WINNIPEG — Nothing should surprise anyone any more when it comes to the buzz and hype surrounding the re-born Winnipeg Jets.
Still, example No. 3,463 was on display Saturday afternoon at MTS Iceplex the minute goaltenders Chris Carrozzi and Edward Pasquale skated onto the ice for the first day of Jets’ rookie camp and were met with a hearty cheer by the roughly 1,000 fans in attendance.
And the oohs and aahs continued for just over an hour as St. John’s IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge and staff put the 22 rookie prospects through a brisk workout just hours after some gruelling fitness testing.
"Wearing a Jets’ jersey is pretty cool and walking off the ice and having fans bombard you at a rookie camp practice is unbelievable," said Winnipeg-born forward Jason Gregoire. "It just goes to show all the guys what this town is made of. It’s awesome. You look up... it’s a practice and I’ve never seen anything like this for a practice. I know what Winnipeg’s about. I know the fan base, but I honestly didn’t even expect this."
The Jets rookies will skate again Sunday at MTS Iceplex (10 a.m.-11:30 a.m., open to the public) before flying out to Penticton later in the day. They’ll then spend four days in B.C. practising and participating in the Vancouver Canucks Young Stars tournament that also includes the Canucks, Edmonton Oilers, Calgary Flames, and San Jose Sharks. Winnipeg’s prospects meet San Jose Monday night, Edmonton on Tuesday evening before wrapping up with a Thursday matinee against the Canucks.
"I liked it," said Jets’ head coach Claude Noel. "I thought they had pretty good energy. It was a pretty hard day. It was an early day for the players and they died out a little bit at the end, but I thought they were good. There are some good kids, good size and I thought they worked hard. You could see some guys have been in junior camps for a couple of weeks so they had a little bit of an advantage. But these things have a tendency to level out after a couple of days.
"What players have to understand at this stage is they want to show people their growth is coming along and that the future is what we’re looking at. I don’t know a lot of the players, this is the first time for me to see a lot of them. A lot of the drills were shooting drills, so everybody has a chance to shine there. The opportunity to really see players is when they get into a game format and there’s one puck and 12 players. That’s when you start to see who can play in that type of game."
Among the Day 1 standouts were first-round draft pick Mark Scheifele, Gregoire, Russian forward Ivan Telegin, defencemen Cody Sol And Zach Yuen and Swedish forward Carl Klingberg. It was Klingberg, too, who shone off the ice with his energetic personality, describing himself and his game as a ‘pain in the ass’ to play against ‘ and to that of Washington Capitals’ superstar Alex Ovechkin.
"I’m like a copy of him... but a lot worse, though," said Klingberg. "He’s the best player in the world."