The Winnipeg Jets
know they'll be playing in the NHL's smallest arena. Their goal is to make it one of the toughest places for visiting teams.
The MTS Centre, opened in 2004, has just 15,004 seats -- by far the fewest in the NHL. But with a hockey-mad fan base that has already guaranteed a packed house for all 41 games, the building figures to take on the feel of an old-time NHL arena.
Anchored on a small city block in downtown Winnipeg, the building uses every available nook and cranny to squeeze in as many seats as possible. Jets fans in turn have bought every available ticket: The club capped season-ticket sales at 13,000 seats, and there's a waiting list of 8,000 fans should any seats become available.
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Visiting clubs learned during the preseason that the compact set-up, as well as a city of rambunctious fans welcoming the NHL's return after 15 years, figures to make for one of the most intimidating buildings in the League. With only 17 home-ice wins last season while playing in Atlanta, only four NHL clubs had fewer home wins than the team that now calls Winnipeg its home.
Opposing players got a taste of Winnipeg's fan fervor during the preseason. Columbus forward Derek Dorsett
collected 20 penalty minutes in a game on Sept. 20, but he and the Jets can find agreement on at least one point.
"I think this is going to be the loudest building in the League," Dorsett predicted after that game.
Two more preseason home games served as dress rehearsals for the city's return to the NHL on Sunday afternoon when the Montreal Canadiens
come to town. It's the first NHL game in Winnipeg since the original Jets lost Game 6 of their 1996 opening-round series to Detroit before moving to Phoenix.
"I think it's going to be great to play in front of these fans every night," said forward Tanner Glass
, who skated with the Vancouver Canucks
during this past spring's Stanley Cup Final. "Even the visiting team, it's good to play in a full barn. I think for us the fans are going to be big for us. We're going to enjoy playing for them and being home and bringing the NHL back."
But the Jets' youth and inexperience with such an energetic crowd could make the club susceptible to undisciplined play -- so reining in that emotion will be a key for the Jets on home ice this season.
"It's going to be a big curveball for them," defenseman Dustin Byfuglien
said of players not accustomed to a crowd like Winnipeg. "Everyone has got to learn that everything is being watched, and everything is going to be picked apart."
Properly channeling that fan emotion will be critical for the Jets, captain Andrew Ladd
"There is a tendency if you have a good crowd to get excited and let your emotions take control of you," said Ladd, who has won Stanley Cup rings with Carolina and Chicago. "So we have to take a step back from that and still play smart hockey, but use it effectively."
Defenseman Mark Stuart
has not played in a Stanley Cup Final, but several seasons with the Boston Bruins
exposed him to an intense home crowd.
"I think a home crowd can do a lot," Stuart said. "You have to use that energy to your advantage. There will be plenty of energy in the building. As long as we feed off that and play with energy ourselves, I think it definitely can help."
But Stuart added that the Jets have to guard against getting too revved up.
"Don't get overexcited," Stuart advised. "I think that playing at home, especially on opening night, guys can tend to get overexcited and get out of their game. You shouldn't feel pressure. You should just feel excitement."