Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Roster spot secured

But local product Meech taking nothing for granted

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A single digit says it all.

That was No. 7, not 47, on the back of Derek Meech's helmet during Tuesday's practice at the MTS Iceplex and the change isn't insignificant as the clock ticks down to the Winnipeg Jets' first regular-season game in their new home.

Meech, the 27-year-old Winnipeg-born defenceman, heard Monday that based on his training camp, he has earned a spot on the team to start the season.

Tuesday came the surprise of further acceptance -- the number change.

"Oh, I wasn't too worried about that, really," he smiled after practice. "But they kind of asked me and gave me some options and I picked seven. That's a decent number."

Does it stand for some level of security?

"You could say that," he said. "You feel better about it. I just didn't want to go in and ask to switch my number.

"For them to come and tell me I could, that was kind of a cool thing."

Meech wore No. 14 in Detroit, where he had been a member of the Red Wings organization since being drafted in 2002.

He played 126 regular-season games for the Wings over the years as a bubble sort of player. After being a strong performer last season, but only with the AHL's Grand Rapids Griffins, Meech opted for a free-agency move to the Jets this July.

"It's something that's hard to get excited about right away because I don't want to get too comfortable here," he said. "I don't want to take things for granted.

"I've worked hard so far to get myself into this situation. I don't want to let up at all. But at the same time, you have to let yourself be excited because it's an achievement and I get the opportunity to play in the NHL in my hometown city. It's a good feeling, that. I have to enjoy it but I have to remember the hard work has just begun."

Meech believes he has something to add to the fresh-starting Jets culture, having come from such a highly regarded NHL franchise.

"They're obviously a first-class organization in Detroit," Meech said. "They treat all their players like professionals. I think that's something I can bring over here, a level of professionalism that I can carry myself with.

"And they have superstars there, but no guys with egos. Every guy treated the other like an equal peer in that team. That's the same thing, I hope, we can translate to this team, and I haven't seen any of (the egos) so far.

"It's amazing how similar it is here. And it's something where I'm going to try to bring some leadership if I can, but I know it's a little tougher if I'm not in the lineup every day. Still, I've been around for a long time and I've learned a lot of things throughout my career, so I'll try to pass on any leadership I've learned, if I can."

That the hard work is just starting is something Meech knows. And he said that Jets head coach Claude Noel, though he was chuckling when he said it last week, wasn't kidding that players will play anywhere a coach asks if it means getting a chance.

Meech is in that very role, likely the team's seventh or eighth defenceman on the depth chart but one who could fill in at forward if required.

"Oh, I don't think he's kidding," Meech said. "It's one of the things I've gone through. I've tried to get my mind around it and prepare myself mentally for it if that's the opportunity.

"Right now, I'm going to focus on defence but if it does happen, I'll gladly take it on and do my best with it."

Noel said he has no special plan to deal with the "extras" on the roster.

"For me, it's based on performance," the coach said. "I've talked to the team about that. They clearly know what's going on. Everybody's objective is the same, everybody wants to win. So let's do what we have to do to win. It's no secret."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 5, 2011 C3

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