Their heart will go on: How Celine's signature ballad became the Jets' victory anthem - Canadanewsmedia
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Their heart will go on: How Celine's signature ballad became the Jets' victory anthem

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LAS VEGAS — It might just be the most absurd victory song in all sports. And for the Winnipeg Jets, the bizarre idea for what has become their memorable rallying cry was born here in Sin City.

We take you back to last November, when this young squad was still struggling to find its way. They’d opened the season with a pair of painful back-to-back losses, which had some fans already reaching for the panic button.

And while they were able to right the ship fairly quickly, it wasn’t until after they touched down in Vegas that the Jets really got airborne.

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LAS VEGAS — It might just be the most absurd victory song in all sports. And for the Winnipeg Jets, the bizarre idea for what has become their memorable rallying cry was born here in Sin City.

We take you back to last November, when this young squad was still struggling to find its way. They’d opened the season with a pair of painful back-to-back losses, which had some fans already reaching for the panic button.

And while they were able to right the ship fairly quickly, it wasn’t until after they touched down in Vegas that the Jets really got airborne.

They had kicked off that particular three-game road trip with impressive 4-1 victory in Dallas, then flew to Vegas immediately after, where they enjoyed three full days between game action. On one of their off-nights, most of the team headed for the Omnia Nightclub in Caesars Palace. Some of the most popular DJs in the world were playing a benefit concert following the October mass shooting tragedy.

In between the thumping bass and pounding beats, Canadian songstress Celine Dion made a surprise appearance. And she belted out My Heart Will Go On, her famous ballad.

The Jets got thumped a couple nights later at T-Mobile as Vegas skated circles around them in a 5-2 win. But the following night, Winnipeg responded with an impressive 4-1 bounce-back victory in Arizona.

And veteran forward Mathieu Perreault decided to change things up with the post-game music playlist.

The Las Vegas Strip.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Las Vegas Strip.

“I thought I’d put it on after the game because we won the game, to make the guys laugh. And it just kind of stuck around with us,” Perreault told the Free Press Wednesday morning as his Jets prepared to take on the Golden Knights in Game 3 of the Western Conference final.

Winnipeg immediately went on a four-game winning streak, and a 9-2-1 run overall, which included a 7-4 victory on home ice over Vegas at Bell MTS Place. Being the superstitious sort and not wanting to mess with success, the players made Dion’s music a regular part of dressing room protocol.

The Omnia nightclub in Las Vegas, where several Jets players saw Celine Dion make a surprise appearance during a benefit concert.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

The Omnia nightclub in Las Vegas, where several Jets players saw Celine Dion make a surprise appearance during a benefit concert.

“She’s an icon of music. Even if you’re not from Quebec everybody knows about her. No one was against it for sure,” said Perreault. “We’ve had success playing it, so now we’ve just been going with it.”

Defenceman Josh Morrissey said building a winning team isn’t just about throwing the 20 most talented players out against the other team hoping for the best. Chemistry, both on and off the ice, is important. And even the smallest things, such as a funny victory song, help build that up.

“I think it was kind of a fun thing in the dressing room. Something that, over the course of a season, obviously it’s a long year. There’s lots of little things you can rally behind and have fun with. And that was one of those moments for sure that was pretty funny, that some guys got a good laugh in,” Morrissey said Wednesday. “Those are some of those fun times you remember when you look back on the season, things like that that develop over time.”

Of course, it’s worth noting that My Heart Will Go On is most famously linked to the Titanic movie. And given how that ended, some might question the logic of a sports team tying their hopes to a song famously related to a sinking ship.

Celine Dion impersonator Steven Wayne performs at The LINQ in Las Vegas on Tuesday. The real Celine's ballad "My Heart Will Go On" has become the Winnipeg jets victory song.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Celine Dion impersonator Steven Wayne performs at The LINQ in Las Vegas on Tuesday. The real Celine’s ballad “My Heart Will Go On” has become the Winnipeg jets victory song.

“It’s different, but whatever works,” said Christian Rivard, a Winnipegger who is in Vegas this week to watch the Jets along with his three brothers and their father.

“It’s an interesting thing, for sure,” said Nicolas Rivard.

“Let’s just hope the Vegas Golden Knights are Leo at the end,” added Jeremie Rivard, referring to actor Leonardo DeCaprio, whose character drowns in the movie.

If it’s a bad omen, the Jets don’t seem worried. And as they continue to navigate the waters of the Stanley Cup playoffs, they no doubt hope for continued smooth sailing.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Read more by Mike McIntyre.

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Brandt Snedeker maintains lead through 36 holes at Wyndham Championship

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GREENSBORO, N.C. (AP) — Brandt Snedeker couldn’t block out the buzz that surrounded his first-round 11-under 59 at the Wyndham Championship. He refocused just in time to reclaim the lead.

Snedeker followed his historic opening score with a 67 on Friday to take a two-stroke lead into the weekend at the Wyndham Championship.

