Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

On second thought, 10 not perfect

Little changes mind, will wear 18

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Winnipeg Jets centre Bryan Little hasn't been on the ice yet at the MTS Centre but he sure knows how to read the play in Winnipeg.

The 23-year-old from Edmonton has decided that a show of respect for the Winnipeg history of the Jets is more of a priority than keeping the jersey number he wore with the Atlanta Thrashers for four seasons.

Little has asked the team to switch his number from 10 to 18 and so at least to start their stay in Winnipeg, it appears the Jets will have nobody wearing former superstar Dale Hawerchuk's vaunted No. 10.

"I've been thinking about it a lot since the name came out, that the team was going to be the Jets again," Little told the Free Press recently. "And even though the team told me what they were thinking and said publicly they wouldn't retire old numbers, well, I just think this is the right thing to do."

The new franchise here isn't forcing decisions on anyone.

Little's teammate Evander Kane is taking a different route -- he's looking for Bobby Hull's blessing to continue wearing No. 9 in Winnipeg, the number that he wore as a member of the Thrashers.

Hawerchuk himself said last week, "It's not a big deal."

"Me, I think it would be weird wearing 10 and playing for the Winnipeg Jets," Little said. "Even though we're not that organization today (the relocated Jets of 1979-1996 are in Phoenix), I think it still would have felt weird.

"And I have seen already how much the fans there have cherished Jets history. So I'm going to be switching to 18."

Little wore No. 18 for his four OHL years with the Barrie Colts but when he turned pro and joined the organization that drafted him in the first round of 2006, Marion Hossa was wearing No. 18. So he chose 10.

As a full-time NHLer now for three seasons, Little believes he has figured out much at the game's highest level.

Last season, he actually played better as the season wore on -- unlike the team -- and wound up with 18 goals and 48 points.

The point total was only three off his high of 51 during the 2008-09 campaign in which he netted 31 goals.

"Last year was probably my most consistent full season," Little said. "Even when the team was playing bad, I was doing what I could and I was pretty happy with how I was doing.

"I was still playing good hockey, setting guys up and killing penalties. That's really what you're trying to do, stay consistent and steady throughout the year."

One of the factors in Little maintaining the level of his play was that in the second half, he was centring the team's top line with captain Andrew Ladd and Blake Wheeler.

He said he isn't sure that combination will continue in Winnipeg under new head coach Claude Noel.

"I know it's the way the season ended, with those guys, and we had quite a bit of chemistry, did well together," Little said. "But you never know what the coach will feel is right. He might want to tinker around to see what's best.

"In the end, it doesn't matter who you play with, as long as you get some chemistry going (with your linemates)."

One of the team's most pressing concerns in the off-season -- aside from all the logistical and relocation issues -- is finding scoring and goals for 2011-12.

As one of the providers of offence, Little thinks that urgency of that need may be a little overblown.

"I think that's one of the main concerns that fans have -- where will those goals come from," he said. "But if you look at our team, you'll see we've got quite a few guys who can put the puck in the net.

"Me, I don't think it's going to be a problem. We have some talented guys and the main thing is that we are young. With a few more years of experience, you're going to see some improvement there."

Little also said he was in Winnipeg a few weeks ago to scout out some apartment and condo options for the coming season. He also paid a visit to the team's new (for them) quarters in the MTS Centre and said the size of the rink actually caused him to smile.

"I know it's small and it's tough to say now because it only holds 15,000 but this really looks like a great rink for the home (team)," he said. "Everything still looks pretty brand new, the facilities are nice and overall I was pretty impressed by that rink."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition August 2, 2011 C2

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