Sorry Winnipeg, But One Game Does Not Make A Rivalry

Last night the Minnesota Wild played their first-ever game against the Winnipeg Jets at the MTS Centre. I didn't know what to expect from the Winnipeg team and the crowd coming into the game but despite the Wild losing 2-1 to snap their seven-game winning streak, it was one of the better games of the year from an entertainment standpoint.

For all the talk of how Minnesota holds onto the past with Jacques Lemaire hockey, both teams were aggressive and played like they had something to prove. Winnipeg had the better legs and opportunities but as has been the case with Mike Yeo's team, they battled back and played hard for sixty forty minutes.

And of course, there was physical play and a hit which changed the mood of the game.


From one repeat offender to another...or not. (Video courtesy of Felix Levasque)

(The Pierre-Marc Bouchard hit by Zach Bogosian has been well-covered by the Wild beat writers and blogosphere - FRB might toss in its own two cents later - but that's for another article)

All of that action on the ice made for an exciting game but what for me brought it over the top was the Winnipeg crowd. Although the MTS Centre only holds 15,004 - which is 1200 less than the nearest NHL arena and less than the Kohl Center in Madison - the building sounded like it had twice that. Fans were chanting like a European soccer match, booing the heck out Dany Heatley and cheering on the Jets like it was Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Finals.

It almost felt like a time warp and we were in the Xcel Energy Center for the first couple seasons of the Wild's existence. The Jets fans were so grateful to have NHL hockey back that the passion which came out was one of the best things I've heard in my years of hockey.

In fact, I'm a little jealous Wild fans have gotten away from that passion and energy about their team over the years. Who doesn't play in front of a crowd like the MTS Centre had every night? It pumps players up and gives exciting games like the one we saw last night.

However, there was one thing which bothered me about the Wild-Jets game. Every media outlet and pundit spent half the night discussing the supposed "rivalry" between the two teams. Now I expect this from Fox Sports North, even if they sounded more desperate than a teenager who just discovered women, because they have to sell the Minnesota Wild and well...it's just par for the course for FSN. Remember the great Minnesota-Colorado rivalry of last year?

I might be fine if it was just Dan Terhaar and Robby Incmikoski going overboard with the rivalry talk and asking loaded questions. But seeing the Star Tribune bring it up, sports radio weigh in on this like Jets-Wild has become the new Minnesota-North Dakota and others is way too much. Rivalries are not created in one game!

Now in fairness to those on board the Winnipeg rivalry train, it's easy to wish for one. The Wild have gone their entire existence without a main rival due to geographic isolation and a lack of history. That can be frustrating at times. With the Jets being a new team close to the State of Hockey in the same conference next year (although the old Minnesota team and old Winnipeg team never played in the same division nor shared a rivalry), the chance of the teams hating each other sounds sexy on paper.

But hockey is not played on paper.

While the two teams played a hard-fought game and there was a hit which might spark bad blood, these things have to happen organically. As much as the media wants to manufacture rivalries between teams, there's no substitute for the real, sustained thing. Remember the first game when the Dallas Stars came back to Minnesota?


Skip to 5:00 and enjoy Mike Goldberg

It was an insane atmosphere which blew last night out of the water and only made better by a 6-0 Wild victory. Now Dallas is almost just another opponent for Minnesota fans. The only difference is the diminishing number of North Stars jerseys which come out of the closet twice a year.

And that's just sad.

Fortunately with realignment next year, Minnesota fans will likely end up with a team who they hate. Maybe it will be Winnipeg but there are other great options including Dallas, the St. Louis Blues or even tonight's opponent (Chicago Blackhawks).

Regardless of who the fans end up anticipating facing the most, it's likely to come through playing those teams 6-8 games per year, incurring bad blood and divisional playoff series year-in and year-out. That's how the Wild had their two hot and cold (now cold despite what FSN says) rivalry with the Canucks and Ducks - the playoffs breed rivalries, not one regular season game.

So with all apologies to the Winnipeg Jets, their enthusiastic fans and the Minneapolis media, table the rivalry talk until there is a reason for it. As close and crazy as their fanbase is, one game does not make a rivalry.

2 comments:

  1. One game does not make a rivalry. Yes, it is true.

    Here's another truth --every rivarly starts with one game. Do you actually know one didn't start last night? No, of course not. Because you'd rightly point out that can only be determined in retrospect --looking backwards after the fact.

    That it can only be determined conclusively in that manner does not change the fact, however.

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  2. February 16 will be a little more telling, as that is when the two sides will rematch in St. Paul.

    But to me, it's visiting fans that make a rivalry. I expect a lot of Jets fans will come to St. Paul in February as the Wild are probably the only team in driving distance of Winnipeg.

    And I'm sure Jets fans will act in ways that give us plenty of reason to hate them.

    But that travelling fan aspect is what always felt forced about the Wild's "rivalries" in the Northwest division, there's no driving to any of those opponents, and while I respect the fans willing to fly to away games, there aren't many that do.

    Now Chicago, St. Louis and Winnipeg are all within a one-day drive from the Twin Cities, and there will be 3 road games at each of these cities most years, more chances for our fans to travel than in years past.

    With the smaller conferences, these games are going to mean more because all these teams will affect each other's playoff chances more directly.

    I think we'll see fans amped for the rematch in February, and I think it is a prequel to what we'll see next season.

    I think Chicago will end up being the biggest rival, but I think Winnipeg is going to be right in there as well.

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