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The Minnesota state hockey tournament doesn’t hit the Xcel Energy Center for another month. But last night’s bi-partisan crowd that took in the Winnipeg Jets at Minnesota Wild game sure gave the game a bit of a neutral-ice kind of feel.

I was among the more than 19,000 that took in last night’s game. And it did not disappoint, even though neither team is enjoying a strong season.

Great atmosphere. Great food. And a great game, one that saw the Jets control the action for the first two periods before the Wild finally woke up in the third. Neither team could break a 3-3 tie in overtime, with the Jets nabbing a shootout victory.

Estimates this morning are that about 5,000 to 6,000 Jets fans were in attendance in St. Paul. The ones sitting and standing near where I was said that it was simply easier and cheaper for them to get tickets to the game in St. Paul. So they hopped into cars – many more hopped into buses – and made the trek to the Twin Cities.

You could count on one hand the number of Wild games I’ve attended. But for the diehards in attendance, it had to be a little strange when their “Let’s go Wild!” chants were answered with “Go Jets go!” Throughout the third period, it was pretty constant. “Let’s go Wild! Go Jets go! Let’s go Wild! …”

It all just left me wondering this: How did these two markets ever lose NHL teams? Of course, we all know the obvious reasons. Lack of new arenas. Lack of corporate support.

And it’s important to remember too that this is the Jets’ first season back in Winnipeg after 15 years without the NHL. The shine will wear off to some degree as time passes. But last night’s Jets fan base – like the Wild’s base – was intense.

The atmosphere left plenty of hope for the possible development of a rivalry between the two. And that showed on the ice too, where there were words exchanged and a third-period fight too. If and when realignment does happen, this should continue to be a fun series of games to attend in the future.