WINNIPEG — Blake Wheeler brought some disappointment back from Sochi after the U.S. men’s hockey team failed to win a medal but he certainly wasn’t letting it ruin his first day back with the Winnipeg Jets.
Wheeler and Olli Jokinen were the last of the four Jets to return from the Olympic Winter Games — both got in Monday — and the 27-year-old Minnesotan was on the ice at the MTS Centre this morning with his NHL teammates while Jokinen opted for the day off.
"It was awesome," Wheeler said of his Olympic experience. "We were well taken care of, the village, the Olympic park, the venues, everything was first-class. I think it was a great experience for everyone, a treat to be a part of."
Falling flat in the medal round with losses of 1-0 Canada and 5-0 to Finland was not what he had in mind.
"It’s kind of tough now with all the travel and the chaos but one day soon I’ll be able to look back and think it was pretty cool to participate in the Olympics," Wheeler said. "It’s disappointing. The last two days there were really disappointing. That Canada game was obviously really tough. I think you lost a 1-0 game, to a team that a lot of us put on a pedestal, to get back at them for 2010, then to come up short, 1-0, it just kind of sucks the wind out of you a little.
"It’s too bad we came back empty-handed. Fourth place is probably the worst place to finish in a tournament like that."
A new day, however, with the Jets just two points off the playoff line in the Western Conference, is what Wheeler’s concentrating on.
"I was really excited to get back on the ice with these guys today," he said. "I’m really excited about the direction we’re going and the way we left things here and I can’t wait for Thursday."
The Jets begin the final 22-game portion of their schedule with a Thursday night home game against the Phoenix Coyotes.
For that game, head coach Paul Maurice said today that he has a lineup full of healthy players, with the exception of defenceman Grant Clitsome, who’s done for the year after back surgery.
That means that forwards Evander Kane, Jim Slater and Matt Halischuk are are cleared to play and ready to go.
Maurice said, however, that only Kane is a certain addition to Thursday’s lineup. The coach said he prefers to go with the players who had the team humming along before the break and that Slater and Halischuk will be options if changes are going to be made.
When the day or game comes that both players will be officially activated, it will mean — barring any other injuries or transactions — that the team will need to subtract one player from the roster to stay within the league’s 23-player maximum.