Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Departing Stapleton will cheer for Jets from afar

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SECOND thoughts? Heck, yeah, Tim Stapleton has had a gazillion of them.

But when a guy's phone is silent 10 days into NHL free agency, it can be a sign. And so as much as he wanted to stay in Winnipeg with the Jets, the lukewarm response he got after becoming an unrestricted free agent -- and the league's continuing fixation with size -- meant the 5-9 forward had to begin looking elsewhere for work.

Elsewhere, in Stapleton's case, is Dinamo-Minsk in the KHL.

"Last year in Winnipeg was the absolute best for me," said Stapleton Wednesday when he was reached on a golf course near his home in Chicago. "It was by far my favourite year in my career. I've played in Europe, I've done a lot of things and been all over the minors, but the fans in Winnipeg and the support, the guys on the team... it's sad for me.

"It wasn't an easy decision. I even woke up today thinking, 'Man, what did I do?' But it's just something that made sense, especially turning 30 (next week). I've got to look out for life after hockey."

Stapleton posted career highs in goals (11) and points (27) and managed to score three game-winners while working predominantly on the Jets' fourth line.

But with a handful of players/prospects in the system ready to grab his spot, this popular and respected teammate was not atop the priority list of an organization that stressed size as one of its key off-season needs.

"It's too bad. I did everything I possibly could because I wanted to come back but I think their main focus was they wanted to get bigger," said Stapleton.

"I've been dealing with this situation (all) my career as far as getting into the NHL. And then when I get in I'm still dealing with it. I sat down with a lot of people, including my family, and we weighed the pros and cons. I had to look at what is in front of me and all I had was Russia.

"I guess now I get to become a fan now and I'll definitely be following the team and all the guys."

Meanwhile, rumours are swirling that unrestricted free agent forward Kyle Wellwood has attracted interest from at least two Swiss league teams. LEAN, MEAN FIGHTING MACHINE: Cody Sol isn't hard to find at the Jets' D-Camp. At 6-6, 242 pounds he can take up a lot of space on the ice at MTS Iceplex.

And now the former Kitchener Rangers defenceman is about to take the next step of his career when he turns pro. Jets management loves his size and raw skills and sent him back to junior last fall after main camp with a message:

"They told me to play meaner, play with an edge, win every battle and whatever you do your game will come," said Sol.

"(Playing meaner) is letting guys know that when you go into the corner with me it's not going to be easy coming out with the puck. It's going to be a battle and every battle in the corner I want to come out as a winner."

And how do you develop a mean streak, he was asked? Is it coming to the rink in a bad mood?

"Yeah," said Sol.

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 12, 2012 D2

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