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Winnipeg fans ready to bring back the whiteout

by Arpon Basu

WINNIPEG – There's snow in the forecast here Monday.

How appropriate.

The Stanley Cup Playoffs are returning to Winnipeg for the first time in 19 years, and there's a whiteout in the air.

When the Winnipeg Jets host the Anaheim Ducks in Game 3 of their Western Conference First Round series at MTS Centre on Monday (9 p.m. ET; NBCSN, SN, TVA Sports, PRIME), nearly two decades of pent-up playoff fanaticism will be unleashed

Anticipation here is high. And just like his fellow residents, Winnipeg Mayor Brian Bowman can't wait.

"We've waited about two decades for this, 19 years to be exact, to celebrate our Jets in the playoffs," Bowman told last week. "The excitement's pretty thick in the air. You can really feel it across the city."

Bowman, 43, said he was in the crowd at the old Winnipeg Arena in 1996, the last time the Jets were in the playoffs, attending one of the home games of their first-round series loss to the Detroit Red Wings. He cut up some white garbage bags back then to make homemade pompoms as part of the whiteout, a playoff tradition that began in Winnipeg and has since been adopted in other NHL cities.

Adopted, but not matched, according to Bowman.

"I know other teams have tried to imitate the whiteout, but they're just cheap imitations of the real thing," he said. "The whiteout is a like a winter blizzard here. It's our tradition. It started here."

Winnipeg residents are dying to be part of another whiteout Monday.

There were reportedly fewer than 1,000 tickets made available to the general public to Game 3 and Game 4 of the series, and they sold out in less than five minutes. The Jets' official ticket resale website didn't have any available for Game 3 as of Sunday evening, and the cheapest tickets on other online resale sites were more than $400.

Tickets are so scarce that even the mayor was having trouble securing one.

When Bowman was interviewed on Thursday he wasn't certain whether would be in the building for Game 3 on Monday, though one of his staffers told him he was likely to be there.

"I'm actually part of a group and we share tickets," Bowman said. "I know we're kind of sorting that out in terms of who gets what games."

There will only be 15,016 people who will attend Game 3 at MTS Centre; it's the smallest venue in the NHL but easily one of the loudest. That reputation should only be strengthened Monday.

"Those that are lucky enough to get tickets, to actually be in that arena, no doubt it will be the loudest arena in the NHL," Bowman said.

"The volume and the passion you hear in that arena is deafening, absolutely overwhelming. You just get goose bumps every time the team comes out."

For the restaurants and bars around the arena, Monday night promises to be a big one as well.

One waitress at an area bar said she was working the night of the Jets' first regular-season game of the 2011-12 season, an Oct. 10 game against the Montreal Canadiens that marked the return of NHL hockey to the city. She called her shift that night the longest 14 hours of her life, but anticipates that Monday will be worse.

Stanley Cup Playoff hockey returns to Winnipeg for the first time in 19 years when the Jets host the Ducks in Game 3 on Monday. The whiteout, a playoff tradition that has since been adopted in other NHL cities, began in the Winnipeg Arena.(Photo: Getty Images)

"I'm a little afraid, to be honest," she said Sunday night. "Game nights here are crazy. [Monday] is going to be extra, extra wild crazy."

The Jets are intimately tied to Winnipeg's collective soul.

Bowman says losing the team was a blow to the psyche of the city's residents, and getting it back had an equally strong positive effect.

"It was a substantive loss for the community when the team left, it really did affect how we viewed ourselves," Bowman said. "Getting the Jets back was really the icing on the cake of a lot of the positive things that were already happening in the community.

"Getting the Jets back really signified to North America that we're back on the map. This is a growing city. It's a very fast-growing city. We have one of the best and one of the most diversified economies in the country and our future is bright. Having the Jets back and having them in the playoffs is really just fitting for a community that's on the move."

Monday will also be a new experience for a generation of Winnipeg residents who haven't experienced a playoff game in the city. It will be an opportunity for people from Bowman's generation to pass a part of their own childhood down to their children.

"My wife and I have two boys, they're 4 and 7, and it's really cool that they're now experiencing their first Jets playoff run," Bowman said. "New memories are being made for new generations, and that's really exciting for our community."

When the original Jets became the Phoenix (now Arizona) Coyotes in 1996, the whiteout became a part of the Coyotes' playoff tradition. That was a difficult thing to watch for Jets fans, but on Monday they will have an opportunity to reclaim something they consider to be a cherished possession.

"To NHL fans around the League, get ready for the real thing," Bowman said. "You're going to see a real whiteout for a change."

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