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NHL replay: Jets return to Winnipeg, with new look

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WINNIPEG, Manitoba (AP) - There's a good reason Manitoba Moose banners still hang above the ice at MTS Centre.

In the eyes of the man who persuaded the NHL to come back to Winnipeg, the Jets team that takes the ice for Sunday's opener is more of an extension of the American Hockey League franchise than the original Winnipeg Jets.

"When we acquired this team, we had 125 people working for (the Moose)," co-owner Mark Chipman said Saturday. "It's now up to about 175, but those 125 people had a very deep sense of pride in what we had done for the 15 years prior. So, to us, this is the same organization with a different name."

"It's not like we're trying to distance ourselves from the past," he said. "We're just trying to forge ahead as the reincarnation or the next step of what we've been doing."

While it's tempting to refer to the Jets-Montreal Canadiens opener as the rebirth of a NHL franchise, it's not being treated like that within the organization.

Beloved former Jets players Dale Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen and Keith Tkachuk will be in attendance, but they won't be recognized as part of a special ceremony. On the ice, Evander Kane will be wearing No. 9 and Brett MacLean will be in No. 25 - the only two numbers officially retired by the former Winnipeg Jets, for Bobby Hull and Steen.

MacLean was claimed off waivers this week and didn't put much thought into his selection.

"I wore it when I was younger," he said. "To be honest, there wasn't too many options and I was so shocked (about being claimed on waivers) that I just picked it. Then I kind of remembered the history of it."

In many ways, the second version of the Jets is starting fresh this season.

The players have pretty much run out of adjectives to describe what it will be like to play in Winnipeg after being asked about it daily since the sale and relocation of the Atlanta Thrashers was announced May 31. To a man, they were impressed by the small taste of it they got during preseason.

Even coach Claude Noel, a hockey lifer, was caught off-guard by the emotion during the national anthem before the first exhibition game.

"It's almost like 15 years of vented emotion - I don't know if it's anger or whatever," he said. "As soon as the anthem started, everybody sang. It just gave you goose bumps, like everybody was singing. It almost brought tears to your eyes. It was beautiful."

His 80-year-old mother Alice and two sisters will be among the crowd of 15,004 in the stands. The coach plans to do everything he can to soak in the atmosphere.

"I won't be sitting missing any moments," Noel said. "I'm walking out there for the warmup and I'll be walking out there for the start of the game and I will smell the coffee, I will smell the roses, there's no doubt. Life's too short, I learned that a long time ago."

The players hope to show fans that this is a new team with a new identity.

"Obviously, there's some history here with the Jets before and obviously we're the Jets again," defenseman Randy Jones said. "But we have a different logo and it is a different organization. It's a different setup. We do want to go out and build our own identity. It's been 15 years. A lot can change in 15 years."

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