Hockey is filled with it’s traditions.
Every team either through time has created their own traditions, or it’s been something fan driven that’s created these traditions.
And these traditions usually take center stage come playoff time.
Even a team like the Winnipeg Jets, both in it’s original form, and the later relocated one, has one of the better known playoff traditions in the NHL.
The Whiteout is a Winnipeg institution. It’s one the fans, players and even television networks enjoy seeing as it can be visually stunning.
And like every tradition, it usually has a modest origin that grew into something much larger.
So here’s a overview of the history of both versions of the “Winnipeg Whiteout.”
The 2014/15 season was an up and down one for the Winnipeg Jets. Injuries had piled up for a team in it’s fourth season in Winnipeg. After getting some stellar goaltending from Michael Hutchinson and a rejuvenated Ondrej Pavlec, the Jets finished with 99 points, good for 5th in the Central Division, and managed to punch their ticket into the play-offs for only the 2nd time in franchise history. With that, the Jets were preparing for a first round match-up with the Anaheim Ducks, but the fans were preparing for the return of their own play-off tradition; the return of the “Winnipeg Whiteout.”
Nearly two decades of pent-up playoff excitement was unleashed inside the MTS Centre, which sounded more like an avalanche than a whiteout.
Tickets for the first playoff game in Winnipeg since 1996 sold out in five minutes, and the fans who had spent nearly two decades watching from the sidelines wanted to let the hockey world know they were back.
An entire generation had passed since the last time Winnipeg had experienced a Whiteout for an NHL play-off series. The tradition had been started in 1987 to combat the “Sea of Red” the Calgary Flames fans were doing in their first round match-up with the Jets 1.0. The fans back in Winnipeg created the Whiteout in turn and embraced it as part of the culture of the city itself. The Arizona Coyotes had taken the Whiteout with them to the desert, but it wasn’t near the same vibe. And the Manitoba Moose, who reached the Calder Cup finals, tried the Whiteout as well.
Part of the allure of the Whiteout is it’s completely holistic. It’s not the Jets handing out t-shirts or towels to the fans when they get to the arena, (like they do in other stadiums or arenas). We bring our own white shirts, sweaters or jerseys. We even had a small battle over what was considered an “appropriate” shade of white to wear. The only difference for the Jets themselves was the NHL mandated in the 2003/04 season home teams had to wear their dark uniforms, so the Jets were unable to wear white themselves. So how did the Whiteout even begin?
Back in 1985, Rod Palson was a partner and creative director at Palmer Jarvis Communications, the company that did advertising for the Winnipeg Jets.
“The Whiteout was absolutely unique, it just looked classy, it looked clean, it sparkles.- Rod Palson
At that point the Jets were up against the Calgary Flames in the first round of the NHL playoffs, and the team was looking for something to compete with Calgary’s “Sea of Red.”
One idea had fans wearing white, red and blue, the Jets colours, but Palson said that was too complicated.
Rod Palson was in marketing in 1985 and came up with the concept of the Winnipeg White Out. He says it was as simple as sending out a media release asking fans to wear a clean, white t-shirt, and it took off.
“Back in those days the whole concept of fans wearing jerseys wasn’t even heard of. I mean at that time, I don’t even think could go and buy those jerseys,” Palson said
He says it wasn’t as simple as going out to a store, picking up a jersey and wearing it.
Over the course of a lunch meeting, Palson hatched the idea.
“We need something that is simple, that has a very quick turn around because we had less than a week to make it all happen and you know, I just said, really, most people have an article of clothing that is white in colour at home, they don’t have to go out and buy anything, they should be able to participate simply by putting on a clean, white T-shirt and coming down to the rink, and low and behold, it stuck,” Palson said.
He says as he was driving to the arena that night he hoped his family wouldn’t be the only ones wearing white.
“As soon as we got out of the car in the parking lot I thought ‘oh man this is happening, this is really working,'” he said.
Jets fans embrace the White Out in many forms.
And Palson thinks it looked much better than the “Sea of Red” in Calgary, which at a distance, he said even now, looks like empty seats.
“It doesn’t make a statement like the Whiteout. I mean the Whiteout was absolutely unique, it just looked classy, it looked clean, it sparkles. It’s just a class statement and, you know, today, it looks even better than ever,” Palson said.
After so many years, Palson was in the stands with his son to watch the revival of the Whiteout, he said it’s something that can never be duplicated in any other city, even Phoenix.
Palson says the Whiteout isn’t something he started.
“If the community hadn’t have bought in all of those years ago we wouldn’t be talking about it today. And it’s happening because we have the best fans in hockey.
The chant of “TRUE NORTH” that reigned through the Canadian anthem was even louder than normal. Winnipeg was finally back in the NHL play-offs for the first time since bowing out to the Detroit Red Wings in 1996, both as a series and as a franchise in Winnipeg.
It was a challenging season for the Jets to make the dance. Several key injuries forced the team to move Dustin Byfuglien to forward for several games. Then on February 11/2015, the Jets pulled the trigger on perhaps one of the most lopsided trade so far this century by sending defenceman Zach Bogosian and forward Evander Kane, (as well as college goalie Jason Kasdorf), to the Buffalo Sabres for defenceman Tyler Myers and forward Drew Stafford. The Jets also received prospect forwards Joel Armia and Brendan Lemieux as well as a first round draft pick, ( C Jack Roslovic). Kane’s tenure with the Jets had been rather difficult at times, with his character and teamwork perpetually in question. Which eventually led to a locker room confrontation with Byfuglien in Vancouver that apparently sealed Kane’s fate with the Jets. On the other side of the trade, both Drew Stafford and Tyler Myers had their careers revived by the trade and were key contributors for Winnipeg to finish with 99 points, good for seventh place in the Western Conference. Which lead to a first round date with the Anaheim Ducks.
Down 2-0 in the series to the Ducks, the Jets pushed hard in the first play-off game in Winnipeg on Monday, May 20th/2015. In the end though, the Jets would lose in overtime and in the end, would get swept four games to none in the series. As much of a feel-good story this was for the hockey world, a home win just wasn’t in the cards this time.
For the Jets fans though, it was simply a taste of what is still to come. With the Jets 2.0 franchise firmly planted, a young core of players and a developing team slowly on the rise, the play-offs and future Whiteouts have become a regular occurrence with Winnipeg once again.