Tonight's game marks the closing of one chapter in my life as a sports fan and the beginning of another. It's the first time the Pittsburgh Penguins are meeting the reborn Winnipeg Jets.
After the Jets left in 1996, I didn't have 'a team' in the NHL. I didn't want to cheer for Phoenix (it seemed like a betrayal) and after a brief interlude with the Canucks (the Manitoba Moose's parent club), I knew it just wouldn't work out.
Then came the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, or as it's better know here in Canada and likely in Pittsburgh as well, the Sidney Crosby Sweepstakes.
I had followed his progress with Canadian junior national teams and particularly with the Océanic during the season that wasn't. There was no doubt in my mind that I'd found my new favourite player and I vowed to follow him wherever he went. After all, the Jets were a dream long dead and there was no point holding onto something that would never be.
When he was drafted to the Penguins, it ended up working out better than I could have ever hoped. My father and most of his family are based in Pittsburgh and became my direct line for merchandise. Dad taught me about the lore of the Mellon Arena, Mike Lange-isms and how Mario saved the team the second time. I, in turn, became the 'Sid expert' to let him know just what he was getting in the city's newest superstar.
In short: We had never been closer.
There are moments I will never forget but the one that stands out is Game 7 of the 2009 Stanley Cup Finals. I work at a call centre and pulled the late shift that night. With my trusty Penguins pin on my lapel (business casual sucks), I watched as the time ticked down. While a customer was searching for something, I put myself on mute and jumped up and down in pure joy when the clock hit zero. As I saw #87 raise the Cup, I didn't think it could get much better than this.
May 31st, 2011 proved me wrong. Mark Chipman did the impossible and helped to orchestrate the return of the Winnipeg Jets. I realized at that moment that I had to make a hard decision: I had to let go of the Pens. My father, almost two decades prior, had commented when visiting Winnipeg that I needed to "support the home team," not wear the colours of other teams when that team came to town. He understood when I told him in June that I was following his advice.
I know the Jets won't be a pretty sight for some time (they are still the Thrashers for better or for worse) but we've already seen what happens when you don't get behind them.
Thank you, thank you, thank you. -Stephanie
This one's for Stephanie: