By Kelly Geraldine Malone, The Canadian Press
Eric Meadow drives around his neighbourhood with a giant logo on his car — a blue and white circle with a jet and a maple leaf — signalling to other hockey fans where his allegiance is.
On a street in Manitoba he’d get cheers and people hollering “True North,” but in his Connecticut neighbourhood he gets a lot of strange looks.
“It’s a little weird,” Meadow said with a laugh in an interview with The Canadian Press from Cromwell, Conn.
While the Whiteout street party grows in Winnipeg with the excitement of each playoff game, Jets fans around the world aren’t letting geography get in the way of supporting their team on the road to the Stanley Cup.
The American superfan joined the bandwagon when he lived in Atlanta and the Winnipeg Jets were still the Atlanta Thrashers. The team moved north in 2011 and so did Meadow’s fandom.
“For those of us down here who have stuck with it, it’s such a gift to be a part of this community,” Meadow said.
There may only be a handful of Jets fans in his vicinity, but they take the team and their support seriously.
As the Jets battle it out with the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final, game day for Meadow and his friends means a unique twist on a whiteout party with special desserts such as vanilla ice cream and white chocolate. And, of course, everyone puts on their Jets jerseys.
He said Jets fever is spreading as more people join to watch the games.
“They are just like, ‘Where was this team before?’ and kind of watching the boys come together is real fun.”
In Vancouver, the Coppertank pub has seen an increasing stream of thirsty fans filling the bar in white jerseys, and owner Ben Wyllie said the bar is now experiencing its own whiteout.
The new Jets fans may not all be from Manitoba, but Wyllie said they are certainly friendly.
“Nobody leaves without paying. Nobody gets mad. Nothing is broken,” he said. “Just superfriendly people that have an amazing ability to drink a lot of beer.”
Across the country at Motel Bar in Toronto, owner Daniel Greaves is excited to see his establishment turn into a makeshift Manitoba. His band The Watchmen rose to fame first in his hometown of Winnipeg then across the country in the ’90s, just as the Winnipeg Jets were leaving the city.
He recalls the sadness when the team left in 1996 and the excitement when they returned in 2011, even though by that time he was calling Toronto home. That same year, he opened up the neighbourhood bar on Queen Street with music in mind, but he bought a television just so he could watch the Jets games while behind the bar.
Soon Winnipeggers, and Jets fans from all over started to stream in and Motel Bar became an unofficial meeting point for fans. Before Saturday’s game, Greaves had a large lineup waiting outside the bar.
“It’s pretty spectacular. I haven’t even seen most of these games because it’s so busy I can hardly even catch the replays,” he said.
It’s meaningful to see how the fandom has “taken on a life of its own,” Greaves added.
“I know most of my clients by name and now, with all the Jets fans, I know a lot of new people by name too,” he said. “I know that if there’s a big game I’m going to see all their faces.”