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Harper joins Jets fans at NHL home opener

Canada's Prime Minister Stephen Harper (L) watches the game between the Winnipeg Jets and Montreal Canadiens during the first period of their NHL hockey game in Winnipeg, Manitoba, October 9, 2011. The Winnipeg Jets are playing their first season game since the franchise left the city 15 years ago.

Fred Greenslade/Reuters/Fred Greenslade/Reuters

As the reborn Winnipeg Jets took to the ice Sunday in their season opener against the Montreal Canadians, their fans painted the city white and blue as they came out by the thousands, whether or not they had tickets to the game.

"How do I feel? Ecstatic, the Jets are back," said Jason Kendall as he stood outside with friends.

"I'm going to stand right here for quite a while. I'm not lucky enough to get a ticket but I'm right here, screaming and yelling."

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Many fans painted their faces, carried banners and wore both old and new Winnipeg Jets' hockey jerseys. They listened to music at a free stage at The Forks, a downtown gathering place at the junction of the Red and Assiniboine Rivers.

They packed downtown bars and restaurants around the MTS Centre.

Others, like Mr. Kendall, just stood outside the arena cheering when they felt like it. Some wore fancy dress. A complete wedding party timed their ceremony so they could make the game.

Winnipeg was hockey mad after 16 years out of the NHL, but in a good enough mood even to bury that hatchet when it came to league commissioner Gary Bettman, who many have blamed over the years for losing their team.

"One, we never doubted that there were great fans here and two, we were never pleased with the fact we were left with no choice that the club moved," Mr. Bettman said as he addressed reporters before the game

Mark Chipman, whose True North Entertainment and Sports owns the team, joked it was a typical Sunday, he started it by noshing with the prime minister.

Stephen Harper showed up for the game and unveiled one of the two commemorative coins the Royal Canadian Mint is producing to mark the Winnipeg Jets's return to the NHL.

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The mint is issuing a 50-cent piece and a pure silver $20 dollar coin. The 50 cent coin is produced at the mint in Winnipeg and will sell for $14.95. The $20 limited edition silver coin goes for $94.95.

There will be 15,000 produced, almost exactly the seating capacity of the MTS Centre where the Jets play.

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