WINNIPEG – Mark Scheifele couldn’t even dream his debut with the Winnipeg Jets would be this good.
The Winnipeg Jets’ first-round pick in this year’s NHL draft (seventh overall) had a pair of goals and added two assists as the re-born Jets defeated the Columbus Blue Jackets 6-1 in their first home game Tuesday.
“I actually did have a dream about it,” said the 18-year-old native of Kitchener, Ont.
“It wasn’t getting four points, it was getting one nice goal. But I imagined the fans and they were that and more.”
Paul Postma also notched a goal and three assists in the split-squad game before a jubilant sellout crowd of 15,004 at MTS Centre.
It was a moment local hockey fans had been waiting to celebrate for 15 years.
The Jets left Winnipeg after the 1995-96 season to become the Phoenix Coyotes, leaving fans to adopt the American Hockey League Manitoba Moose that fall.
When the announcement came last May that Moose owner True North Sports and Entertainment had purchased the Atlanta Thrashers and was moving them to the Manitoba capital, it sent the city into a frenzy of anticipation.
Jets captain Andrew Ladd, Kevin Clark and Ivan Telegin also scored. Columbus got its lone goal from Ryan Johansen.
The Blue Jackets took the other Tuesday game in Columbus, Ohio 5-1, with Evander Kane scoring the Winnipeg’s only goal.
As players left the Winnipeg ice, they raised their sticks to the screaming crowd.
Fans had been chanting “Go Jets Go” before the puck even dropped.
And when they did step on the ice, they were greeted by a standing ovation and loud singing of the Canadian national anthem.
Ladd even likened the atmosphere to a Stanley Cup final game.
“I was fortunate to be on the ice (during the anthem) and have the opportunity to be out there,” Ladd said.
“It was pretty special to see the reaction of the crowd and then how loud they got. It reminded me of Edmonton when (I) played (with) Carolina in the Stanley Cup finals there.
“That’s how loud it kind of got so that’s exciting. It’s going to be a tough place for teams to come in and play and then that’s a good thing for us.”
Ladd also sent kudos to teammate Dustin Byfuglien, who got the crowd roaring when he tangled in the game’s first fight with Cody Bass 37 seconds into the first period.
Byfuglien and forward Nik Antropov had a pair of assists.
Byfuglien, who’s facing four charges in Minnesota related to impaired boating, led all NHL blue-liners in goals last season with 20 and added 33 assists.
He was asked about the charges after the game, but declined to say anything.
Instead, he was happy to please the fans.
“I thought it was a good start, a good way to start the season and get the fans going with us,” he said.
Winnipeg head coach Claude Noel said Scheifele looked like the best player on the ice and the atmosphere was great.
“Between Byfuglien and the fans, it was like a Stanley Cup final,” Noel said.
Columbus head coach Scott Arniel, a forward who played five seasons for the Jets between 1981 to 1991, had to smile about the crowd despite the loss.
“I think there was probably 15 years of pent-up frustration and excitement coming out of all the fans tonight.
“It was very loud. It was good to see. I wished it had been a little tighter game, but in saying that, I imagine everybody’s heading home feeling good about that first game.”
Winnipeg started Ondrej Pavelec in net and switched to David Aebischer to start the third period. Curtis Sanford played the full game for Columbus.
Earlier in Columbus, Maksim Mayorov had a goal and an assist in the Jackets’ win over Winnipeg. Nick Holden, Boone Jenne, Antoine Vermette and Samuel Pahlsson also scored for Columbus.
Kane’s goal in that game was the first for the new Jets.
“It’s the first goal, even though it’s pre-season,” Kane said. “It’s nice to get on the board.”