The Winnipeg Jets spend much of the National Hockey League season trying to get a read on their opponents.
But players are also able to get their read on away from the ice.
That was the message defenceman Zach Bogosian and centre Mark Scheifele sent to students at Princess Margaret School during their visit in honour of I Love To Read Month on Feb. 25.
The two young stars read the Jets’ official storybook The Home Team, written by Holly Preston with illustrations by Val Lawton, to approximately 65 students in Grades 1 through 3. After a question and answer session, Scheifele, Bogosian, and team mascot Mick E. Moose signed copies of the books — as well as any Jets memorabilia the students brought.
As one of the faces of the city’s foremost sports team, Bogosian said he has embraced his role as a community leader.
"Anytime you get a chance to play in a hockey market like Winnipeg, myself and everyone else on the team included, kids look up to you and you try to be good role models," said the 23-year-old product of Massena, N.Y., located about 20 kilometres southwest of Cornwall, Ont. "Whether it’s coming into a classroom and reading to kids or going a hospital and visiting people who are sick or less fortunate, you know that brightens their day, puts a smile on their face."
Bogosian said because of his hometown’s small population, he didn’t enjoy the opportunity to have major figures come into the classroom like the Jets do through the Reading Takes Flight program. His favourite book growing up was Phyllis Reynolds Naylor’s Newbery Medal winner Shiloh, which details a young boy’s relationship with an abused dog.
He now enjoys reading non-fiction, noting he recently finished Undisputed Truth by boxer Mike Tyson.
"I read a lot, actually. It passes time on the long road trips," he said. "I like reading true stories, so anything to do with the Navy SEALs, I’ll read that."
Still adjusting to the professional life in his rookie season, Scheifele said he doesn’t get too much of a chance to read in-season. He did recently finish Journeyman: The Guy Who’s Seen Everything in Hockey by well-travelled NHLer and former Manitoba Moose centre Sean Pronger. Pronger, the brother of former Hart Trophy-winning defenceman Chris, played 260 games for seven different NHL teams.
"It shows you how hard it is to make the NHL," he said. "It was a pretty cool part to read just to see how many struggles he went through."
Scheifele, 20, recalled growing up in Kitchener, Ont. when members of the Ontario Hockey League’s Rangers would come read to students.
"It takes you back to those days," said Scheifele, who cited the Harry Potter series as his favourite books as a youngster. "It was pretty cool to see their excited faces."
Princess Margaret students Eli and Gavin Ulrich, who are twins in Grade 1, were pumped to meet their hockey heroes. They both agree they’re inspired to read more after the visit. Eli said The Home Team is his new favourite book, as the main character’s perseverance struck a chord with him.
The brothers both play the sport themselves, suiting up for the Valley Gardens Comets, who have suffered just a single loss this season.
"We play good and we play smart," Gavin said, adding his favourite player is rookie defenceman Jacob Trouba.
Grade 2 student Hailey Skrypnyk-Urbanek enjoyed the autograph session, especially getting Mick E. Moose’s signature, as well as the story.
"They’re Jets, and they’re (reading about) a game of the Jets," she said.
Princess Margaret was one of several local schools Jets players visited on Feb. 25. Schools submitted a 300-word essay to the team in hopes of being selected for a visit.