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Early birds get the W

Jokinen wants Jets to get their 'compete' on starting now

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It's the most over-used, beaten-to-a-pulp cliche spit out during the National Hockey League pre-season and it's certainly been uttered a time or two during Winnipeg Jets training camp:

When the real games start in a couple of weeks, "Everybody starts at zero."

And then there was Olli Jokinen on Monday, a guy who has been around the loop long enough to have heard and perfected every cliche in the unofficial handbook, talking about how the Jets 'definitely wanted to get a win' against the Edmonton Oilers Tuesday night at MTS Centre.

His timing was interesting, given the comments came after Sunday night's listless 3-1 loss to the Ottawa Senators that left the Jets 0-1-1 through the first two games. But his not-so subtle point also speaks of an attempt to change the culture in Jetland.

'As you move forward past the first few games then things start to buckle down a bit more. You want to see team play, your roster is getting a little tighter as far as getting the right people in place'

-- Jets coach Claude Noel

After all, if a team is lousy in its dress rehearsals it sure as heck shouldn't expect a dramatic reversal when the curtain rises on opening night.

"It's a lot more fun to win," Jokinen said. "You compete against other teams. Every time you put that jersey on you play for that logo on the front of it. It would be foolish to be standing here and saying that winning doesn't matter. That would be the biggest joke ever.

"It is the pre-season, but you want to win games. You want to win every time you step on the ice, even in the intra-squad games over here. That should be something that every player has inside.

"Winning is not easy. So it's better to start in the pre-season because in the regular season it's going to get hard."

Of course, it would be ridiculous to draw any concrete conclusions from the first two of eight pre-season games for the Jets, especially with camp opening with 58 players in tow. Pre-season is a time for coaches to implement systems and for management to evaluate prospects. It's about cranking up the compete level and fine-tuning skills.

"It's a two-pronged thing," said Jets coach Claude Noel. "We like to look at our kids, especially early in the pre-season. In there you want to make sure your veterans are getting games and in there, as well, you want to establish a situation where you're trying to win games. So, there's a couple of agendas there.

"As you move forward past the first few games then things start to buckle down a bit more. You want to see team play, your roster is getting a little tighter as far as getting the right people in place."

That's why Jokinen brushed off the notion of reading into line combinations this early, just as Evander Kane and Devin Setoguchi stressed on the weekend in Belleville.

"In the pre-season the main thing -- especially in the early pre-season games -- is to try and get your battle level up and try to get your timing," said Jokinen. "Those are the main things. Keep the game simple and get that mindset in that you try to play the way the coaches want us to play and go from there. You can't over think, you can't worry about who you play (with) or who you play against.

"The focus has to be on what you can do out there to get yourself ready for when the season starts."

That thinking was echoed by Ondrej Pavelec on Monday -- knock off the rust and eliminate any bad habits right now before the real games start. But learning to win, and expecting to do so, is also a transformation that can take years to build.

"It's not the season, but you want to have that winning attitude right away," said Pavelec. "Every game you play you want to win. It doesn't matter what it is, if it's the playoffs, the season, exhibition games. That's the attitude we have to have."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 17, 2013 D3

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