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The Essentials: Atlanta Thrashers and Winnipeg Jets (1.0) Edition!

Greg Wyshynski
Puck Daddy

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(This month, Puck Daddy asked bloggers for every NHL team to tell us The Essentials for their franchises — everything from the defining player and trade, to the indispensable fan traditions.

Thus far in our The Essentials project, we've chronicled the key players, moments and traditions for 29 NHL teams. Which brings us to the Winnipeg Jets, whose Essentials would have basically been a review of the 2011-12 season. With due respect for Ondrej Pavelec and the fans taunting opposing players, it's a little hard to cement Essentials in 82 games.

So, for this final installment, we went in a different direction: Taking a look back at the original Winnipeg Jets, who became the Phoenix Coyotes, and the Atlanta Thrashers, who became Winnipeg Jets (2.0). If anyone is offended by this approach, please understand that it gives you more Teemu in your life, which should negate any sort of ill feelings.

The Winnipeg Jets entries are written by Drew Mindell, host of The Illegal Curve Hockey Show on TSN Radio 1290 in Winnipeg, and contributor to www.illegalcurve.com. The Illegal Curve Hockey Show airs Saturdays on TSN 1290, and is also available via iTunes. Follow Illegal Curve on Twitter @illegalcurve, and follow Drew individually on Twitter @ICdrew.

The Atlanta Thrashers entries are written by Laura Astorian, a native of St. Louis, MO, who adopted the Atlanta Thrashers as her Eastern Conference team from their inception. She wrote on both the St. Louis Blues and Atlanta Thrashers on her blog, Thrashing the Blues, and contributes to SB Nation. Follow her on Twitter at @hildymac

Player

Thrashers: Ilya Kovalchuk

When you think "Atlanta Thrashers," chances are good that after "relocation" Ilya Kovalchuk's name pops into your head. The Thrashers 1st overall draft pick in 2001, Kovalchuk won the Rocket Richard trophy in 2004. A goal-scoring machine, Kovy scored 52 goals twice for the team, a feat that was only dampened by the fact that the Thrashers missed the playoffs those two years. His dominant performances on-ice and tendency to take the team on his back when they were down endeared him to fans and earned him the captaincy, though before he was traded to the New Jersey Devils, some were aggravated by his perceived lack of effort. Damn Russians.

Thrashers: Honorable mention: Slava Kozlov

Kozzie handled his disrespectful benching by John Anderson with nothing but class, and was probably one of the most beloved Thrashers in franchise history. Work ethic, dedication, you name it - Kozzie had it. He also saved a friend from being hit on by a skeezy Russian guy at Casino Night once, so there's that, too.

Jets: Teemu Selanne

It's amazing to think that the 2012-13 NHL season (assuming there is one) will mark 20 years since the Finnish Flash had his dream rookie season of 76 goals, 56 assists and 132 points, shattering NHL rookie records. Still beloved in Winnipeg, the fans of Winnipeg finally had an opportunity to properly thank Teemu this past season when the Ducks played against the Jets 2.0 in Winnipeg. It's a shame that the Ducks don't play in Winnipeg again this season (again, assuming), because the love affair Winnipeg has for Teemu, continues unabated.

Season

Thrashers: 2006-2007

Playoffs! No disappointment at the end of the regular season! No rotating goaltenders of the year before (the Thrashers iced Kari Lehtonen, Mike Dunham, Michael Garnett, Adam Burkhoel, and Steve Shields in net) meant no near playoff miss this time. The Thrashers winning the Southeast Division was the crowning achievement in their brief 11 year history, and the dynamic atmosphere garnered in 2005-2006 carried them through the 2006-2007 season and to game one of the first round... and then fizzled. The team was out-gunned by the New York Rangers, but the sell-outs that season in Philips Arena and the explosion of excitement during game one are things I will not forget. You couldn't hear yourself talk to the person next to you. It was wonderful.