A day after becoming the 10th player in PGA Tour history to break 60, Snedeker moved to 14-under 126 halfway through the final PGA Tour event before the playoffs.

“You hear people telling you every two seconds, ‘Mr. 59,’ or saying how cool it was to watch it,” Snedeker said. “So, yes, totally on your mind.”

D.A. Points shot a 64 to reach 12 under — one stroke ahead of C.T. Pan, who also had a 64. David Hearn, Peter Malnati, Keith Mitchell, Harris English, Brett Stegmaier and Sergio Garcia were 9 under.

Snedeker, the 2012 FedEx Cup champion, won this tournament in 2007 before it moved across town to the par-70 Sedgefield Country Club. He had the tour’s first 59 of the year during the first round.

But it wasn’t easy to follow a score like that. Of the nine previous players who have broken 60 on the tour, six had to play the next day and only one has shot better than 65 in that round: Justin Thomas, who had a 64 in the second round of last year’s Sony Open.

“You can’t ignore it, you can’t try to forget about it,” Snedeker said. “Hardest thing is trying to get back into a rhythm. … Now I’m better equipped for the next time I shoot 59 and play the next day.”

By the time Snedeker teed off Friday afternoon, that low score had held up for a one-stroke lead. It temporarily slipped away when he had three bogeys on the front nine.

He reclaimed the lead late in his round with some nifty putting. He sank two putts longer than 30 feet, one for eagle on the par-5 15th and another for birdie on the par-4 16th, and wrapped up with the best two-round score at this tournament since Carl Pettersson’s 125 a decade ago.

“When I finally convinced myself to hit a few putts, they started going in,” Snedeker said. “Over 72 holes, you’re going to have stretches where balls don’t go in the hole, you’ve got to be able to kind of overcome, be patient, wait for the long ones to fall, and luckily I made a couple coming down the stretch.”

Snedeker followed his historic opening score with a 67 on Friday to take a two-stroke lead into the weekend at the Wyndham Championship.Snedeker followed his historic opening score with a 67 on Friday to take a two-stroke lead into the weekend at the Wyndham Championship.

Snedeker followed his historic opening score with a 67 on Friday to take a two-stroke lead into the weekend at the Wyndham Championship.

Points, who has made only one cut since January and failed to reach the weekend in 19 of his 24 tournaments this season, had a strong front nine with three birdies and an eagle on the par-5 fifth hole, where he sank a 40-foot putt. He has finished in the top 20 at this tournament twice since 2014, and after starting far off the bubble at No. 214 on the points list, could play his way into the playoffs this weekend.

“Basically, I know this is possibly my last event of the year, so I haven’t been grinding really hard,” Points said. “It seems to be paying off.”

Pan, a 26-year-old from Taiwan, had birdies on three of his final four holes to climb the leaderboard. He sank a 20-foot birdie putt on No. 17 and an 8-footer on the 18th to match the best round of his young career. He also shot 64s last year at the Travelers Championship and the RSM Classic.

“I love this course,” Pan said, adding that his “trajectory tends to be lower than compared to other guys, so I think I have an advantage here.”

Among the other highlights: Brian Gay had the day’s best round, a 63 tarnished only by a bogey on his final hole on which he missed a 4-foot par putt. And Mitchell opened with five consecutive birdies to briefly raise the possibility of a second sub-60 score in two days, before slipping back later in his round.

“It’s definitely a different feeling,” Mitchell said. “But it’s a feeling you try to get comfortable with because you want to be in that zone.”

A key subplot at Sedgefield every year is the push by bubble players to earn postseason spots. The top 125 players on the points list make the field for the Northern Trust in New Jersey, and everyone from No. 122 to No. 132 is playing this weekend.

Bill Haas, who at No. 150 is in danger of missing the playoffs for the first time, made the cut at 3 under. Garcia, at No. 131, also is trying to make it for the 12th straight year. Johnathan Byrd — who at No. 183 probably needs to win or finish alone in second place to earn enough points to qualify — remains in the mix at 8 under.

“It’s kind of an easy mentality in a sense,” Byrd said. “Just got to play amazing or go home, or go to the (Web.com Tour) finals.”

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Canada's RJ Barrett pours in 35 points in Duke's pre-season win over Toronto

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MISSISSAUGA, Ont. — Two games into his college career, Canada’s R.J. Barrett has stepped seamlessly into a starring role for the Duke Blue Devils.

The 18-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., was the Blue Devils’ top scorer for the second straight game, pouring in 35 points in a 96-60 pre-season rout of the University of Toronto on Friday.

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“It’s just being competitive. I think I am really good. I think I belong here. So just competing, really,” said Barrett, who shot 15-for-26 on the night and grabbed nine rebounds.

Zion Williamson added 24 points, as he and Barrett were a two-man wrecking crew for the second consecutive game, dazzling the crowd at the Paramount Fine Foods Centre in Barrett’s virtual backyard with a dizzying array of dunks — seemingly enough to fill a season’s worth of highlight reels.

