The last time we played Edmonton in a final was in 1990. We were ahead 3-1 and looked like we would beat the curse that had dogged us since 1983 losing five times in playoff runs to the Oilers.
I was in my last year of high school when the curse began. Fast forward to spring of 1990, I was now graduated from university and watching highlights in Japan. You could have heard my howls across the Pacific when we lost the series 4-3.
- 1983: Oilers win Division Semi-Finals 3-0
- 1984: Oilers win Division Semi-Finals 3-0
- 1985: Oilers win Division Finals 4-0
- 1987: Oilers win Division Finals 4-0
- 1988: Oilers win Division Semi-Finals 4-1
- 1990: Oilers win Division Semi-Finals 4-3
In 2021, the curse finally ended and we beat a team with Connor McDavid, who some say is the next Wayne Gretzky. It took two overtimes and one triple overtime to do it, but Winnipeg swept the series.
We finished round 1 so early that we have no idea who we play next: Toronto or Montreal.
While Edmonton Oilers had such a dynasty in the 1980s, it seemed to emphasize just how everything and anything about Winnipeg was in a decline. The start of the decade saw such massive closures of businesses such as Canada Packers, Swift and the Tribune. North Portage was either burning down or shutting down. And Winnipeg Jets could have a great team that makes the playoffs only to collapse in the first round every time.
We watched as so many of our friends and neighbours moved to Alberta and checked their Jets and Bomber uniforms. Winnipeg dropped in population rankings to both Calgary then Edmonton, then Ottawa and it looked like we would drop below Hamilton and Quebec City.
The Weakerthans song One Great City (I Hate Winnipeg) harkened on the fact that “the Jets were lousy anyway” to emphasize how downtrodden we were. The same defeatist mood pervaded the population. In the 1990s, the exit of so many and the rise in arson, car theft and murder showed how precariously close we were to losing it all. And when Jets left in 1996, it felt like the last person would have to turn the lights off in the city. It took a while to convince fan that Manitoba Moose was fun and embracing it would lead back to getting a team in 2011.
Somehow we picked up the pieces. Businesses that had run for years kept working, people who looked to change things in government continued to do so, people in neighbourhoods still looked after them. And for hockey, we had people go back to basics with a downtown arena and a team not named the Jets.
It wasn’t easy, but the city with some strong building blocks climbed out of the hole and with a progressive immigration policy, diverse business community in various areas of economy, strong education push from areas ranging from Red River College to universities to private business schools training people for the job market, we have done it.
We did the other things like build the best local arts and sports scenes you can find nationally. Festivals and concerts here packed them in. World curling, junior hockey, women’s soccer and and Pan Am Games showed we could organize events and make them shine.
When Winnipeg Jets returned to Winnipeg from a city we did not expect to send us one, it took some polishing and a close run in 2018 that had the city peacefully and joyously celebrating in the streets. I was happily part of that renting equipment and working all day every other day to put it on.
And now, while COVID-19 continues to put us on our knees, the Winnipeg Jets come to sweep us away in four games.
We can’t see them in person. We can’t celebrate in great numbers on the streets, but we feel joy.
We don’t know how much longer we have in these odd playoffs but we’ll enjoy the ride as long as we can.
COVID-19 is hurting us. And it isn’t just the infections, but businesses closed and suffering, employees hobbled and worried and so many people bereaved with loss from those who have not made it, those who are waiting treatment for others things and losing the battle.
We are seeing amazing achievement and terrible indifference but the Jets are filling us with cheer.
For a long time Edmonton has had our number. This odd Canadian division in the NHL gave us a chance to say: Not this time. No more, no further. Not one win. For all those times before, 40 years of making us hate Winnipeg, believing in the curse.
And not just for hockey. For Winnipeg. Few things unite us. This is more sweet relief than bravado. Hope everyone can enjoy the moment and in weeks, it would be sure nice to celebrate some more.
This has been a editorial by John Dobbin.
To read more from John, visit his blog Observations, Reservations, Conversations