Jets: 1995-96

The lame duck season. With one foot out of Winnipeg already, and the team's new home in Phoenix awaiting their arrival, the Jets refused to leave town quietly, somehow qualifying for the playoffs despite all of the distractions swirling around the players and the franchise. It was only fitting that the Jets somehow managed to win game 5 of their first round playoff series versus Detroit, thus sending the series back to Winnipeg for game 6, so the fans of Winnipeg could say goodbye to their Jets on home ice, which they did, when the Red Wings won game 6, and the series.

Game

Thrashers: Kings at Thrashers, November 13th, 2009

The Thrashers never had a game that made or broke a season (unless you count a few at the end of 2006, or the half-season implosion of 2010-2011, but I'm going for happy here, dammit). However, they did have a few games where they pounded the hell out of an opponent, catching fans off guard. We loved these "who are these guys?" outings, and this was probably the most fun drubbing that I can think of. Sitting through many, many lopsided losses, I can safely say that it is a lot more enjoyable to be on the giving end of a shellacking than a receiving.

Jets: April 14, 1990 Game 6 v. Edmonton (Jets lead series 3-2)

It's somewhat of a fallacy that the Jets were a bad team throughout their original existence in Winnipeg. While they certainly did not have significant playoff success, this was more of a result of constantly playing against the Gretzky Oilers, than it was a lack of talent. It seemed like the 1990 playoff series versus the Oilers may have been the opportunity the Jets were waiting for, to finally slay their playoff demon. Leading the series 3-1, the Jets failed to capitalize on an early game 5 lead in Edmonton, losing the game by a 4-3 margin.

With Game 6 back in Winnipeg, the Oilers jumped out to an early lead, only to see the Jets erase a 3-goal deficit, tying the game at three. With the Jets riding all the momentum, and amidst pandemonium at Winnipeg Arena, a fan took this opportunity to throw a box of popcorn on the ice, resulting in a delay in the game, and according to then Jets owner Barry Shenkarow, sapping the Jets of all the aforementioned momentum. In fitting, heartbreaking, Jets fashion, Jari Kurri scored for the Oilers, giving them a 4-3 game six victory, sending the series back to Edmonton, where the Oilers won game seven in convincing fashion. This incident was later immortalized in a documentary about the Winnipeg Jets called, "Death by Popcorn: The Tragedy of the Winnipeg Jets."

Goal

Tim Stapleton last franchise goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins, 4/10/2011

Again, no one goal stands out to me as particularly noteworthy or heroic. There have been some pretty ones scored (Alex Burmistrov's against Michal Neuvirth was probably one of the most amazing goals I've seen scored live), but none are one that I would consider "the goal."

If you're looking for appropriateness, though, there is nothing more so than having Tim Stapleton score the franchise's last goal against the Pittsburgh Penguins. Stapleton turned into the Little Engine that Could more than once that year, and a nondescript but hardworking guy scoring the last goal for a nondescript but hardworking franchise just seems right.

Jets: April 10, 1990 (Dave Ellett scores in 2OT v. EDM, Jets take a 3 to 1 series lead)

With apologies to Teemu and his goal (and celebration) upon passing Mike Bossy for the record number of goals scored by a rookie, Dave Ellett's point shot and goal in double OT of game 4, subsequently ending the longest Jets game in history, gets the nod. Part of the charm of the Jets 1.0 was that they were lovable losers, always getting so close to the mountain top, before falling just short.

Had the 1990 Jets team won the first round series versus Edmonton, they were legitimate Stanley Cup contenders. Remember, following that series versus the Jets, the Oilers steamrolled the rest of the NHL to the Stanley Cup, only losing three more games total in the next three series. Jets fans always played the "what-if" game involving this particular team, and thanks to the deft touch of Dave Ellett's stick in double OT of game 4, the memory of Jets players flooding the ice, while the fans went berserk in the stands, is one of the most significant playoff memories of a team that did not have very many happy ones.

