The Winnipeg Jets got back to work Wednesday afternoon, holding their first practice as a team since the start of their Olympic break Feb. 8.
Jets head coach Paul Maurice put an abbreviated — and very tanned — version of his squad through an exceptionally quick and vigorous skate at MTS Iceplex as the Jets began to look past the Olympics and to the re-start of the NHL’s regular season, which for Winnipeg begins Feb. 27 with a game at home against the Phoenix Coyotes.
The four Olympians on the Jets roster — Olli Jokinen, Blake Wheeler, Ondrej Pavelec and Michael Frolik — are still in Sochi and were of course absent from practice today, as were defenceman Toby Enstrom and forward Devin Setoguchi. Maurice said after practice that Setoguchi has an elbow problem while Enstrom has a lower body issue, but he described both injuries as minor.
But there were also some returning faces at Iceplex, with Evander Kane, Matt Halischuk and Jim Slater all making their returns from injuries on Wednesday. All three men pronounced themselves fit and game ready after practice.
Jets to watch Canada-USA semifinal Friday
Maurice said the challenge for his club now is to get back into game shape over the course of the next week and quickly regain the form that saw them go on a 9-3-1 tear heading into the Olympic break.
"We’re going to get them back up to speed as quick as we possibly can," said Maurice, who had his team skating quickly and constantly throughout a 70-minute practice session.
"We’ll do some conditioning over the next three or four days for sure, but only because you never get a chance to do that during the regular season. So you take it when you can."
Maurice said he will also make some time for some fun for his team this week, moving up the start time of practice on Friday so that his team will be off the ice in time to watch the Canada-USA semifinal hockey game from Sochi — a game that will include Wheeler playing for the U.S..
"At the end of the day, hockey events is what we’re all about. And this is a big game — Canada and the U.S. at the Olympics," said Maurice. "It’s about respecting the game and where we’re at."
Maurice was asked if attendance will be mandatory even for players like defenceman Zach Bogosian, who said Wednesday that he has avoided watching any hockey from Sochi because he feels like he already has enough hockey in his life.
"Well they’ll be talking to the back of somebody’s head then," said Maurice. "They will be there. I don’t know if I will hold them to watch the whole thing, but they’re definitely getting through the first period together."