-- The Winnipeg Jets
have excelled at home and struggled on the road this season, a travel trend they'll have to end to stay in the playoff picture.
There may be no better place to start the reversal than in Vancouver on Thursday night.
That's because this trip west is like a homecoming for many on both sides.
In addition to two former Canucks in Tanner Glass
and Kyle Wellwood
, two bitter former rivals in Andrew Ladd
and Dustin Byfuglien
, and a couple of players that are from Vancouver, the links between the franchises run deep, with the Manitoba Moose having served as the Canucks' AHL affiliate before Winnipeg got an NHL team back.
Jets forward Evander Kane
even got his own bobblehead and Ring of Honor spot in a pre-game ceremony with the local junior team Wednesday.
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"It was great to go back and a special night, and hopefully we can cap it off with a win here tonight," said Kane, who is young enough at 20 to still be playing for the hometown Giants in the major junior WHL despite being in his third NHL season. "I'm sure there will be a few Jets jerseys in the stands. We've just got to bring that same game that we play at home onto the road, and I think we're going to be able to do that."
It's a trip home for Winnipeg captain Andrew Ladd
, who grew up in Vancouver's suburbs; but after becoming hated in his hometown during his years and playoff wars with the archrival Chicago Blackhawks
, there aren't a lot of warm, fuzzy feelings.
"Always fun to play teams you have a nice little rivalry with, I'm sure there's still some dislikes over there," Ladd said. "All sorts of connections with Glass and Welly coming back and me and Buff having rivalries, and all the connections with the affiliate in Manitoba last year, so all sorts of different storylines."
They include a handful of Canucks that cut their professional teeth with the Moose, which served as Vancouver's minor league team from 2001-12 until ownership made the move to the NHL by acquiring the Atlanta Thrashers for this season. The Moose then moved to St. John's to serve as the Jets' AHL affiliate, and Vancouver struck up a partnership with the Chicago Wolves. But the bond between several Canucks and the city of Winnipeg remain.
Backup goalie Cory Schneider
, who will start ahead of Roberto Luongo
on Thursday night, was too young to remember the Jets before they left Winnipeg in 1996, but he learned a lot about the city and people during three seasons with the Manitoba Moose.
"It's good to see some old faces and people that helped me get to where I am," Schneider said. "I probably remember the Jets the most from the old Sega video games. Other than that I didn't know a lot until I got there. But I know there's some great connections between here and Winnipeg and some people are pretty excited to see the Jets back in town and it's just great for the city."
The links extend from the ice to the management box, with Canucks coach Alain Vigneault
, who spent a year in Winnipeg, praising owner Mark Chipman for the vision and determination to bring the Jets back as an NHL team. Current Winnipeg coach Claude Noel
was behind the bench of the Moose as a member of the Canucks family just last season. And Winnipeg assistant general manager Craig Heisinger is largely responsible for discovering several current Canucks, including an undrafted Alexandre Burrows
, who contemplated quitting while toiling in southern ECHL outposts.
Goalie - VAN
GAA: 2.09 | SVP: 0.932
"They are the ones that gave me my first chance in the American League, and the organization, starting from Mr. Chipman to Zinger, to the staff have always been great to me," said Burrows, who is joined by teammates like Ryan Kesler
, Mason Raymond
and Kevin Bieksa
in coming up through Manitoba. "For a lot of us Winnipeg was a great home for a little bit, and now to play against them as an NHL team, it's great to see. So maybe there's a little something extra there."
There will be for Glass, who was a part of the Canucks team that went to Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final last summer before leaving as a free agent.
"Coming off the high of the Stanley Cup Finals last year, it was like I didn't miss a beat heading right into Winnipeg and a ferocious hockey market," Glass said. "A lot of people in this organization cut their teeth with Vancouver, that's kind of the parent to our organization, they gave us a good model to work off. But at the same time we are trying to create our own identity here."
It's an identity that has been stronger at home (21-10-4) than on the road (11-17-4), something they'll have to change with nine of the final 15 games away from their loud crowd, and a slim two-point lead for the final playoff spot in the east.
"We feed off our fans, we feed off the extra energy we get," said Wellwood, who played two seasons in Vancouver from 2008 to 2010. "The travel has been an adjustment for guys and getting used to the different time zones moving around. There's a lot to having a new team in a new city, and it shows on the road."
Ladd knows that has to stop. No better place than Vancouver.
"Maybe at home we have a little more energy with the crowd, but on the road you have to find that in your own way," Ladd said. "(The Canucks) are a good test for us and a team we shouldn't have a problem getting up for."
For a lot of different reasons.