Trade

Thrashers: Marian Hossa and Pascal Dupuis for Colby Armstrong, Erik Christensen, a 1st round pick in 2008, and Angelo Esposito

In typical Don-Waddellian fashion, what looked pretty good on paper blew up in his face. Christensen choked on-ice in every setting but the shootout, Armstrong started off strong and then it just became apparent he was killing time, Angelo Esposito never made it to the NHL thanks to knee injuries. He's now over in SM-Lilga playing for the Lahti Pelicans. Huge potential, and you can't blame Waddell for getting him in the deal, but Esposito fell down in the draft for a reason.

That 2008 pick? Daultan Leveille. Said Waddell at the time of the draft, "He's got good hands." There you go.

Jets: Teemu Selanne, Marc Chouinard and a 4th round pick to the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim for Chad Kilger, Oleg Tverdovsky, and a 3rd round pick

Psychiatrists in Winnipeg were able to build entire practices strictly on dealing with anguished Jets fans when this trade was announced. In all honesty, Teemu's return to Winnipeg this past NHL season probably provided many Winnipeg Jets fans with the closure they have been seeking since this trade was announced on February 7, 1996.

Unsung Hero

Thrashers: Johan Hedberg

There is no goaltender in Thrashers history more loved than Johan Hedberg. More than just a backup, he was the hardest working guy on the team. First on ice in practice and last off, Moose knew that due to his age he had to keep his conditioning up and he succeeded. He stepped in whenever Kari Lehtonen's groin exploded and whenever the pressure got to Ondrej Pavelec, and it worked. His last season with the team he was the 1-B goalie, not the backup. Fans were crushed when he didn't re-sign with the team, and there are more than a few Thrashers fans who were supporting the Devils in the playoffs strictly to see Hedberg's name on the Cup.

Jets: Teppo Numminen

The Jets 1.0 loved their Finnish players, obviously. When the Thrashers made the move to Winnipeg, and Jets fans were getting acquainted with the new batch of players, the comment made with regard to defenseman Tobias Enstrom was that he will remind Jets fans of Teppo. This, in the minds of people in Winnipeg, is the highest of praise. Dependable, responsible, and loyal, Teppo was a favourite of Jets 1.0 fans, all the while being under appreciated in the NHL as a whole. It was only fitting that when the Jets took their final lap around Winnipeg Arena after losing to Detroit in 1996, the last player off the ice, with tears streaking his cheeks, was Teppo Numminen.

Franchise Villain

Thrashers: Dany Heatley/Todd White/Nik Antropov/Mike Dunham/Damian Rhodes/Alexei Zhitnik/Andy Sutton/Ben Eager/Johnny Oduya

Why so many? Because when you're a franchise that's managed to have exactly three winning seasons, you look for someone to blame. Heatley's obvious, because the crash that killed Dan Snyder led to the destruction of the potential of the team.

Todd White? The Todd, as I like to call him, just never fit in despite his 73 point fluke of a season in 2008-2009. His nickname amongst fans? Charmin.

Antropov got heckled at games for being slow and not trying; Dunham and Rhodes cost the team multiple chances at having a good year and making the playoffs, Zhitnik was the poor soul that Braydon Coburn was traded for; Andy Sutton talked Kari Lehtonen into dying his hair blue, provoking the wrath of Bobby Holik; Ben Eager I just have a violent irrational hatred for going back to his days on the Blackhawks; and Johnny Oduya was the absolute worst person on the penalty kill the Thrashers had seen for years. So glad that Craig Ramsay saw something in him.

Jets: NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman

The saying that time heals all wounds certainly manifested itself on October 9, 2011, during the Jets 2.0 season opener versus Montreal when the crowd at MTS Centre cheered Gary Bettman, and chanted "Thank you Gary."