“It’s just us playing. It’s really easy to play with (Williamson), and the rest of our teammates do a good job of helping us out, spacing the floor and we just make the right reads after that,” Barrett said.

Joey Baker, with 11 points, was the only other Blue Devil to score in double figures. Barrett and Williamson received a standing ovation when they left the game with just under four minutes to play.

Nikola Paradina led the Varsity Blues with 15 points.

“It was a great atmosphere, and for our players an opportunity to play on a big stage, so I think that’s exciting,” said U of T coach John Campbell.

“For us to get a chance to play in big venues and play against historical institutions, and one in this case that has such a tremendous recruiting class, there’s so much buzz about this team, for us to be involved on this stage is great.”

The game was the second of Duke’s three-game pre-season Canadian tour, and the first trip north of the border in the storied program’s history. The Blue Devils beat the back-to-back Canadian university silver medallists Ryerson Rams 86-67 on Wednesday, in Barrett’s much-anticipated college debut.

Barrett and Williamson combined for 63 points in Wednesday’s win, and over the two pre-season games have provided a tantalizing preview of the upcoming NCAA season.

Barrett and Williamson were ESPN’s No. 1 and 2-ranked freshmen. Duke also boasts No. 3-ranked Cam Reddish, who hasn’t played yet due to injury.

And while Barrett has been touted as the NBA’s No. 1 draft pick next spring, the six-foot-seven, 285-pound Williamson — who has a unique combination of bulk, splendid ball skills and athleticism — could give the Canadian a run for his money.

“I knew he was good but coaching him now, he’s a very special player, and R.J. is too,” said Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski.

Williamson, who was trending on Twitter during the game, brought the fans out of their seats when he drove to the hoop with an fierce hop, step and dunk in the third quarter.

“(I thought) ‘Alright, I’m up here, I might as well dunk it,” he said post-game in the locker-room.

Asked if he ever surprises himself, Williamson said: “Actually, eah, sometimes I do.”

Barrett followed it up with an alley-oop dunk of his own on Duke’s next possession.

Krzyzewski had kind words for Toronto and Mississauga, saying its been a “great trip.” The team’s Hall of Fame coach, with five NCAA titles to his name, noted a crowd of almost 10,000 is expected for Sunday’s game in Montreal where the Blue Devils face McGill in their final game of the tour.

The 71-year-old coach said the Canadian competition his team faced was “a little bit better” than he’d expected.

“We played two different teams, Ryerson is more athletic and plays more of a conventional, really good system. I think both teams are very well coached,” the coach said. “We played against two different systems, which is good for us.”

The arena — formerly the Hershey Centre, normally home to Raptors 905 — was filled to its 5,400-seat capacity for both games, and Friday’s crowd included Canadian sprinter and three-time Olympic medallist Andre De Grasse, Washington Capitals winger Devante Smith-Pelly, Las Vegas Golden Knights goalie Malcolm Subban and 10-time NBA all-star David Robinson, whose son Justin plays for Duke.

Just like Wednesday’s game, the arena was awash in Duke blue.

Back-to-back three-pointers by Barrett late in the first helped send Duke into the second quarter with a 23-14 lead.

The Varsity Blues closed the gap to 32-26, but Duke dominated the rest of the quarter to take a 43-28 advantage into the halftime break.

Duke exploded in the third, and led 70-44 with one quarter left to play.

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Snedeker follows 59 with 67, takes two-shot lead at Wyndham

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GREENSBORO, N.C. — Brandt Snedeker couldn’t block out the buzz that surrounded his first-round 11-under 59 at the Wyndham Championship. He refocussed just in time to reclaim the lead.

Snedeker followed his historic opening score with a 67 on Friday to take a two-stroke lead into the weekend at the Wyndham Championship.

A day after becoming the 10th player in PGA Tour history to break 60, Snedeker moved to 14-under 126 halfway through the final PGA Tour event before the playoffs.

“You hear people telling you every two seconds, ‘Mr. 59,’ or saying how cool it was to watch it,” Snedeker said. “So, yes, totally on your mind.”

D.A. Points shot a 64 to reach 12 under — one stroke ahead of C.T. Pan, who also had a 64. David Hearn (of Brantford, Ont.), Peter Malnati, Keith Mitchell, Harris English, Brett Stegmaier and Sergio Garcia were 9 under.

Snedeker, the 2012 FedEx Cup champion, won this tournament in 2007 before it moved across town to the par-70 Sedgefield Country Club. He had the tour’s first 59 of the year during the first round.

But it wasn’t easy to follow a score like that. Of the nine previous players who have broken 60 on the tour, six had to play the next day and only one has shot better than 65 in that round: Justin Thomas, who had a 64 in the second round of last year’s Sony Open.

“You can’t ignore it, you can’t try to forget about it,” Snedeker said. “Hardest thing is trying to get back into a rhythm. … Now I’m better equipped for the next time I shoot 59 and play the next day.”

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