A reason to come together: Family from India discovers passion for hockey during Winnipeg Jets playoff run

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A reason to come together: Family from India discovers passion for hockey during Winnipeg Jets playoff run

With his family decked out in Winnipeg Jets gear and gathered around the TV to watch the game, you'd never know Sijo Joseph watched his first Winnipeg Jets game just a little over a month ago.

"I'd never seen a game before but people always talk about it. When you go to work or when you go to shopping malls, or wherever you are, everybody wants to talk about the Jets game," said Joseph.

He came to Winnipeg from India 12 years ago and now calls the city home. He had never experienced an icy winter before then, and didn't know much about hockey.

With the city abuzz over the NHL playoffs, Joseph started watching the Jets when they took on the Minnesota Wild in the first playoff round in April — a series the Jets won in five games.

"From there on, I always follow it," he said.

The Jets are now facing the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final, after knocking out the Nashville Predators in the second round.

'It's that spirit'

His wife and two sons, ages six and three, now have their own Jets jerseys. He's invited his extended family and friends to join them in watching the games.

"They are all from India and they'd never seen a game before, but they are all hardcore fans now."

Joseph recently went to a couple of whiteout street parties downtown and says the feeling in the crowd is a familiar one.

"I felt like I'm back home — it's full of people, full of energy. It's really a good place to be."

While he's still learning the game, Joseph says being a Jets fan is about more than just a love of the sport.

"It's not just a game, it's that spirit [that the] game brings in.… You feel that you are a true Winnipegger after seeing it," Joseph said.

"Of course they are a very good team now, especially in playoffs, but that energy, that spirit that brings into the city — that's the most thing I like.… It connects people well, regardless of ethnic background, regardless of language and colour."

'We are passionate about it'

Xavier Louis, a lifelong friend of Joseph's who also came to Winnipeg from India, now joins in the hockey-watching parties. He says watching hockey has brought his family together, just as it has many others throughout the city and across the country.

"This is amazing, because this is a multicultural society and now we have a single reason for all of us to come together and celebrate," said Louis.

He says he started watching hockey this past season when he and his family were learning to skate.

"We started learning the rules and now we are completely into it, we are passionate about it."

When they first arrived, Louis and his family weren't used to the cold Winnipeg winters and he says they would hibernate during the winter months — but not anymore.

"Now the winters, we have something to look into. Once the winter starts, the game starts. Now we have lots of friends coming together, we have reason to kind of come together and have a party," he said.

"Nobody talks about winter and how difficult it is — everybody talks about Jets and how far they are going."

Both Louis and Joseph say their new-found love for the team won't end with this playoff run.

"I'll be still continuing to watch because it's just that relationship with the city and the team," said Joseph.

"This is the real time where people will identify Winnipeg and will start talking about Winnipeg, so I'm really proud to be a Winnipegger."