Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Hustlechuk's got game

Now, to hustle way to roster spot

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If Matt Halischuk were to bother to read or listen to the early reviews, he would likely exhale, relax for a nanosecond and then really begin thinking about calling Winnipeg home.

But maybe when a guy's entire career is built on hustle, on overachieving and exceeding expectations, it becomes part of his DNA to never, ever assume anything. Maybe a guy is much more grounded when he has been demoted and promoted to and from the AHL, has been traded once, is coming off shoulder surgery this off-season and has had to pick up and change hockey addresses.

And so, excuse Halischuk if he's currently of the approach that all the praise he is drawing means zilch-o until that moment when somebody from Jets' brass shakes his hand and welcomes him to the big club.

"Right now I'm staying at the hotel," said the 25-year-old Toronto product when asked if he had found a place to live. "Look, I've got to make the team first. You never want to assume anything."

And that, in part, explains why Halischuk has managed to appear in 157 NHL games since being drafted by New Jersey in 2007, with the Devils and Nashville Predators. Despite a slight stature -- he's listed at 5-11, 175 -- he earned the nickname "Hustlechuk" in Nashville and managed to score 15 goals in 2011-12 despite having the lowest average ice time (11 minutes, 15 seconds) among regular skaters.

Ask him about the "Hustlechuk" moniker and he shies away. No need, after all, to draw that kind of attention until he gets the good word on making the squad.

"I don't know where that came from. It's not a bad nickname to have, I guess," he said with a shrug. "Now I have to live up to it.

"I just try and play hard. Obviously I'm not the biggest guy out there, but I try to play hard and with a lot of energy. I try to bring a lot of speed, take time and space away and put pressure on players. Hopefully I can continue to do that and try and earn a way on this team."

Jets coach Claude Noel wasn't exactly in a praiseworthy mood Friday, what with his squad coming off a 4-1 loss to the Minnesota Wild, but he did acknowledge what Halischuk can bring to the roster.

"He plays hard. He's a guy that has some experience in the league," said Noel. "He's got some good energy, he works hard and he's a really, reliable dependable player for us. That's what we've liked about him. Where he lands, we'll see. We're trying to sort that out as well. But he's a guy that we know can play in the league."

Halischuk's humility, his experience and his lunch-pail and hard-hat approach to the game is a good addition to a Jets' clubhouse still trying to find a winning formula.

If, as the coaching staff insists, competition and expectation from within the room drives a team, then Halischuk's arrival not only makes the squad deeper, it will keep those ahead of him on the depth chart looking over their shoulders.

"That's just always the mentality I've had," said Halischuk.

"I learned it pretty quick when I turned pro, when I got a little sniff with New Jersey and got sent down after that. That was a learning experience for sure. Things can change pretty quick and you can be out of the lineup just like that... This is a team that wants to win, so I definitely want to be here."

ed.tait@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @WFPEdTait

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 21, 2013 C6

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