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The Smell of Popcorn: Jets Players and Fans Happy to Be Back

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Dan Hoeppner

The Winnipeg Jets kicked off their 2021–2022 season this past weekend, taking on the Ottawa Senators in the first of three preseason tilts. The Jets fell 3–2 in this initial matchup.

The game featured everything you would expect during a preseason game: sloppy play, mental and physical mistakes, and penalties that will drive a coach crazy.

Despite all that, there was something special about this game. For one thing, the smell of popcorn.

“You can smell the popcorn when you come out to the bench,” said head coach Paul Maurice after the game. “It just feels so much better than it was even almost in the playoffs. I mean, it was an exhibition game, so there is not anywhere near the intensity of it. But having people in the building is fantastic.”

At least one player agrees with his coach.

“I had goosebumps going out on the ice,” said Pierre-Luc Dubois, sporting 15 stiches after taking a dangerously high cross-check in the second period. “The fans were great tonight. It just feels like real hockey again. It feels good.”

It has been 564 days since fans last packed into the Canada Life Center—formerly known as Bell MTS Place—in downtown Winnipeg, and the atmosphere was electric. The fans were loud, and you could feel a sense of optimism surrounding the team.

Part of that optimism comes in the wake of the offseason, which was arguably one of the busiest and most impressive for Jets General Manager Kevin Cheveldayoff since relocating the team from Atlanta.

In the last few months, Cheveldayoff has addressed the team’s defensive deficiencies by acquiring veteran defencemen Brenden Dillon from Washington in exchange for a pair of second-round draft picks, in addition to getting Nate Schmidt from Vancouver in exchange for a third-round pick. Both defenders bring size and skill to a team that lacked the ability to cleanly exit their own zone last season, which routinely made games more difficult for goaltender Connor Hellebuyck.

Cheveldayoff also added forwards Riley Nash, Austin Poganski, Mike Eyssimont, and Luke Johnson in free agency to replace the slew of departed players.

The Jets decided to not to resign forwards Matthiew Perrault, Dominic Toninator, Trevor Level, goalie Laurent Brossoit, and defensemen Derek Forbort, Jordie Benn, and Tucker Poolman. They also lost Mason Appleton to Seattle in the expansion draft and slammed the door shut on NHL hopeful and former AHL rookie of the year Sami Niku.

The Jets will play their second preseason game on Saturday, October 2 against the Edmonton Oilers. It is expected that Maurice will dress a more veteran lineup for the remaining two preseason games.

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