The night belonged to Blake Wheeler.

The night belonged to Blake Wheeler.

From the moment his Winnipeg Jets teammates stepped out for warmup, all wearing his jersey, to a 12-minute ceremony dedicated to the revered captain — including video messages from old buddies such as Dustin Byfuglien — to the presentation of a silver stick to the father of three and mini-sticks to his kids, all eyes were glued Sunday to the NHL’s newest member of the 1,000-game club.

Admittedly, Wheeler got caught up in it all. Now, he’s ready to return to some normalcy.

"There’s a lot of build-up, a lot of anticipation. You want to absorb it and enjoy it and soak in every moment, but at the same time it’s nice to move on," he said, following the Jets 6-3 victory over the Toronto Maple Leafs. "It’s weird being front and centre when you play a team sport. It was a special day for my family."

There were shifts during his more productive years when Wheeler was seemingly all over the ice. Mimicking that, there were 20 guys in Jets territory during the warm-up skate, including Hellebuyck and back-up goalie Eric Comrie, with a ‘C’ on the front of their jerseys and their captain’s name and No. 26 on the back.

The real article, skating without his helmet, was still easy to spot in the crowd.

During a ceremony before puck drop against Toronto, the 35-year-old forward, joined on the ice by his wife, Sam, and the couple’s three youngsters, sons Louie and Mase, and daughter Leni, received a custom art piece from Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff.

The organization also made a $25,000 donation to the Wheeler family’s charity, Ride Inside, which supports children and their families living with and beyond childhood cancer.

A video montage featured some of his most memorable on-ice moments, along with messages of congratulations from former linemates Andrew Ladd and Bryan Little, ex-Jets defencemen Ben Chiarot and Byfuglien, and Wheeler’s parents, to name a few.

"Just the people in the video I’ve connected with over the years, people that reached out," he said. "When it’s all said and done, you’ll have memories of games and big moments and all that stuff, but just the relationships I’ve been so lucky to form in my career and guys I’ve been able to play with. So many lifelong friends for Sam and I ...that’s what sticks out."

The squad then surrounded the 14-year veteran — the last 11 with the Jets — at centre ice for photos.

It took Wheeler four minutes to do what he’s done best throughout his entire time in Winnipeg, set up a goal. He located Pierre-Luc Dubois unattended near the Toronto net and the big centre made a nifty move to beat Leafs goalie Joseph Woll for the game-opener.

He finished the night with a pair of helpers but still hasn’t scored this year, despite a pile of quality chances. He was stopped on a breakway in the second period.

"It’s odd, having yet to score a goal is certainly unchartered territory for me," Wheeler said. "You guys watch me long enough, you know what’s coming."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).