Jets players, fans get up close and personal at team’s annual skills competition

Following a successful first half of the NHL schedule, the Winnipeg Jets had a chance to put their feet up – figuratively, at least – to enjoy some friendly team rivalry and up close and personal time with fans at Bell MTS Place.

Wednesday was the Jets’ skills competition, an annual event that pins one half of the team against the other – Team Blue vs. Team White – in a set of mini competitions, with the winner walking away with a trophy and bragging rights over their fellow teammates.

“It’s always fun, especially when there’s that many fans showing up and you see all the kids having fun – it’s always a special night,” Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers said afterwards. “We don’t get to see and talk and interact with our fans too much – and there was a big part of the fans that showed up today that we didn’t get to interact with but somehow we still did. Seeing all those people out there today, it’s special. They love us and we love them.”

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Following a successful first half of the NHL schedule, the Winnipeg Jets had a chance to put their feet up – figuratively, at least – to enjoy some friendly team rivalry and up close and personal time with fans at Bell MTS Place.

Wednesday was the Jets’ skills competition, an annual event that pins one half of the team against the other – Team Blue vs. Team White – in a set of mini competitions, with the winner walking away with a trophy and bragging rights over their fellow teammates.

Winnipeg Jets' Andrew Copp signs autographs for young fans that gathered at a section of the boards that had the glass removed so players and fans could get up-close-and-personal.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Winnipeg Jets’ Andrew Copp signs autographs for young fans that gathered at a section of the boards that had the glass removed so players and fans could get up-close-and-personal.

“It’s always fun, especially when there’s that many fans showing up and you see all the kids having fun – it’s always a special night,” Jets forward Nikolaj Ehlers said afterwards. “We don’t get to see and talk and interact with our fans too much – and there was a big part of the fans that showed up today that we didn’t get to interact with but somehow we still did. Seeing all those people out there today, it’s special. They love us and we love them.”

Many of the more than 11,000 fans in attendance were kids, some of which were front-and-centre to get autographs (the glass from the corners to the players bench was removed). Players kept the night going by doing interviews throughout, including a bit of trash talking.

Perhaps the greatest dig came when centre Andrew Copp, an American, took over the microphone to interview Patrik Laine and Sami Niku, two Finnish-born players, about Finland’s win over Canada in the quarter-finals of the World Junior Championship; needless to say, fans booed.

Nikolaj Ehlers speeds his way around the ice Wednesday to win the fastest-skater event to kick off the Jets annual skills competition, Wednesday.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Nikolaj Ehlers speeds his way around the ice Wednesday to win the fastest-skater event to kick off the Jets annual skills competition, Wednesday.

Ehlers helped lead Team White to a convincing 41-15 win over Team Blue, kicking off the event by winning the fastest skater competition. The speedy Dane admitted he felt robbed last year, when he was impeded with on the final corner and eventually clipped the net, making way for Brendan Lemieux to clinch the win.

He would get his vindication, re-writing his own record with a time of 13.25 seconds on the one-lap race, edging out Lemieux (13.56), Mason Appleton (13.66) and Jack Roslovic (13.69). Ehlers had won the competition the year prior with a mark of 13.45.

“I’m going out there to win and it feels pretty good,” he said.

Defenceman Jacob Trouba clocked the hardest shot, stepping into a puck that registered at a speed of 98 m.p.h. His victory didn’t come without controversy, though, as fellow defenceman Ben Chiarot had only his first two shots register (97.3; 97.9) and after three unsuccessful attempts for a third Trouba was deemed the winner.

An enthusiastic fans poses for a selfie with Patrik Laine Wednesday evening during a break in the action Wednesday.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

An enthusiastic fans poses for a selfie with Patrik Laine Wednesday evening during a break in the action Wednesday.

“I thought Benny was going to win and usually he’s up over 100 (m.p.h.). But he broke the radar again so I won,” Trouba said, before being asked if he felt the victory was tainted: “No, because he technically got five chances and I only got three.”

There was one moment that left fans gasping, when forward Nic Petan stepped in front of a Connor Hellebuyck shot during the skills relay. Seemingly unaware the relay hadn’t concluded, Petan skated across the ice as the Jets goalie, needing to shoot a puck from his crease to the other net to complete the event, caught him in the side of the head.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS - A young fan deep in the crowd waves his small Jets Sign as the players took part in a Skills Competition at Bell/MTS Place Wednesday. See story. - January 2, 2019.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS – A young fan deep in the crowd waves his small Jets Sign as the players took part in a Skills Competition at Bell/MTS Place Wednesday. See story. – January 2, 2019.

Petan looked to be OK, touching his ear at the same time he looked to be smiling. But shortly after he retreated to the dressing room and didn’t return. The Jets confirmed after that he was fine and could have finished but was held out for precautionary reasons.

The Jets, who improved to 25-12-2 following a 4-3 win over the Edmonton Oilers Monday and occupy first place in the Central Division, will practice today before travelling to Pittsburgh to take on the Penguins Friday night. Winnipeg is 0-1 against Pittsburgh this season, falling 4-3 at home on Nov. 27.

Proceeds from the Winnipeg Jets Skills Competition presented by Manitoba Hydro will benefit the Winnipeg Jets True North Foundation and the NHLPA Goals and Dreams Fund.


Winnipeg Jets forwards Blake Wheeler and Mark Scheifele have been selected to take part in the 2019 NHL all-star game in San Jose.

Jets captain Blake Wheeler was selected to the NHL All Star game along with line mate Mark Scheifele.

PHIL HOSSACK / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Jets captain Blake Wheeler was selected to the NHL All Star game along with line mate Mark Scheifele.

Wheeler, the Jets captain, leads Winnipeg in points, with 50, including 44 assists – the third-most among NHLers, behind Tampa Bay’s Nikita Kucherov (46) and Colorado’s Mikko Rantanen (45). Scheifele has just one fewer point than Wheeler and is two goals behind Patrik Laine for most goals by a Jet this year, with 22 in 39 games.

It will be Wheeler’s second all-star nod, after he and goalie Connor Hellebuyck represented Winnipeg in last year’s game in Nashville, and the first time for Scheifele. Both will represent the Central Division.

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

Read full biography