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Coaches tried their best, Jokinen says

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WINNIPEG — When the focus wavers, you get days like Sunday, Winnipeg Jets’ veterans Olli Jokinen and Dustin Byfuglien said today.

The team fired head coach Claude Noel this morning and replaced him with Paul Maurice.

Jets’ players were at the MTS Iceplex expecting a practice after their fifth straight loss, 6-3 Saturday night downtown to the Columbus Blue Jackets.

Instead today, they had a workout instead and some spoke to reporters about the coaching change.

"Our coaching staff was very positive," Jokinen said this morning. "They were really positive and tried their best. This is a tough market to play in. Any Canadian market, expectations are high. You’ve got a lot of media attention. You’ve got 15,000 GMs watching the games. And another couple hundred thousand at home.

"This is the place, any Canadian market is the place that as a player, you have to put all that on the side and you have to focus on doing your job best you can.

"You can’t worry about what other people are saying, how other players are playing, are you going to play enough, whatever the excuses you can find, it’s there. But you can’t use those excsues. You’ve got to be mentally strong and try to block everything out.

"At the end of the day, you’ve got to ask yourself, ‘Are you giving yourself the best chance to best your best every single night. That’s the bottom line as a player.

"If it’s not enough and you lose, if you have everybody giving and leaving everything on the ice, you can live with that. Because then the other team was better and they beat you. But lately our focus hasn’t been there."

Byfuglien repeated the obvious, that things were not working well for the 19-23-5 team, but he said he wasn’t expecting a change.

"We don’t know what’s going on on the other side," Byfuglien said. "I didn’t really see it coming.

"In Canada, the way you guys read it and the fans say they always want it, you never know what’s going to happen around here.

"Something needed to be done and that was the first step."

Jokinen said that the Jets’ fragility was like an anchor.

"We have a tendency to get frustrated very easily," he said. "You can see we played a little bit scared, afraid to make mistakes. You’ve got to have confidence to play this game otherwise other teams, they see that. "I think last night, Columbus saw that. They were down one goal but they (saw), ‘They’re a little scared,’ so they just came after us and they scored four in the first nine minutes.

"Now changing the coach, all of us should be embarrassed that we’re at the point we had to change the coach."

The veterans said some reflection will be in order.

"It’s tough," Byfuglien said. "We’ve got to look at ourselves. It’s everyone on our team in here.

"It’s never easy. Claude came in and did his best. He was a good guy so it’s tough but it’s part of the job that no one’s ever safe. We have to look at ourselves and move on."

Added Jokinen: "We let the coaching staff down. It’s tough to change 25 players. I think every player should feel pretty bad about this change. It’s tough. You’ve got coaches, they spend a lot of hours at the rink and try to figure out how to turn things around and we didn’t respond very well.

"And now they’re the ones who have to pay the price. It’s hard."

Both players objected to the idea that the change was expected.

"Absolutely not," Jokinen said. "Now it’s up to the players. Each guy here, the ownership and management made a change and now it’s up to us to get the job done.

"Because it doesn’t take a rocket scientist. Everybody knows what’s going to happen next if it doesn’t go well and that’s that the players are going to get shipped out."

Byfuglien said Noel’s message was not getting old.

"I wouldn’t say it was getting old at all," he said. "Sometimes it happens, sometimes it doesn’t. He was stuck in a position where it just wasn’t working out. It’s tough. He was a great guy. I (wish) him well and I hope he finds another one."

As for Maurice, there was a hope that a fresh face and voice will make a difference.

"Someone coming in that no one really (knows) could be good for us," Byfuglien said. "We’ll get a new face and definitely a new guy with different attitudes and we’ll see how it goes."

Maurice’s Jets’ debut comes Monday night at home against Phoenix.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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