– Winnipeg Jets
coach Claude Noel asserted that his club's preseason opener with the Columbus Blue Jackets
had the feel of a Stanley Cup final game and barely an eyebrow moved.
The media throng on hand for the NHL's return after a 15-year absence did not question Noel's assessment on an evening that featured plenty of subplots flanking the long-awaited contest.
Winnipeg fans had long ago memorized this date, and to add further to the night's events, brotherly pairings and matchups, plus a clash between coaches who once swapped jobs, served as storylines.
And Winnipeg first-round selection Mark Scheifele topped off the evening for Jets fans with a four-point effort that included a pair of goals in a 6-1 victory at the MTS Centre.
"I thought he was great," Noel said of his 18-year-old centerman. "I thought he played with tremendous poise. He looked like the best player on the ice, to be honest with you."
Scheifele admitted to nerves during the pre-game warmup.
"Once I got adapted," Scheifele explained, "and got my legs going ... it just helped a lot. To get four points is unbelievable."
The teams also had another set of rosters playing in Columbus, where the Blue Jackets returned the favor with a 5-1 decision at Nationwide Arena.
Winnipeg fans filled the MTS Centre with a sold-out crowd of 15,003 that roared from the moment the Jets hit the ice for warmup and rarely rested over the course of the evening. Fans screamed the city's ubiquitous "Go Jets Go" chant countless times.
"I think this is going to be the loudest building in the League," predicted Columbus right wing Derek Dorsett
, who collected 20 of the teams' collective 90 penalty minutes.
The preseason contest has dominated headlines in Winnipeg in recent days, and Winnipeg's normally tranquil downtown was jammed several hours before the opening faceoff.
Homegrown talent saw ice time for both teams. Winnipeg dressed four Manitobans – Winnipeggers Kevin Clark and Jason Gregoire
, plus provincial sons Troy Bodie and rookie Shayne Wiebe. Columbus coach Scott Arniel started Manitoban left wing Matt Calvert
for the Blue Jackets.
, already a fan favorite, delivered two thundering hits seconds after the opening faceoff. Then at the 37-second mark, Byfuglien squared off with Columbus prospect Cody Bass
while his defense partner, Mark Stuart
, tangled with the Blue Jackets' Dane Byers
Winnipeg's highly-touted blue line prospect Paul Postma
delivered the first Jets' goal since April 1996, when he flung a shot from the high point that slipped over Curtis Sanford
's right shoulder.
"It was a blast to be a part of that," Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd
said. "Buff was kind of ornery there at the start. The atmosphere of the crowd got guys going. It's going to be a tough place for everyone to come in and play."
Scheifele, the seventh-overall selection in this past June's Entry Draft gave the home crowd more reason to cheer when he tucked the rebound of a Byfuglien shot from the edge of Sanford's crease.
"Scheif, welcome to the NHL," Byfuglien said. "Wow, the kid was amazing."
The second period saw 19-year-old Columbus centerman Ryan Johansen
, taken fourth overall in the 2010 Entry Draft, settle down the rambunctious crowd when he stamped Alex Giroux's slot feed past Winnipeg goaltender Ondrej Pavelec
to halve the Columbus deficit.
But Clark, last season a member of the city's former club, the Manitoba Moose, put away the Blue Jackets late in the second period. Scheifele saucered a pass from along the right boards that Clark batted out of the air and past Sanford for a 3-1 Winnipeg lead.
Then Ivan Telegin
's goal with 15 minutes to play further riled up the home crowd before Scheifele jammed home his second goal for a 5-1 lead. Ladd added a late goal.
"The first two minutes was wild," Noel said. "The whole night was wild. It was pretty impressive. Even the wave was going, up and down. I almost got carried away."
The night's two bench bosses share a common history. Noel landed in Winnipeg in June 2010 after the Blue Jackets did not retain him following a brief stint as the team's interim coach. The man who replaced him, Arniel, came to the Blue Jackets from the Winnipeg, where he had piloted the American League's Manitoba Moose.
Arniel's departure from Winnipeg led to Noel taking the Moose opening. After one season with the Moose, Noel set himself up well when the Jets needed to fill their coaching vacancy this past June after the club's arrival in Manitoba.
With his ties to the Moose and the former Winnipeg Jets
, the local fans proved quite familiar to Arniel.
"The atmosphere was electric," Arniel said. "We knew it was going to be loud, and it was."