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Jets are rolling on the river today

Practising at The Forks starting at 1:30 p.m.

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Jets coach Paul Maurice barks orders at the Iceplex during Saturday afternoon's practice.

RUTH BONNEVILLE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Enlarge Image

Jets coach Paul Maurice barks orders at the Iceplex during Saturday afternoon's practice. Photo Store

ASK just about any NHL player about outdoor games or practices and expect glowing responses about being taken back to the days of backyard rinks and pond hockey.

But the last thing Paul Maurice and the Winnipeg Jets want to have to deal with in the days head is the after-effects of frostbite.

And so, asked what his agenda was for today's outdoor practice at The Forks on the Red River Mutual Trail -- the forecast high is -17, -28 with the windchill -- Maurice quipped:

"Warmth is No. 1. Survival... we're going to do some survival drills where we huddle in the corner and light a little fire. We'll see, the last report was -35 with the windchill. We're probably going to skate in one direction, against the wind, if we're mad at them. And with the wind if we're not."

The practice, open and free to the public, is scheduled to begin at 1:30 p.m. and last for about an hour. Maurice said the session will begin with about a five-to-10-minute warm-up just to give the goaltenders a feel and then they'll likely begin scrimmaging.

"These are great. The players love 'em, but the coaches absolutely freeze to death at these things because you're not skating," said Maurice. "We did one in Toronto that was brutal cold. About 15 minutes into that thing I'm thinking we're going to have to cancel this. The players are all kinda looking at me like, 'Are you serious, coach? Get us out of here.' And then we started to scrimmage and 20 minutes later you've got to drag them off the ice."

DISAPPOINTED, BUT STILL FRESH? Blake Wheeler may be returning home without a medal, but the bonus for the Jets might be that his limited ice-time in Sochi will hardly have left him exhausted. Wheeler appeared in six games for the Americans in the Olympics, but registered just 29 minutes and 26 seconds of ice time over that stretch.

Wheeler played just 1:35 in the semifinal loss to Canada, but played 9:22 in Saturday's bronze-medal game. FYI, his average ice time with the Jets is 18:16.

Regardless of his limited role in Russia, Wheeler -- the Jets' leading scorer with 22 goals and 26 assists -- will play a huge part in the club's push to a playoff spot.

"Certainly I know the coaching staff here and the fans here and his teammates know that he's a key, critical piece to our team and our success," said Maurice. "To be honest with you, the only thing I thought is I'm hopeful he's been able to stay in enough shape to be able to play the minutes he's going to play (with the Jets). That being said, he was on the ice every day guaranteed, which puts him ahead of 90 per cent of the NHL.

"I hope he comes back confident. We need him."

Asked about managing travel and possible jet lag with his four Olympians, Maurice won't be giving the returnees much of a break.

"I want to get them on the ice the first day they are back in town just to try and get them back on the clock," he said. "Sometimes the price of playing in the Olympics is you don't get rested as much as you want, but we need them back on the ice."

Pavelec and Frolik won't skate outdoors today, but will have an off-ice workout before Monday's mandatory day off. The Jets hope to have Wheeler and Olli Jokinen back at practice on Tuesday or Wednesday in advance of Thursday's home date with the Phoenix Coyotes, the team's first post-Olympic break game.

U.S. VS THEM: Mark Scheifele, proud Canadian, when quizzed if there was any ribbing with the American-born Jets following Canada's semifinal win on Friday -- a game the team watched together after practice:

"Maybe just a little. There are a lot of Americans, so all the Canadians are trying to get their jabs in as much as they can."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 23, 2014 B7

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