Only two players have ever suited up for all 10 previous regular-season openers for the Winnipeg Jets.
Wednesday night in Anaheim, only Captain Blake Wheeler will keep that streak intact when he steps out on the ice at the Honda Center for the Jets’ 11th season opener since relocating from Atlanta.
Mark Scheifele will be in the building. But the Jets’ first-ever draft pick, who has also played in all 10 of those previous curtain raisers, will have to sit out his first-ever opening night because of the suspension he received in Game One of the North Division final back on June 2 versus Montreal for a late hit that injured Canadiens forward Jake Evans.
So aside from the historic 5-1 loss to the Habs on Oct. 9, 2011, when Jets fans near and far celebrated the return of the NHL to Winnipeg, are there any other memorable opening nights that come to mind for Wheeler?
“Uh, not really. Honestly, uh no,” was the Jets captain’s response. And he didn’t have much of an appetite for expanding on his personal achievement of collecting points in six of the seven most recent season openers either.
All he wanted to know was what the team’s combined record in those seven games was. And when told it was 5-2, Wheeler said, “I like that then. That’s my answer.”
So scratch the idea of taking a walk down memory lane with the man who has played 737 of his 981 NHL career games in a Winnipeg uniform.
Not that it came as any surprise Blake Wheeler would steer clear of that conversation. Warm and fuzzy is simply not the mantra of the 35-year-old Minnesotan who was Arizona’s fourth overall pick in the 2004 NHL entry draft.
Ironically, he never played a single game for the franchise that began in Winnipeg before relocating to the desert prior to the 1996-97 season.
But just because Blake Wheeler would prefer to look forward to Wednesday night in Anaheim as opposed to looking back to the past decade, that doesn’t mean we can’t.
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Season Opener 1 – Oct. 9, 2011: Montreal 5 at Winnipeg 1
The buildup to this game was incredible, and many Manitobans will never forget it as the day the NHL officially returned to the city and province after a 16-year hiatus.
The visiting Canadiens took a 2-0 lead after 40 minutes. But Nik Antropov gave Winnipeg some life when he scored the first-ever Jets 2.0 goal just 2:27 into the third period to cut the deficit in half.
But Yannick Weber took the air out of the home team’s sails with a powerplay goal just under two-and-a-half minutes later. The end result, however, did not stop fans from celebrating throughout the downtown area well after the final whistle.
Season Opener 2 – Jan. 19, 2013: Ottawa 4 at Winnipeg 1
The 2012-13 campaign finally got going following a labour stoppage that delayed an on-time start to the season for the third time in 18 years.
The Jets were able to get off to a much better start in this game, with Dustin Byfuglien scoring just six minutes into the game.
But it was all Senators after that as Winnipeg couldn’t get anything going offensively after falling behind 2-1 late in the 2nd period.
Season Opener 3 – Oct. 1, 2013: Winnipeg 5 at Edmonton 4
For the third time in their brief existence, the Jets opened the season against a Canadian-based opponent. But this time on the road, and with a positive result, as Michael Frolik started a comeback from a 4-2 deficit with a late second period goal.
After Jacob Trouba tied the game just past the midway mark of the third for a memorable NHL debut, Frolik scored the game-winner with 5:02 to play.
Season Opener 4 – Oct. 9, 2014: Winnipeg 6 at Arizona 2
For the first time in the Winnipeg portion of their franchise history, the Jets 2.0 played an American opponent on opening night. To make it even more special, it was against the team formerly known as the Winnipeg Jets 1.0.
Blake Wheeler scored goals just 15 seconds apart approaching the midway point of the first period. Bryan Little also had a two-goal night as the Jets improved to 2-0 in season openers on the road.
Season Opener 5 – Oct. 8, 2015: Winnipeg 6 at Boston 2
After falling behind 1-0 early, the Jets rattled off three unanswered goals in the second period, then added three more in the third period when the Bruins cut the lead to 3-2.
Drew Stafford and Alex Burmistrov each had a goal and an assist as the Jets 2.0 won in Boston for the very first time after going 0-3-2 in their first five visits to TD Garden.
Season Opener 6 – Oct. 13, 2016: Winnipeg 5 vs Carolina 4 OT
After beginning the previous three seasons with road victories, the Jets opened at home in year six. Through the first 45 minutes, it appeared as though Winnipeg would go 0-3 as Carolina reeled off four unanswered goals after Shawn Matthias had given the Jets an early 1-0 lead.
But cue the comeback as Blake Wheeler scored shorthanded just nine seconds after the Hurricanes went up 4-1. The captain also helped set up the tying and winning goals by Mathieu Perreault and Mark Scheifele as the Jets won their fourth consecutive season opener.
Season Opener 7 – Oct. 4, 2017: Toronto 7 at Winnipeg 2
Alas, all good things must come to an end. Or did they?
The Maple Leafs became the third different Canada-based team to win a season opener in downtown Winnipeg. Patrick Marleau scored back-to-back goals in his Toronto debut to give the Leafs a commanding 5-0 lead in what — to date — was the Jets’ most lopsided loss in a season opener.
Season Opener 8 – Oct. 4, 2018: Winnipeg 5 at St. Louis 1
Back on the road, and back in the win column again for the Jets who played a division rival on opening night for the first time ever.
Blake Wheeler had another multi-point performance with a goal and assist. But the game’s first star, Connor Hellebuyck, was the story of this night by stopping 41 shots and losing his bid for a shutout when the Blues Vince Dunn scored with just under six minutes to play.
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Season Opener 9 – Oct. 3, 2019: NY Rangers 6 vs Winnipeg 4
The Jets’ perfect 4-0 record in season openers on the road came to a halt as the Rangers overcame a 4-3 deficit in the third period when Oakbank’s Brett Howden scored the game-winner with just over four minutes to play.
This time, it was the opposition’s netminder putting on a show as “King” Henrik Lundquist turned in a 43-save effort. Blake Wheeler led Winnipeg with a pair of goals for his fourth multiple-point game on opening night in a Jets jersey.
Season Opener 10 – Jan. 14, 2021: Winnipeg 4 vs Calgary 3 OT
In addition to playing in the unique circumstances of an empty building as a result of the pandemic, this game also marked Patrik Laine’s final game as a Winnipeg Jet.
The talented Finn gave his legions of fans something to remember by scoring his second goal of the night in overtime. Nine days later he, and Jack Roslovic were traded to Columbus for Pierre-Luc Dubois and a 2022 third round draft pick.
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