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Home is where the Mark is

Jets' Stuart stays for the summer in Winnipeg, finds he likes it

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Ronica Manguba supervises as the Winnipeg Jets' Mark Stuart prepares a Blizzard at a Portage Avenue Dairy Queen fundraiser Thursday. Stuart has kept his Winnipeg residency throughout the summer.

TREVOR HAGAN / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Ronica Manguba supervises as the Winnipeg Jets' Mark Stuart prepares a Blizzard at a Portage Avenue Dairy Queen fundraiser Thursday. Stuart has kept his Winnipeg residency throughout the summer. Photo Store

The smooth, unmarked, clean-shaven face gave Mark Stuart away on Thursday.

It has been a useful summer of recuperation and re-energizing, the rigours and abrasions of opposition glove leather and stick tape and the marks left by flying NHL pucks long-healed.

Most of that recovery and training time for the Winnipeg Jets' warrior defenceman has been spent in Winnipeg.

And by choice, believed to be a first among the team's non-Winnipeggers since the franchise relocated here from Atlanta in mid-2011.

Like many city-dwellers, Stuart has had his getaways, including a post-season family trip for eight days to Italy, the eight-hour haul out to his parents' cabin in Wisconsin and a week in June and two in July to his hometown in Rochester, Minn.

Some of that time was motivated by a new sports-medicine and workout facility but the 30-year-old native Minnesotan pointed out he's really got the best of both worlds now.

"It's a big part of the summer for most NHL players, the training, and I wanted to make sure I had a good setup there," he said. "The Iceplex has been perfect for that.

"I thought at first I might get sick of going there because we spend some time there during the season and (was worried) it might feel too much like going to the office but it hasn't felt like that at all. They've done some remodelling, the gym's a little bigger, and it's been good."

Like the majority of Winnipeggers, not all of summer's time is spent working.

"Lots of getting away on weekends, trying to do stuff around here," Stuart said.

"Went to Gimli during the Icelandic Festival. Made it to Grand Beach for a day. That was nice, Never been there before. These are places I've heard about in the past few years but never had a chance to go to.

"And going to check out Clear Lake at the end of the month for a weekend. I was never really a big golfer but this summer I've played a probably the most I ever have. Just trying to work at that.

"And that's been fun, meeting new people."

Stuart is not oblivious to the fact Winnipeg is harshly viewed by outsiders, at least in the hockey world, mainly because most of them never visit or spend any time here between May and September.

In fact, it sounds quite like home.

"As soon as I got here, I saw the similarities to back home," he said. "Even more during the summer. It's funny, people do their work during the week and when the weekend hits, most people are going to the lake or going somewhere. And Minnesota is the same way -- the traffic runs north every Friday.

"I grew up with that, really enjoy that and that's why it's been really enjoyable to be here. It reminds me a lot of home.

"And yeah, it is too bad that a lot of people don't get to see this part of the city because it does get a bad rap for those winter months. But that's a part of the world we live in. Me, I've always enjoyed the four seasons. Just like Minnesota, people here really appreciate their summers and the nice weather."

Another benefit has been just being Mark, largely flying under a hyped-up hockey radar that is so intense during the NHL season.

"It is a little different," he said with a smile. "I've just kind of gone about my summer. It hasn't been too much different. I talk to people and they're obviously excited for the season to start, just like I am, but people are a bit more relaxed in the summer.

"They're not only talking about hockey to me. I'm just another citizen, I guess, in Winnipeg, enjoying my summer and that's been nice, getting to know people without just being a hockey player.

"And I've found that a little different."

Mark Stuart the hockey player has many reasons for enthusiasm this fall. A couple of them are personal, such as the beginning of his new four-year, $10.5-million contract and that a significant milestone -- his 500th regular-season NHL game -- should be reached in October.

A first, full season under new Jets coach Paul Maurice is another.

"I think any time there's a coaching change, it's tough," Stuart said. "Tough for the guy leaving, tough for the guy coming in, tough for the players. It's a big transition. He came in and made it very clear what he expects from us.

"It was very cut-and-dried.

"I'm excited and I'm sure he is to start the season with this team. We've had some time to put things in place and it's going to start in training camp. We're not starting mid-season where we've got a game in two days. We got a good grasp of that last season but it'll be nice to start training camp from Day 1 with all that and go from there."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 15, 2014 C1

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Updated on Friday, August 15, 2014 at 6:25 AM CDT: Replaces photo

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