In 1979, with the Jets embarking on their first season in the NHL, they sought to show that, for once and for all, that Winnipeg was, indeed, a major-league city.
Winnipeg city councillor Jim Ernst told the Winnipeg Free Press, “Everybody thinks of Winnipeg as a hick town and we want to provide the image that Winnipeg people have class.”
From these sentiments, one of the Jets' most memorable promotions was born.
The brainchild of Jets' marketing executive Marc Cloutier, Tuxedo Night made its debut before a nationally-televised audience on Hockey Night in Canada on Saturday, December 15 when the Jets welcomed the Montreal Canadiens to the Winnipeg Arena for the first time.
Tuxedo Night at the Winnipeg Arena
A sellout crowd of 15,723 and many more watching on television saw the Jets spank the four-time defending Stanley Cup champions to the tune of 6-2. Willy Lindstrom scored three times to pace the Jets' attack and Morris Lukowich, asked by coach Tom McVie to check Guy Lafleur, did a superb job of holding the Canadiens' sniper to one assist.
Morris Lukowich shadowing Guy Lafleur
More than 1,000 fans came dressed in tuxedos and the event was an overwhelming success on and off the ice.
Even more remarkable, the Jets, a team that would finish the year with the second-worst record in the NHL, handled the Canadiens without Bobby Hull in their lineup.
Hull had left the team early the previous year when the Jets were still in the WHA and had reluctantly rejoined the Jets in early November. Hull wanted to return to Chicago and finish his spectacular career with the Black Hawks, and though Jets' General Manager John Ferguson was willing to part with Hull, he was unable to come to an agreement with the Black Hawks for adequate compensation.
Unaware that game time had been moved up an hour, Hull was still at home when Lukowich called from the Arena asking where he was. When Hull finally arrived, McVie informed him that he was not going to be in the lineup since he was late. McVie stuck to his guns despite the fact that Hull was still one of the team's owners at the time.
Hull left the Arena and would never again play for the Jets.
The following season, the Jets would hold another Tuxedo Night. The Canadiens would be the visitors once again on Hockey Night in Canada on March 7, 1981.
A crowd of 15,648 watched as the Jets downed the Canadiens by a score of 4-2. The Jets were backstopped by newly-acquired goaltender Michel Dion and two third-period goals from Rick Bowness broke a 2-2 tie to give the Jets one of their nine victories that year. The season's most indelible moment was the sight of Bowness breaking away from Lafleur to score the insurance marker into an empty net in the game's final minute.
Never a team to be content with success, the Jets switched gears and instead invited the hapless Toronto Maple Leafs for next season's Tuxedo Night. Before another full house at the Arena on Saturday, December 19, 1981, the much-improved Jets turned in a miserable performance in an 8-4 defeat. The game also featured four fights between the new division rivals.
So would end Tuxedo Night in Winnipeg.
The team is gone, but the memories still remain.
With or without a tuxedo.