John White: To boldly go behind enemy lines, in a hotbed

Going behind enemy lines is a daring manoeuvre in most cases.

My balding pate as I edit a video in the stands in Edmonton while cheering on the Jets in 2015. (Screen grab)

PHOENIX, Ariz. — Going behind enemy lines is a daring manoeuvre in most cases.

Without the support of your unit, dropped in unfamiliar surroundings, it can be an overwhelming task.

I’m not talking about war, though, I’m actually describing what it’s like to cheer for your team as a visitor in the other team’s building.

I’d guess most ardent sports fans have a bucket list item involving watching their favourite team in all of the other league’s cities. For me, it’s the Winnipeg Jets 2.0 in enemy arenas. I have a very long way to go, even after watching them this week in the hockey hotbed — or at least, hotbed — of Phoenix, Arizona.

I was lucky enough to see the Jets play in Edmonton in 2015, and it was a great night even though they lost that game. I wore my jersey and cheered all of the good hockey plays, as I always do. I’m not one of those obnoxious fans who goads the home fans into a war of words or drops verbal cheap shots if my team is winning. Those dudes make me cringe and give us all a bad name.

While there were quite a few Jets fans in Edmonton that night, I was not prepared for the spectacle of a 50-50 split of fans here in Phoenix on Saturday night. I may be mistaken, but it appeared as though the fans were evenly divided between the two teams.

In the lounge before the game, my cousin and I met up with a couple from the same area of Winnipeg as us, sitting to our right in an example of dumb luck. But based on the number of people strolling around the entertainment district before the game sporting Jets colours, I’m not that surprised.

When the Jets scored in the game, as they did four times, the cheers were very loud and there were many people jumping up to applaud. It reminds me of Toronto or Montreal fans clogging up the seats in Winnipeg during those team visits.

There is also the anthem ritual of shouting out “true north” during those lyrics in O Canada as a tribute to the ownership group who brought the Jets back to Winnipeg. It was very loud, but not as loud as that night in Edmonton. I wonder what the players must think when they hear that and realize how many boosters are in attendance for their road games.

I will admit to one tense moment during the game in Phoenix. Jets’ defenceman Tyler Myers went down hard after hyperextending his knee. They showed the replay on the big screen, and the crowd collectively cringed. Well, except this one bro dude two rows behind us. He took the opportunity to taunt Myers for — and I’m not making this up — faking it. We all saw the replay, it was nasty.

The father and son duo immediately behind us in Jets jerseys made some kind of quip, and bro dude chirped back. The dad told the son not to bother with the knuckle-dragging fan. Unfortunately, my dad wasn’t there to provide similar good advice, and I politely suggested he rethink his strategy. As luck would have it, the backwards-hat-wearing bro dude was surrounded by bright blue Jets jerseys and he sat on his hands for the rest of the game. It likely helped that his Coyotes were going down yet again en route to another tough loss.

But you have to think my comrades surrounding him on the battlefield dampened his tempo. Semper fi, fellow fans. Semper fi.


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The Winnipeg Jets skate in the pre-game warmup in Phoenix on Saturday. (John K. White/Castlegar News)

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