Winnipeg Odyssey (Part Five of Six)

Part Five: Post-Game

The Jets’ Captain, Andrew Ladd, said in the locker room that the team would be better once they got into a rhythm and got going. “Just getting out there and playing, sometimes [helps].  Getting on the road and getting away and focusing all we do as a hockey team.”  He didn’t say it precisely, but one got the idea that the whole hype of the situation has weighed a lot on the minds of the guys in blue.  “It’s definitely a unique situation, and you’re never going to have a chance to do this again, so um, it’s pretty disappointing with the outcome.”

He finished with this: “At times you’re trying to do too much.  You need to keep it simple, get going, your legs going, and make them go the other two hundred feet.  We were turning over pucks and making it easy on [Montreal].”  He’s talking about the first two goals, which were on bad giveaways.

Dustin Byfuglien echoed the idea about the need to bond, commenting that the team would gel on the road, “build chemistry right away,” and that it was good to be getting out of town right away and playing away.  The Jets don’t return to Winnipeg until a week from Monday.  He seemed morose after the game, answering all the questions asked of him but at the same time, not making much eye contact.  Read that as “I care.” Don’t forget, the guy was a superstar in Chicago fifteen months ago during the Finals run and Cup win.  Not winning is not exactly his style.

“It wasn’t quite what we wanted, but it’s the way it went,” he said.

Making his debut on this night was Jets’ draftee Mark Scheifele.  He played about fourteen minutes on the night, and he looked bigger than it seemed he might, although in person, he’s tall but slight.  Once or twice, it was apparent that he hasn’t had any chance to adjust to the speed of the game at this level, but what do you expect?

Late in the game, he had a good wrist shot on the power play, and Price had to fight it off.  If he had scored, though by this time the Jets were down 5-1, which is the score the game ended on, the place would have gone nuts.  Fans in town, according to one person I spoke with, basically demanded that the youngster start the season with the big club.  But it’s not clear what his path is from here.

IH asked him after the game whether the team had made its plans for him known, and he responded by saying, “No, they’ve just said it’s day to day.  It depends on how I play, and how I adapt to the league.  It’s just, take it day by day, keep working hard, and hopefully I can stay all year.”

He also talked about the fans and how great they were.  “If it had been back in Barrie, people would be leaving halfway through the second period” in these circumstances.  “It just shows that we’ve got fans behind us, and we’ve got to keep on working our hardest and get the wins.”  He also said that the ovation he got when he was introduced gave him energy.  “I kind of wanted to use that pressure and uh, anticipation to do 110%.”  He was perhaps the least nervous-looking of the Jets forwards at times.

About the team, he said, “We can’t hang our heads.  We’ve got to keep them up and just keep working hard.”  For himself, Scheifele said that going up against big players like Hal Gill demanded that he constantly “show him something new, because he’s a big guy.”

His coach was asked about the young prospect in the press conference after the game, and he said in response, “He was average or so, today.  And I compare that today to what I’ve seen in other games.  If you asked me about another person, I would tell you the same thing about him.  I go on what I know of him.  I still like Mark Scheifele.  He’s a good player, and he’s OK today.  I’m sure he’s disappointed, but I’m sure he’s going to be a good player at this level.”

Claude Noel said that his team would have liked to have gotten the crowd into the game more, and that he was disappointed, but not overwhelmed by what had happened.  “I like our team, I still love our team as much as I did yesterday and all the other days before.  I think we’ve got a good group.  I still think we’re going to be a good team, and I think we are a good team.  They’re disappointed, I’m disappointed, you know, and I’ve said this before.  I’m not going to measure this game by the score.  I saw a lot of good things in this game, that I liked.”

“I know one thing—our guys care about winning.”  Pretty good rejoinder to anyone who is already thinking about asking what the first win would mean for the squad.

The question, now that this historic game is past, is whether the Jets can do anything about that.  By some measures, this is not a terribly good hockey team.  Of course, “expert” opinion is just guesswork.  And on the other hand, the team has a long focus on the process of building.

Now that the “look what this does for Winnipeg” thing is over, the point is that the Jets are going to scramble some to come together.  That’s OK from  a fan point of view as long as the effort is there and the management is focused on building through smart drafts and strong coaching at the minor league level.

For this moment, this is just one game.  The team is going to be gone for a week, but for those with separation anxiety, the good news is that they’ll be back, unlike what happened the last time the Jets left town.  And given what I’ve been told about how various people are sharing their ticket plans, it’s going to be a number of weeks before the same crowd that saw this game is back for another.  So for a while yet, the energy of newness is going to sustain the people of Winnipeg, and the twenty-plus guys who toil on their behalf in, let’s say it one more time, the NHL.

Brian Kennedy’s book “Living the Hockey Dream” has inside information straight from the mouths of Bobby Hull and Bobby Jr. about what life was like in Winnipeg back in the WHA days. A big thank you to the Jets for making this happen for me, and to the Goossens of Winnipeg, who showed me every corner of the town and introduced me to the vibe that all residents share in these exciting days.

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