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Jets take to The Forks, warm up the place

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John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press

Jets captain Andrew Ladd (left gets roughed up by Carson Schepp of the Portage Atom A's as hundreds of fans came out to watch the Winnipeg Jets at an outdoor practice at The Forks on Sunday.

Andrew Ladd’s face had that pinkish hue that comes with being outside in Winnipeg on a blustery winter day.

"I can still feel my face… my hands, not so much," said the Winnipeg Jets captain with a grin during a break from the club’s first ever outdoor practice at The Forks Sunday afternoon.

"It’s a great venue. The train tracks in the background and with everybody out here... it’s cool. It would have been nicer if it was a little warmer. but I think the guys are having fun just playing a little game of shinny."

Asked if he had ever played on a venue like this while growing up, Ladd added:

"No. I grew up in Vancouver so we were lucky if the ice froze."

Approximately 2,500 fans surrounded the makeshift rink on the Red River Mutual Trail Sunday to watch the Jets play shinny for about an hour before they were joined by the Portage A-1 Atom team that won a contest and the privilege to be on the ice with their NHL heroes.

"The kids had an absolute blast. They were pumped," said Dean Calder, the club’s head coach. "We played Friday night and I told them we had practice on Sunday and they were like, ‘Oh...’. Then I told them it was an outdoor practice and the team we normally practise with won’t be able to make it so I got a different team to practice with.’ They were like, ‘Who?’ and then I said, ‘The Jets.’ Actually, Jack, one of our players, said ‘The real Jets?’

"They were pretty excited to get the chance to come out here and play. It’s a great chance for the kids to come out and see the players they admire on TV."

Added Evan Calder, who called the experience ‘awesome’, when asked what his favourite part of the on-ice practice with the Jets was: ""Hitting (Dustin) Byfuglien. And I tripped someone, but I don’t know who it was."

The Jets have been on the ice since last Wednesday with some grueling, training-camp like sessions, but will have Monday off before a final push for a playoff spot begins Thursday with a home date against the Phoenix Coyotes. And so Sunday’s event was one final mental break before the real grind begins.

"It’s a break in the Olympic practices," said Jets coach Paul Maurice. "They’ve had enough of that, I think we all have and we’d like to play some games now. This is fun.

"I think everybody (played on an outdoor rink). That’s all I really remember. I had one in my backyard, every elementary school had one, high schools had one… 85 per cent of the time we were on the ice it was at outdoor rinks. That’s where we learned to have fun with the game. These guys, it gets cold but they get their hockey equipment on and get out here almost reluctantly and five minutes later they can’t control themselves and they’re calling each other names and they’re doing it like it used to be."

Ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPEdTait

History

Updated on Sunday, February 23, 2014 at 10:41 PM CST: slideshow added

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