Persona non grata in Winnipeg and the chief target of Jets fans' frustrations when they saw the 1.0 version of the team leave for Phoenix, Gary Bettman was the personification of an NHL that was too big, too corporate and too "American" for a relatively small frozen city in the middle of the Canadian prairies. Had you told a Jets 1.0 fan that Gary Bettman would be cheered in Winnipeg, a mere fifteen years later, they would have immediately subjected you to a drug test, and tried to have you committed. Time, indeed, does heal all wounds.

Fight

Thrashers: Ilya Kovalchuk/Bryan McCabe

You thought I was going to say Matt Cooke getting punched out by Evander Kane, didn't you? I love that one, but the Kovalchuk/McCabe throwdown (literally) is the best fight hands down. Kovy pumping the crowd at the end was just gravy.

Jets: February 9, 1995 Tie Domi & Various Winnipeg Jets v. Vancouver Canucks

Mike Peca, then of the Vancouver Canucks hit Jets superstar Teemu Selanne with a blindside cheap shot, that if delivered today, would have garnered him a 10 game suspension and be a subject matter of discussion for days to come. In 1995, it was a 2 minute minor penalty. For two teams who already didn't like each other from their recent playoff battles, that cheap shot was the spark necessary to start a war. The rest of the game dissolved into a series of fights, 8 in total, with over 226 penalty minutes being accumulated.

Then Jets enforcer Tie Domi, who individually was given 49 penalty minutes, can be heard threatening the Canucks to not dress superstar Pavel Bure, when the teams met again five weeks later. Unfortunately for the Jets and their fans, the Canucks did not give Peca another shift after his hit on Selanne, lest their rookie have to be responsible for his reckless actions.      

Coach

Thrashers: Bob Hartley

Hell, he managed to get the team to the playoffs, didn't he? He also had the guts to bench underperforming players, and that included Kovalchuk. Sadly, he couldn't bench the whole team at the start of 2007-2008, so he was canned after 6 games. Don Waddell took over because the owners were too cheap to hire a new coach, and that was all she wrote.

Jets: John Paddock

Perhaps the best indicator of the generally average performance of the Winnipeg Jets 1.0, can be exemplified through their litany of head coaches from 1979 to their departure to Phoenix in 1996. Eleven head coaches (including interim head coaches) in the seventeen year existence of the team, generally speaking, is not a sign of a high performance team. With apologies to Bob Murdoch, his moustache, and his Jack Adams trophy winning season of 1990-91 (awarded to the coach adjudged to have contributed the most to his team's success), the most memorable of those head coaches, is probably Brandon, Manitoba born John Paddock, who lead the team for 4 seasons, before moving upstairs to the role of General Manager. His Jets coaching record in those four years was 106 wins, 138 losses, and 37 ties.

Broadcaster

Thrashers: Dan Kamal

Dan Kamal was the radio broadcaster on AM 680 The Fan, the Thrashers flagship station. His brilliant goal calls and infectious excitement were a blessing to hear on long car drives, and his disappointment as the losses mounted the last two seasons was palpable. His featured episode on the NHL Network Voices series highlights his enthusiasm and love for the franchise.

Jets: Curt Keilback

Unlike the litany of average head coaches that populated the Jets' 1.0 ranks, one area the team excelled in was having tremendous broadcasters. The most memorable of the bunch was Curt Keilback, who joined the team upon their debut in the NHL in 1979, originally working as a colour commentator alongside then play-by-play man Ken "Friar" Nicholson. Upon Nicholson's departure from the broadcast booth, Curt Keilback took over as radio play-by-play man until 1994, when was replaced on radio by Kelly Moore (Keilback did the local television play-by-play of the Jets for their final two seasons in Winnipeg.) To this day, the phrase "great save Essensa" is one that still reverberates in the mind of many fans of the Winnipeg Jets 1.0, and among some fans, there was disappointment that Keilback wasn't given an opportunity with the Jets 2.0.

