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Jets trickling into Winnipeg

Few players in town, many expected soon

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It will still take a few days to get the numbers up and everybody on site. And while there may be some jet lag to shake off and some bloodshot eyes and aching muscles to soothe along the way, the Winnipeg Jets are getting the band back together.

The question of the moment, however, is this: Is it getting back quickly enough?

Chris Thorburn and Andrew Ladd were on the ice at the MTS Iceplex on Tuesday -- joining Toby Enstrom, Olli Jokinen, Jim Slater and Bryan Little -- and more and more bodies should be trickling in over the next few days from points all over the hockey map.

But the Minnesota Wild, for example, had 18 players on the ice Monday in St. Paul, Minn., while there were a dozen New Jersey Devils and 11 Philadelphia Flyers skating at their practice facilities on Tuesday.

In a season that will be condensed to 48 games and preceded by a training camp that will essentially feature just a handful of practices, does that offer any kind of advantage?

Well, it might not help, but it sure as heck can't hurt, either.

"There's a lot of guys I've talked to who said they are coming in in the next couple of days," said Ladd, the Jets captain, after Tuesday's skate.

"I would assume you will see a lot more guys here pretty quick. As long as guys have been skating and keeping up with their conditioning, I don't see it being a problem.

"Every team has had different situations for their players and some guys in Europe are going to have to travel a long way to get here. It's going to be a challenge, but we'll have to make sure we handle it."

Goaltender Ondrej Pavelec arrived in Winnipeg Tuesday and will be at the Iceplex today, although he won't be on the ice.

Blake Wheeler, the Jets' leading scorer last season, tweeted late Monday he had made it back to Minneapolis from Munich, where he had been playing in the Deutsche Eishockey Liga, and would be heading north to Winnipeg after a day's rest.

Wheeler, Mark Stuart and Ron Hainsey could be on the ice as soon as today with most other Jets not far behind -- including defenceman Dustin Byfuglien.

"He's going to be coming up in the next couple days here," said Ladd. "I have no worries about Buff. He's been skating lots in Minnesota with a big group of guys.

"We were joking yesterday, I told him that usually his first 50 games are pretty good so this (a condensed season) should play out pretty good for him."

Indeed, there will be a certain amount of blind faith in play here for those in the locker-room, the coaches and management of all 30 teams over the first part of the season. Some players have been visible playing in other leagues or practising together during the lockout, but some have also gone AWOL, too.

When they all get back together, it won't take long to filter out who spent the off-season keeping their skills sharp and who let their craft suffer.

All of this, not surprisingly, will be magnified and analyzed over the next few weeks -- especially in this country -- by the hockey-crazed media and fans ecstatic to have the NHL back in business.

The Jets are expected to have roughly 25-28 players in training camp, including nine players -- Nik Antropov, Alex Ponikarovsky (KHL), Stuart (ECHL), Wheeler (DEL), Antti Miettinen (Finland), Mark Scheifele (OHL, world juniors), Alex Burmistrov, Paul Postma and Zach Redmond (AHL) -- who have at least had some significant game action during the lockout.

But there's also a hope from others that the rust can be knocked off soon.

"As far as timing anwd stuff they might have a little bit (of an advantage)," said Thorburn of players who are already battle tested. "But it takes a couple of games or hard skates to get that back. Hopefully for myself it comes quick and for the rest of the team also.

"I'm ready to go. I got three extra months to do the rehab and heal the wounds I had last year. I'm just anxious and excited to get going.

"Guys will be fresh coming in getting ready to go. The sooner the season comes around... guys are just chomping. I think you're going to see high-pace games, at least to start off, but with 48 games the pace should carry throughout the whole season."

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

OWNERS VOTE TODAY ON CBA

 

The NHL's board of governors is meeting in New York today, at which time its members will vote on ratifying the new CBA. A majority of the 30 owners and of the 700-plus players -- who will vote electronically -- is needed to pass the agreement. The player vote is expected to be completed by Saturday. The NHL has scheduled a press conference for 3 p.m. Saturday.

It's expected training camps will open Sunday.

Under a 48-game schedule, teams will play five games against two divisional opponents and four games against two other divisional opponents (18) and then three games vs. 10 conference rivals (30).

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Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition January 9, 2013 C1

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