ST. JOHN'S, N.L. — For one night only, there was NHL hockey on "The Rock." And the fans genuinely appreciated every second of it.
When the final horn sounded Monday night, the Winnipeg Jets had earned a 3-1 victory against the Ottawa Senators at Mile One Centre in what was a tremendous conclusion to the 2011 Kraft Hockeyville festivities.
While the Jets won the game, the people of Conception Bay South, St. John's and other nearby communities in Newfoundland were the biggest winners. They proved once and for all how much they truly love this great sport.
"The crowd was really good," Jets coach Claude Noel said. "We felt welcomed. It was hard to say who they were cheering for, but it was all good. I thought it was very well-run and very professional. I think everything went real smoothly."
Noel's counterpart Monday agreed.
"I think it's awesome," Senators coach Paul MacLean said. "I enjoyed every minute of it. I'd like the result to be better, but it's a tremendous privilege to be in this league and if you have an opportunity to give something back to a small community, I think it's great. I think it's a great thing that Kraft does and it's a great thing the National Hockey League does. It's what makes us good."
It was special, indeed. Ottawa forward Colin Greening, a St. John's native, was in the starting lineup and had the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to play an NHL game in his hometown. Cody Porter, a 13-year-old youth hockey player from Conception Bay South who had a growth on his heart last month and flatlined twice on his way to the hospital, received a standing ovation as he walked out to centre ice to drop the puck during an emotional pre-game ceremony. Fans clapped in unison to the music that blared through the speakers during play stoppages.
For the people of Newfoundland, this was no pre-season game. This was their Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final, and they treated it as such.
"I'd like to get a win, but it was still a great experience," Greening said. "I don't think there are other Newfoundlanders who can say they were able to play a game at home. It was very special to me. It was a lot of fun. I love the Newfoundland music. You never hear that in other arenas. It was nice to hear that."
Mark Scheifele broke a scoreless tie for the Jets at 1:19 of the second period. Senators goalie Alex Auld, who had denied all 16 shots he faced in the opening period, made a stop on an initial shot by Tim Stapleton, but Scheifele — Winnipeg's first-round draft pick (seventh overall) in June — was on the doorstep and backhanded the rebound home as the Jets grabbed a 1-0 lead. Scheifele also had a pair of goals in last Tuesday's 6-1 win against Columbus.
Troy Bodie put the Jets up by a pair with 3:36 remaining in the second period. With the teams at even strength, Bodie, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound winger, drove to the net and one-timed a nice feed from Patrice Cormier to make it 2-0.
"I felt like I had a game's worth (of shots) in 40 minutes," said Auld, who stopped 26-of -8 shots before cramping forced him to leave the game after the second period. "A lot of action, but it was good."
Mika Zibanejad, who was drafted by Ottawa immediately before Scheifele went to Winnipeg, cut the deficit in half with 14:15 left in the third as he took a pass from Sens captain Daniel Alfredsson and made a nifty move on Ondrej Pavelec before softly placing the puck past the Jets' goaltender to make it 2-1. But the Sens couldn't find the equalizer and Ben Maxwell restored Winnipeg's two-goal lead when he beat Mike McKenna with a wrister at 13:37.
"It was great to come here," Pavelec said. "There was a lot of kids in the stands, and they don't have many chances to see an NHL game. It was great that the NHL came to them and they could see the hockey game. A lot of kids play hockey here, so I think it was great for them. We had fun."
Everybody did, as Kraft Hockeyville — a competition that seems to grow by leaps and bounds every year — has evolved into a tremendous annual event.
"It's enjoyable for us," Sens forward Chris Neil said. "The fans come in here and they don't get to see us too often. How they respond to us … it's sold out for a pre-game skate. That just shows the intensity of the crowd. I applaud them."