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No more pizza giveaways

Decried for his blundering as a Jet, Oduya finds his game with Hawks

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The poster boy for the campaign against making snap judgments was back on the MTS Centre ice on Thursday.

Some never forgave defenceman Johnny Oduya for his rocky outing in the new Winnipeg Jets' first-ever game. "Free pizzas," was how Jets coach Claude Noel termed a few giveaways against the Montreal Canadiens.

Other fans never warmed to the now 32-year-old native of Stockholm and had no regret when he was traded to the Chicago Blackhawks for two draft picks at the deadline in 2012.

But Oduya, the soft-spoken Sweden now gobbling up more than 20 minutes per game for Joel Queneville's Hawks, has his Stanley Cup ring.

And no regrets about being in Winnpeg.

"I would say it was only positive," Oduya said before Chicago took on the Jets Thursday night. "It was what it was in Atlanta and when I left here, I said they had something in the makings.

"The organization was great and everybody around the team was great and the city and the fans love hockey."

From the outside now, Oduya nearly pleaded with fans here to refrain from those snap judgments.

"Just give it a little bit more time," he said Thursday. "It's not easy. You have... not baggage, but you have traditions that came with the 10 years in Atlanta. It takes time to change that over, get some newer, younger guys in as time goes along here.

"I loved it here for the time I was here, same for Atlanta. Hockey wasn't a (big) thing there, but l loved the city. I have no regrets at all. I was lucky to be there and here."

Oduya had plenty to contribute to the Hawks' Cup run in the shortened season, including three goals and eight points in 23 playoff games.

The rewards included the much sought after label of a winner, and a healthy sized Stanley Cup ring.

"Wear it? Not that much," Oduya smiled on Thursday.

"I've had a couple of opportunities where you could wear it, but it's pretty big and I have small hands. It's like, enormous. But I'm sure there will be times to wear it.

"One of my buddies has a wedding this summer so I might bring it to that, things like that. It's mostly for showing people, like at your house. Lots of people want to see it when they come over and it's all good and fun.

Wearing it will be a lot tougher."

The fun is part of his job desciption as far as Oduya is concerned.

"It's been a fun time in Chicago," he said. "Not happy that half a year disappeared for the lockout, but overall it's been a very good experience.

"When I came I felt like I fit in almost perfectly right away. The type of system, being a kind of support guy to some of the guys that have some heavier minutes like (Duncan Keith) and (Brent Seabrook), that was a role that fit me pretty good.

"I had responsibility to play against top lines at times. And I can use my skating both ways to create some offence, too, and play on the PK. I like the role I've been given. It fits me pretty good."

He said the moving from the Jets to an elite team was "fuel" for him.

"I've changed teams before and it's always something new but usually it's something that fuels me," Oduya said. "I feel that I have to be on top of my game, have to show that I belong. Coming to a team like this where there's so much skill and already a Cup two years before, you want to prove you're good enough to play here.

"At least that's what I had in my mind."

And now on his finger.


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 22, 2013 C3

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