‘They’re excited about the game’: Jets getting youth involved in hockey as part of first NextGen Game

The Winnipeg Jets are hoping to ignite the next generation of Jets and hockey fans this weekend.

The Jets are preparing to host their first ever NextGen Game on Sunday when the team hosts the Arizona Coyotes.

As part of the game, eight kids — all of who won a contest put on by the Jets — will be partnered with pros in a handful of roles like PA announcer, in-game host, TV analyst, JetsTV analyst, and organ player.

Kyle Balharry, senior director of True North Sports and Entertainment and the Winnipeg Jets, said the concept is all about getting kids involved in hockey and the community.

“That’s what we’re all about here. We’re trying to spark community and spark togetherness,” said Balharry. “The game needs to grow, and Jets fans need to grow. We’re all getting older but there’s a new generation and they’re excited, and they’re excited about the game.”

He added other NHL markets hosted events like this with a lot of success. He hopes that will be the case in Winnipeg, as well.

The kids were at Canada Life Centre Thursday afternoon getting a tour of the building and learning about their new roles.

Balharry said it was great to see smiles on the kids’ faces and the excitement to be around the team.

“It’s a joy to see that type of passion with the youth. For all of us that have worked really hard for a long time and are passionate about what we do here, it’s exciting to see other people be passionate about that role,” he said.

TSN Analyst Sara Orlesky will be partnered with nine-year-old Izumi Fujiwara on Sunday. Orlesky watched the video that Fujiwara submitted for the contest, and said she was really impressed.

“She speaks three languages, so that alone impressed me. But she talked about how she is a huge Jets fan. Her and her dad in particular – they collect a lot of Jets memorabilia, and she loves watching them,” said Orlesky. “I love to see the passion that Jets fans have, especially when you see the next generation of fans and especially young girls that can be able to feel like they have this connection with the team, with the sport. And I love to be able to encourage young women to be able to get involved in the sports industry,” she said.

Orlesky said Fujiwara will be part of the pre-game show, and the nine-year-old will also get to interview one of the Jets’ players.

Fujiwara said when she is older, she wants to be a broadcaster like Orlesky.

“I was really excited to meet her,” said Fujiwara.

“I think it’s really great. I don’t think a lot of people get to do this, so it’s nice.”

She said it’s awesome to show girls enjoying hockey and being involved with the sport, which was another reason she was so happy to be partnered with Orlesky.

When asked what she is looking forward to most, she said, “just hanging out with Sara as much as I can and having the best time.”

Sunday’s game against Arizona will get underway at 6 p.m.

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