This weekend the Nashville Predators will make a quick trip to Winnipeg as part of a difficult back-to-back. On Saturday they will play in Montreal, and then fly cross-country to Winnipeg for a game on Sunday. Their three-game trip will conclude Tuesday in Minnesota.
Even though they won’t even be in Winnipeg for 24 hours, Sunday will be a homecoming of sorts for two members of the Predators: Head Coach Barry Trotz and forward Colin Wilson. The trip back home has Wilson excited to be playing his first regular season game in Winnipeg in front of family and friends.
“When I play in my hometown it’s really the only time I get nervous [playing hockey],” Wilson said this week. “It was the same way when I played the Manitoba Moose (as a member of the Milwaukee Admirals), so it will be good.”
Wilson was born in Greenwich, Conn., but considers Winnipeg his hometown. He moved there when he was three years old and stayed until he departed for the U.S. National Team Development Program when was 15. Wilson’s parents still live there and he splits time between there, Boston and Nashville during his off-seasons. He expects to be purchasing about 15 tickets for friends to attend Sunday’s game, but many more are expected to be in attendance.
“My family is pretty well hooked up in Winnipeg,” he said. “We know of some people, so I’m trying to get tickets through them to save a little bit of money.”
When Wilson was six years old he attended the final Jets home game before they moved to Phoenix. It was Game 6 of the 1996 Western Conference Quarterfinals and the Jets lost to Detroit, 4-1, and fell in the series in six games. Wilson remembers everything about that game.
“I remember them going around the ice giving their farewell. A couple people jumped on the ice and all of a sudden the entire ice filled up with people. It was a pretty neat experience,” he said. “Hockey is everything in Winnipeg. Even without the Jets, all everyone talked about was hockey and how badly they wanted the Jets back.”
Sunday will also be Trotz’s first official game as a head coach in Winnipeg. A native of Dauphin, Manitoba, located less than four hours away from Winnipeg, Trotz will not have any family at Sunday’s game. With it being a quick in and out this time around, Trotz will have more time to spend with family and relatives on future trips. Due to the two teams being in the same division thanks to realignment, the Predators will make two more trips to Winnipeg this season.
Trotz is proud to call the Jets a Central Division rival and is anticipating a raucous crowd on Sunday night.
“It’s a really hard building to play in,” he said. “It’s really noisy, it’s a small building, the people are on top of you and they are very passionate about the Jets. They have a lot of [Section] 303 type attitude where they are very creative and tend to try to get under the opponent’s skin. It will be fun.”
There are a handful of connections between the Predators and Jets. First of all, Jets Head Coach Claude Noel used to be the bench boss in Milwaukee before moving up to the NHL ranks. He is great friends with both Trotz and Predators Assistant Coach Lane Lambert.
The two teams are also similarly built. Both small-market franchises, the Predators and Jets (previously the Atlanta Thrashers) have relied on the draft to accumulate talent over the years. Similar to the Preds, the Jets have an offense-by-committee approach with a dynamic blue line to support them. They both also have fan bases that love their team.
“It will be cool because I think Winnipeg has embraced the Jets back. They let them go the first time but a big piece of the city went when they left,” Trotz said. “Now they’re back and they’re having a lot of fun with it.”