EDMONTON — On your marks, get set, go! The architect of the Winnipeg Jets believes the group assembled here in Edmonton is capable of going on a lengthy run — but warned Tuesday they better be prepared to come flying out of the starting blocks.
“I think it’s important that we understand… you talk about a season and you talk about the regular season and you’ve heard it many, many times where it’s been referred to as a marathon. Well, we’d better be prepared to sprint because that’s what it is right now,” general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff said in a Zoom call from the team’s base at the Sutton Place Hotel.
The Jets will get a chance to limber up when they hit the ice at Rogers Place Wednesday night for their first hockey game since March 11, taking on the Vancouver Canucks in an exhibition tilt before Saturday’s start of the Stanley Cup playoffs. It comes exactly 20 weeks since they left the same rink following a victory over the Oilers, their season-high fourth straight. The NHL season came to a screeching halt the next day to the COVID-19 pandemic.
“We’d better be prepared to sprint because that’s what it is right now.” – General manager Kevin Cheveldayoff
“Regardless of what happened in the last two weeks before the pause, certainly I think it shows what’s in this group and the fact that the disruptions that have happened within our organization this year, none of which were planned, and the way that the players were so resilient and the way they chose never to use it as an excuse or use anything we were faced with a challenge as an excuse and stayed in the fight and did the things we needed to do,” said Cheveldayoff.
“I really believe that’s going to help us right now. I hope they’re ready to show what they’ve been showing all season.”
There’s no question the Jets are champing at the bit, but the same can be said about the other 23 teams who are also competing for a championship. After four months away from each other, the club held a a two-week summer camp in Winnipeg before travelling to the Western Conference hub city for final preparations.
“I think everyone will tell you they’re pretty sick of practice by now. You can only go against the same guys so many days in a row before you kind of get antsy, kind of get anxious to go out and play somebody else. I think we’re definitely in that spot right now,” Jets forward Andrew Copp said Tuesday.
“(Wednesday) will be good to just get out of playing against each other, try to have a little fun as a team, try to get that team atmosphere, that team camaraderie going again. Get this thing going. Definitely really sick of practice at this point.”
Cheveldayoff is anxious to see what a full, healthy roster — save for injured veteran Bryan Little — might be able to accomplish. The Jets had only a handful of games with trade-deadline additions Dylan DeMelo and Cody Eakin in the lineup before the pandemic hit the pause button, but the early returns were impressive.
“They were good fits; we were able to make the deals and they’ve fit in very, very well,” Cheveldayoff said of the two pending unrestricted free agents obtained from Ottawa and Vegas, respectively, in exchange for draft picks.
“It’s interesting — until (a reporter) asked that question, it was almost like I forgot we traded for them because they just fit in so well, fit in so nicely. It feels like they’ve been part of the group from the beginning. And maybe it’s because you pause and you have the restart that we do here right now that everybody’s on that even footing.”
“You can only go against the same guys so many days in a row before you kind of get antsy, kind of get anxious to go out and play somebody else.” – Andrew Copp
Cheveldayoff didn’t get to see much of his group during camp, since he excluded himself from the initial “bubble” environment at Bell MTS Iceplex.
“We felt it was more important… you’re only allowed to have 20 staff members around the team, so we felt it was more important that we had the support staff and the medical staff around so that the guys could feel comfortable,” he said.
“So I actually didn’t go into that bubble situation there. Tested every day but didn’t go through that process.
“This is really the first time for me to see our group back and seeing them at practice (Monday), seeing the fun that they had on the ice at the end of practice, just playing games, I think it just really underscores how much everyone missed being together, but everyone missed the sport. I don’t know that it’ll get too technical against Vancouver, but certainly when the puck drops against Calgary, it’s going to be for real.”
The big concern in the exhibition game is risk of injury, but Copp said players can’t afford to only go half-speed for this one.
“That will be taken a bit more seriously, in terms of our own preparation because it’s not a Game 1 of the regular season that we’re going into. It’s Game 1 of the playoffs. If we’re not ready to go and we haven’t done the right things to prepare, we could find ourselves down one or two games very quickly and playing three (games) in four (days) to start the playoffs, it’s definitely a sprint right off the bat here,” he said.
“We have to make sure that we take advantage of that exhibition game as much as possible. To get all of the kinks worked out and try and put away some of that rust and be ready to go right when that puck drops on Aug. 1.”
Hawerchuk battles cancer again
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Posted: 26/07/2020 11:51 AM
EDMONTON — Winnipeg Jets legend Dale Hawerchuk is once again battling cancer. The NHL Hall of Famer received the difficult news this week, just over three months after he finished what he’d hoped would be his last round of chemotherapy.
“My dad is back in his fight against cancer due to a resurgence of this terrible disease. We are praying for him and he will continue to fight hard. #HawerchukStrong ,” his son, Eric, wrote on social media Sunday.
THOUGHTS FOR DUCKY: An emotional Cheveldayoff sent well wishes to Jets legend Dale Hawerchuk and his family Tuesday. The NHL Hall of Famer is battling a recurrence of stomach cancer, just three months after he finished what was hoped to be his final treatment.
Cheveldayoff noted the important role Hawerchuk has continued to play in the organization, which included coaching the team’s first-ever draft pick, Mark Scheifele, in Barrie of the Ontario Hockey League.
“Dale Hawerchuk was a very big supporter of Mark Scheifele when we went through the draft process and had lots of conversations. Dale is going through a tough time right now. We, as an organization, are here to support him. We wish him all the best in his fight. He’s one of our family, and we’re with you, Dale,” said Cheveldayoff.
The Jets have added a #HawerchukStrong10″ decal to their helmets that they will wear throughout the playoffs.
Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.
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