Note: This article was written during the darkest times of despair while watching the Jets flounder through a horrific seven-game losing streak. It speaks to the hope that all diehard fans hold on to; sometimes in spite of evidence to the contrary that “our team” is worth rooting for.
“History Repeats Itself”. Jets fans really hope that old saying does not come true.
I was in elementary school during the 1980-81 season and I was a Jets fanatic. I remember sneaking a radio into my bedroom, volume turned down low, barely audible. It was past my bedtime but I wanted to listen to the broadcast late at night for a game that was happening in the Mountain time zone.
The Jets ended up winning that game, 5-4 versus the Colorado Rockies. If you look back you’ll see that that was a very rare occasion. The Jets won NINE games in an eighty-game season in 1980-81. That win over the Rockies broke a 30-game winless streak; a record that stands to this day. During that span, they recorded seven ties (yes, ties were allowed back then) and twenty-three losses.
I was young, full of hope, and despite the fact that the Jets were hopeless losers, I had optimism. Cynicism wasn’t cool then. Apathy and angst hadn’t entered my vocabulary yet. I still supported our team. I still had outlandish hopes that they could turn it around. The NHL all-time record for longest unbeaten streak was set the year previous by the Flyers (35 games: 25 wins, 10 ties). Why couldn’t the Jets do that too and make the playoffs?
The reality was that the Flyers had future Hall of Famers Bobby Clarke, Reggie Leach, Bill Barber and young gun Brian Propp running their offence and a crazy run of play by Pete Peeters. The Jets had Dave Christian, Morris Lukowich, Normand Dupont, and Willy Lindstrom. A likeable bunch but the drop-off was sharp after that.
Flashforward to 2021. We know the current crop of Jets is better than this right? No way they’d lose 12 in a row? Right? RIGHT? Forty-one years later, unfortunately, cynicism, apathy and angst have entered my life. But I can stave them off temporarily when thinking about the Winnipeg Jets in 2021.
The two teams don’t compare. The 1980-81 team was decimated by the entry-draft rules of the day. It was an expansion team, a mere shadow of its Avco Cup championship team. They had some holdovers who were too old, too slow or too small for the bigger, faster, stronger NHL, and they had some young guys who weren’t quite ready.
The 2021 version of the Jets has been hindered by recent injuries to key performers (Copp, Ehlers), and an inability to plug a few obvious roster holes (a couple big, physical, puck-moving defensemen). But as a whole, the roster looks ready. When fully healthy, this roster boasts a lot of people at key positions at the prime of their careers.
Before Scheifele’s current “malaise” (a term used by Paul Maurice to obscure an injury report about a player) he was among the elite NHL Forwards. There were talks of his inclusion on “Team Canada” for the upcoming Olympics. He had a long eleven-game point streak. Nik Ehlers garnered a lot of attention and praise. We were seeing the blossoming of a superstar right before our very eyes. Andrew Copp was having a career season offensively and still being responsible on the defensive side of the ice. Neil Pionk continued to impress with his slick passes, heady play and exceptional skating ability. His agility and offensive savvy are reminiscent of Phil Housely, another diminutive defenseman who was a joy to watch. And, of course, Connor Hellebuyck was having another Vezina-type season before it all came crashing down.
In 1980-81 there was nothing there to draw hope from. Yet I had it still. I was still excited about NHL hockey in my hometown. I saw glimmers of hope in a young Dave Babych, a classy Willy Lindstrom, and a great two-way centre in Dave Christian. The hope would truly arrive a year later when the Jets drafted Dale Hawerchuk first overall. In 2021, there is still reason to hope. The core is still there. The depth is still there. The goalie is still there. It’s ALL malfunctioning right now – but the parts still seem recognizable. Don’t give up yet. They’re still in there somewhere… C’mon guys! Go Jets Go!