of the ice to seal the deal.

Winnipeg's PK finished a perfect 5-for-5.

"Tonight, we changed the pairs, just with the way the lines were configured," said Lowry. "All we want to do is force a bobble, we want to force a quick turnover and I thought our guys did a really good job of trying to hold the line. But as soon as pucks did enter, we were quick to close."

It was the perfect way to end a perfect trip for the Jets, and specifically those three from Michigan.

"I thought our team game was really good," said Copp. "So, I was really happy for the team, for the win, and then obviously for the Michigan boys to perform like we did."

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