WINNIPEG -- Donald Street may well be the truest hockey melting pot in North America.
Among the 27,000 or so fans gathered outside Bell MTS Place were fans from across the globe to watch Game 2 of the Western Conference Final between the Vegas Golden Knights and Winnipeg Jets (a 3-1 Vegas win), a tradition that started at the beginning of the 2018 Stanley Cup Playoffs and has grown each game.
Hanging by the giant goal light in the intersection of Graham Avenue and Donald Street stands a man who flew in from Dubai this week to make sure he was on hand for the biggest hockey game in this city to date.
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"A once-in-a-lifetime experience," said Mike Wilson, a native of Winnipeg who has lived in Dubai for the past 15 years, working for Emirates Airlines.
So much so, he flew from Dubai to Toronto a few days ago and then hopped a flight to Winnipeg on Monday morning to be here and use season tickets that have been in the family for several years. He took his nephew, Jonah Chambers, 16.
Wilson watches Jets games while in Dubai through the NHL's streaming service. Often, he invites coworkers, including non-fans from Australia, England and Spain, over to join him for the early-morning viewing parties.
"We watch the games, have a couple of beers and feel Canadian for a little while," he said.
He didn't have to work hard to feel Canadian on Monday, surrounded by thousands of fans who feel the same way about hockey as he does. At times, Wilson seemed overwhelmed by the experience.
"I was at the final game of the original Jets here," he said. "I might have had a little bit of tear in my eye that day. It was super sad. But, this has really lit a fire under the city."
One that even visiting fans could appreciate.
A couple of hundred yards away, a Vegas Golden Knights fan, Eric Sacks, made the trip from Hawaii, exchanged high fives, back slaps and playful banter with opposing fans. He was accompanied by a professional poker player from Las Vegas, who says he couldn't miss this game.
"I knew nothing about hockey when I saw a Vegas game, probably still know nothing about hockey, but I fell in love the game and the Knights anyway and I knew I had to be here," Sacks said.
Sacks, a real estate developer, saw a Vegas game early in the season, loved it and bought season tickets on the spot, commuting from Hawaii to see regular-season games. He has been to every Golden Knights postseason game on the road except for Game 1 of this series, a 4-2 loss on Saturday.
He was glad he made it to Winnipeg to experience an atmosphere like no other.
'This is absolutely amazing," he said. "I've never seen anything like this. I was telling Jared earlier, everyone should be from Winnipeg; they are the happiest, friendliest people in the world."
Nearby, a Marilyn Monroe look-alike, in the patented white dress, posed for pictures with appreciative fans and a roving band of faux announcers wearing the powder-blue blazers donned by the original announcers from the 1950s conducted make-believe interviews. The original Jets mascot, Benny, held court in another area, drawing a big crowd for pictures.
Around the corner was one of those happy, friendly people Sacks spoke of, a native of Winnipeg who has season tickets and was continuing the "Macho Man" homage to the wrestler Randy Savage he initiated the last time the Jets made the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 2015.
"I had to lose the fringe on the arms and some of the other things," said Sheldon Unrua, who was accompanied by his wife, Kristen. "They were getting stuck everywhere. It wasn't a good thing."
The Unruas have been season ticket holders since the Jets returned to Winnipeg in 2011. They weren't going to miss the game, or the party in the street that preceded it.
"This is amazing for the city," Kristen Unrua said, looking at the mass of humanity around her. "It has brought people together here like few things can. It has been an experience we all will remember for a long time."
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