Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Putting pre-season in the past

Jets preach accountability as real hockey begins

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EDMONTON -- Ever-present hope is converging with building expectations to launch the Winnipeg Jets into the third season of their new NHL era.

Out of a lockout season of 51 points in 48 games, four points short of the post-season, the anticipation of the 2013-14 campaign seemed to be rising with optimism as GM Kevin Cheveldayoff went through a busy summer, signing 10 free agents who are on his team this fall.

Eight of them are retentions, including key performers in defenceman Zach Bogosian, centre Bryan Little and winger Blake Wheeler, all inked to long-term deals.

But on the way to tonight's season-opener at Rexall Place against the Edmonton Oilers (9 p.m. CT, CBC, TSN 1290) a fairly bumbling pre-season was like a day of cold rain -- no fun at all.

'We definitely wanted to play better hockey but at the same time when we got here, we weren't happy with the way things had gone so far in the pre-season," Jets captain Andrew Ladd said after the team's Monday practice in Banff, where the team had gone into retreat mode for most of three days after coming out of the pre-season at 1-4-3. "There is a realization in the room that it wasn't good enough and that's not the team we need to be each and every night.

"I think that can be a good thing -- you can look at it and look at yourself and your teammates and say, 'I haven't been good enough; we haven't been good enough,' and you can go from there."

Go they must and there was a clear mood change from Friday's end to the exhibition schedule to Monday's on-ice session of more than 90 minutes in the mountain resort town.

In between, the Jets were engaged in a variety of activities focused on team building and dialogue. Priorities were set, including making actions preferable to words.

"We talked about it as a group, came up with things in terms of an identity we want to accomplish on and off the ice," Ladd said. "Having come up with those things ourselves, not someone else telling us we have to do those things, it's something we as a group committed to and it's a lot more meaningful.

"You can probably see what the three days have done for us in those two days of practice. I thought the intensity was a lot better. We were pushing each other."

Another of the team's leaders, veteran defenceman Mark Stuart, was a whole lot more upbeat than he was late last week.

"It's a good feeling, excited," Stuart said Monday. "We've had a good couple of days here to not only do some things in practice but to do some team-building stuff.

"That always helps, brings the guys together. There's value and this group did a good job and had a good time with it. We've made some strides and have had a chance to talk about a lot of things."

Head coach Claude Noel has been harping about communication frequently during the pre-season and he left no doubt the weekend has the team headed down the right road.

"I think the players will be excited to get playing for the real deal," Noel said. "I think that the big thing for us, what we'll be looking for, to do the necessary things we've worked on to get ourselves a win."

The coach hasn't minded the talk of accountability -- and probably initiated some of it behind closed doors.

"The big thing is that these things don't happen overnight," he said. "Accountability is huge -- accountability with the staff to the players, and within the room. But that is a process that takes time to develop, something we're looking forward to starting (today)."

Ladd indicated this matter may be clearer than in the past, when through the course of the first two seasons in Winnipeg, there never seemed to be any traction to team consistency.

"We want to be a hard team to play against each and every night," he said. "There's a lot of things that go into that and I think we'll keep that within the room but accountability is a big one, to be accountable to each other.

"And in order to do that, you have to be able, if you're not working hard, to take some criticism and give some criticism when it's needed. Agreeing on it as a group, it's easier to look at your buddy and say, 'It's not good enough.' "

In other words, enough talk, do something.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 1, 2013 C1

History

Updated on Tuesday, October 1, 2013 at 7:00 AM CDT: replaces headline

9:04 AM: adds videos

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