It’s been more than 20 years since Jennifer Hanson sang the national anthem at a Winnipeg Jets game.
That will soon change.
Hanson, born and raised in Flin Flon, will take to the ice on Saturday to sing O Canada at the Heritage Classic Alumni Game between retired members of the Winnipeg Jets and Edmonton Oilers.
Past legends for both teams, including Wayne Gretzky, Mark Messier, Teemu Selanne and Dale Hawerchuk, will suit up for the game, to be held outdoors at Winnipeg’s Investors Group Field. A capacity crowd of 33,500 is expected.
Hanson was first asked by the Jets to sing at the game in April, but was only confirmed recently.
“I was certainly glad that they asked me,” she said from her home in Georgia. “I spent a lot of time with those (Jets) teams.”
Hanson was the anthem singer and arena soloist for the last seven years of the original Winnipeg Jets franchise, before they moved to Phoenix in 1996.
She sang at the last regular season game in the history of the original Jets, the friendly confines of the Winnipeg Arena filled with white-clad fans.
“I think it’s just the fact that they know me from the days of having sung with the Jets, and it was a natural fit,” said Hanson. “Somebody who had been there for all those years, singing for those specific guys.”
During the time Hanson sang the anthems, she worked in Winnipeg as a singer at the famed Marble Club on Rorie Street downtown. Many players, both with the Jets and with opposing teams, would make the trip down Portage Avenue to the club after games.
“They came to the bars my band was playing in,” said Hanson. “They knew that I was the singer, they recognized me and I became friends with them. The nice thing about hockey, and I’m sure it’s true about other sports, is that these guys are friends. It doesn’t matter that they play on different teams. I don’t know what it’s like now, but back in those days, the late ’80s to early ’90s, everybody could show up at a bar and nobody was getting into fights. It wasn’t that sort of thing.”
Hanson met many prominent figures while singing at the club, and can count several friends on the rosters of both teams playing this weekend.
In addition to performing in Winnipeg, she and her band often travelled west to Edmonton to perform, allowing her to meet several Oilers players.
“I’m looking forward to seeing the guys who were actually my friends, Teemu Selanne and [Kris] King. I hope I get a chance to,” Hanson said. “I never dated hockey players. I’m from Flin Flon. I know better.”
While back in Manitoba, Hanson will meet her sisters and friends in Winnipeg. She will not head back to Flin Flon during her trip, but will be returning to her hometown to perform in December.
“I’m glad that (the Jets) thought of me,” she said. “I appreciate it, but I’m equally or more thrilled to be coming back to Flin Flon to sing at the Christmas concert.”
Hanson and her family will be moving from Georgia back to Winnipeg this summer. “I’m really ready to be getting out of here,” said Hanson. “It’s time for me to go, time for me to get back to my people.”
Hanson is not the only talent with roots in northern Manitoba performing during the alumni game. Lynn Lake-born Tom Cochrane will also perform during the evening. Hanson will not sing the anthem before the Heritage Classic regular season game between the Oilers and the Jets on
Oct. 23. For that game, Canadian country artists Doc Walker and Brent Kissel will sing the anthem.
“I hope to get a chance to maybe see the other game, too,” said Hanson. “I don’t know if I’ve got tickets or not, I might have to worm my way in there.”
With Investors Group Field able to seat than twice as many fans as the old Winnipeg Arena, Hanson is slightly nervous but confident in her abilities heading into her Saturday gig.
“It’s nerve-wracking as hell to sing in front of that many people,” she said. “You have to have a lot of confidence to get up and do that kind of thing, but I know what I’m good at and what I’m not good at. I’m not good at selling myself, but I am good at going up in front of 20,000 people and yelling at them.”