Arena Behavior/Tradition/Trend

Thrashers: Nasty Nest "you suck" chant/CNN Food Court

Nashville's often given credit for having loud fans and chanting "you suck" in various and sundry forms at opposition goaltenders, but the Nasty Nest got the "Goaaaaaalie, Goaaaaaaalie, Goaaaaaaalie, YOU SUCK" chant on national TV at the 2008 All Star Game. Beat that.

For those of us not inclined to heckle players, the best tradition was hanging out in the CNN Center food court, grabbing dinner, and drinking a couple $5.00 32 oz. beers. Those Newcastles were the perfect way to wind down after work.

Jets: The White Out

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It's not often that Jets fans get to be smug, but when it turns to the subject of playoff "White-Outs", it is inevitable that Jets fans puff out their chest and pat themselves on the back. Often imitated, never duplicated, the Winnipeg Arena White-Out is one of the most enduring legacies of the Jets 1.0. It didn't require free T-shirts on every seat, or handouts at the entry gates, Jets fans just knew to wear white, white and more white on the relatively rare instances the Jets hosted a home playoff game.

Starting in the 1987 playoff series versus the Calgary Flames, the Jets fans were encouraged to wear white in response to the "C of Red" in Calgary. Seeing as how the Jets won their first and only playoff series that year, why mess with a good thing, and the Winnipeg White Out was born and to this day is one of the lasting memories of the Winnipeg Jets version 1.0.

Arena Food

Thrashers: Wetzel's Pretzel

There are a lot of things that I miss about the Thrashers, but I can honestly say that getting a hot buttery salted pretzel at the Wetzel's Pretzel stand is up there with the things I miss the most. The Wetzel Dog - a buttered pretzel wrapped around a hot dog - is one of those foods that could change humanity with its awesomeness, or maybe wipe it out with its caloric content. No one really knows.

Jets: Stale Popcorn, Boiled Hot Dogs

Remember, this was the era before sushi and other "gourmet" arena food offerings. Your options were limited, and even then, unless you had a death wish, you stayed away from most of the "food" offered at the Winnipeg Arena. Rather than eating at Winnipeg Arena, many fans would flock to either "Chi-Chis Mexican Restaurant" and/or "Finger's Restaurant" (both now defunct) to partake in their pre-game meals. While the food in both restaurants was certainly better than the Winnipeg Arena options, the free parking in very close proximity to the arena was the real attraction for many Jets 1.0 fans.

Swag

Thrashers: Kovalchuk Army Hoodie

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My favorite piece of swag, and the favorite of scads of fans was the Kovalchuk Army hoodie. Thought up by a Thrashers fan as a way to raise money for Kovalchuk's charity, it started a mini-phenomenon.  It's a silhouette of Kovalchuk pointing at Sidney Crosby after scoring a power play goal due to a Crosby penalty, and it is the most comfortable hoodie I have ever owned. All of my Thrashers gear is put up except for that sweatshirt. Fans from far away locales such as Moscow and Newark have purchased them.

Jets: Painting of Queen Elizabeth II

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Because the original Winnipeg Jets existed in an era where merchandise wasn't the juggernaut that it currently is, there is not one particular piece of Jets gear that jumps to mind. However, no article on the Winnipeg Jets 1.0 can be complete without a mention of the 5x7 (meters) large portrait of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II that hung in the old Winnipeg Arena.

Commissioned in 1979 by the Lieutenant Governor of Manitoba, and painted by Gilbert Burch, the painting of Queen Elizabeth II is one of the largest ever created, and one of the quirkiest and most unique aspects of the arena that the Winnipeg Jets 1.0 used to call home.

No matter how junky the old Winnipeg Arena was (and boy was it ever), there was something oddly comforting about entering into the seating area and seeing the watchful eye of Her Majesty hanging from the rafters, as if she was looking down on the ice surface and giving the game her approval.

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