Winnipeg Jets fans hoping playoff success will be the final reward for up-and-down season

Winnipeg Jets fans who watched Tuesday’s game are hopeful they can pull off a win against the Vegas Golden Knights to secure a spot in the next round of the NHL playoffs.

Around 70 people gathered at a viewing party at the Park Theatre in Winnipeg to cheer on their team in Game 1 of their first-round Stanley Cup playoff series at T-Mobile Arena in Las Vegas. 

Micah Zacharias came to the party with his girlfriend, April Malapit, who describes him as “the biggest Jets fan.”

Zacharias says his love for hockey is a legacy he shares with other members of his family. 

“My dad’s an avid Jets fan. One of my favourite things is hanging out with him and watching games,” he said.

“My little brother is here too. He’s not even a hockey fan and he’s here, so that says a lot.”

Man in Winnipeg Jets jersey and woman in tan jacket hug side-by-side with their outside arms raised in celebration.
Micah Zacharias and April Malapit came to the Park Theatre Tuesday night to watch Game 1 of the first-round NHL playoff series between the Winnipeg Jets and the Vegas Golden Knights. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

Malapit said she’s excited to be following the Jets more closely this year, crediting Zacharias as a big reason why. 

“This is the first year I’ve really been super invested thanks to him,” she said.

Malapit said the series against the Knights hits a bit of a sore spot for her, as she was also watching in 2018 when the Jets lost the Western Conference final against the Vegas team — ending their journey to the Stanley Cup that year. 

“It hurt, but hopefully we can get some revenge,” she said.

Zacharias said he remains “cautiously optimistic” for the team, noting the quick fall it took after a strong start to the season. 

In mid-January, the Jets were in first place in the conference. The Knights ended up finishing first, with the Jets narrowly securing the final playoff spot.

Still, he’s determined to follow through on his playoff tradition.

“[I’m planning on] losing my voice, and cheering as hard as I can,” he said. 

The pair are excited for Game 4, to be played at Canada Life Centre in Winnipeg on Monday, where they’ll be in the arena to cheer on their team. 

Jenna Sheppard, a fan since the Jets returned in 2011, said she was “pleasantly surprised” the team made the playoffs. She said she always roots for the underdog, and loves that the Jets going into their first round as just that — especially against the Knights.

“We have something to prove against Vegas from years ago,” she said.

Smiling woman in Winnipeg Jets jersey points to the logo on her chest with both hands.
Jets fan Jenna Sheppard and her mother attended the viewing party at the Park Theatre Tuesday night. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

Sheppard said she has her eyes on goaltender Connor Hellebuyck to help bring the team a win.

“I’m positive they’ll come through.”

Sheppard said her family is passing down their love of the Jets to new generations, including her niece and nephew. This year, she’s excited to be sharing playoffs with her mom, who will be accompanying her to both whiteout parties. 

“[She’s a] huge Jets fan. She used to have season tickets, and every time she had tickets she’d take me. We love hockey together,” she said. 

Sheppard isn’t the only one looking to Hellebuyck. Peter Schneider, a Jets fan for 30 years, said Winnipeg’s advantage over Vegas comes down to goaltending.

“I like their chances, I like the opposition against Vegas. Anything can happen in playoff time. We got the best goaltender in the NHL,” he said.

Before the game, Schneider said although he remains optimistic, he has mixed emotions about the team making the playoffs, because “it was tough watching that skid and then watching them just sneak in,” he said.

Three middle-aged men in hockey jerseys smile as they stand arm-in-arm.
Peter Schneider, right, and his friends at Tuesday night’s viewing party for Game 1 of the Winnipeg Jets’ first-round NHL playoff series against the Vegas Golden Knights. (Prabhjot Singh Lotey/CBC)

Schneider said his hockey season tradition is to get out to see as many hockey games as he can with his family — even though they don’t necessarily cheer for the same team. 

“We all like to watch hockey together. We got hockey on all the time. If there’s hockey on TV, we’re watching it,” he said.

The fans at the Park Theatre and across the province likely went home happy Tuesday night, thanks to a 5-1 victory for the visitors from Winnipeg.

Game 2 is on Thursday at T-Mobile Arena. Games 3 and 4 are at Canada Life Centre on April 22 and 24.

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