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Scheifele going back to school

Team Canada assignment thrilling for 'hockey nerd'

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It's not the happy ending every player in the National Hockey League dreams about -- holding the Stanley Cup aloft come late June and slurping champagne from the ol' mug through a very ugly playoff beard.

But as hockey gigs go, representing your country at the IIHF World Hockey Championship next month is a darn fine consolation prize.

And that goes double for a guy like Mark Scheifele, who had his rookie campaign with the Winnipeg Jets come to an abrupt end on March 4 when he sprained the medial collateral ligament in his left knee.

"I'm pretty pumped. I was excited when I got the call to go over there," said Scheifele Tuesday, not long after a conditioning session at the MTS IcePlex. "Obviously, any time you can put on a Team Canada jersey it's pretty special.

'Obviously, any time you can put on a Team Canada jersey it's pretty special... The knee is feeling good. I've been continuing to skate and work out and get it stronger and it's feeling really good. And there was no surgery and it healed on its own so that's good, too'

-- Jets centre Mark Scheifele

"I'll be good to go by then. The knee is feeling good. I've been continuing to skate and work out and get it stronger and it's feeling really good. And there was no surgery and it healed on its own so that's good, too."

Scheifele's injury came just hours before the trade deadline and, after not making a move before the window closed, the Jets struggled to a 6-9-3 finish without him in the lineup. Although his season started off slowly offensively -- there were even suggestions he be shipped out to St. John's -- his attention to detail in his own end and the club's still-thin roster down the middle kept him in the bigs.

By the time of the injury Scheifele was flashing his offensive skills and looked like a completely different player. He finished with 34 points -- 12 goals and 17 assists coming in a 40-game stretch before his season ended -- and was very much in the rookie-of-the-year conversation.

"It was pretty brutal. To be playing good, the team playing well and then for me to get hurt... it definitely sucked," Scheifele said. "A guy like me, I always want to be on the ice and do what I can to help the team. So to not be able to be out there was pretty tough. Not being able to be there for the playoff push was even worse. It was a tough thing to go through.

"And the start wasn't exactly what I wanted but the way I look at it now it was a good learning tool not having a lot of success and being able to battle through it. All the older guys were there to help me through it. That was huge and it speaks volumes of our team. I learned a lot and when Paul (Maurice) got there he taught me so much as well."

Now, two key factors worked to get Scheifele on Canada's roster, aside from him being healthy again: Maurice, who will serve as an assistant at the worlds, raved about him being a two-way player and he has worn the red and white before, most recently at world junior hockey championships in 2012 and 2013.

There's also this -- Scheifele is an admitted hockey junkie and quick study. Some would argue that has played a part in his rapid development this past winter.

"All the guys call me 'The Hockey Nerd'," said Scheifele with a chuckle. "I watch a lot of hockey. I love it. I just try to learn as much as I can. I watch guys like (Jonathan) Toews and (Sidney) Crosby, you see how good they are defensively and how good overall they are. Those are the best players in the world competing on the biggest stage right now. A guy like Toews, I watch where he goes but the little things he does on draws, in the defensive zone... he never makes a bad read out there and always seems to be in the right spot. When the team is breaking out, he's directing traffic and he's the guy that wants the puck. To me, he and Crosby are the best at it."

Scheifele will be joining a Team Canada side that includes Manitoba's James Reimer in goal along with five players who have previously represented Canada in the event. Another eight, including Scheifele, have world junior experience.

The event runs May 9-24 in Minsk, Belarus and Canada's first game is against France on the opening day. Scheifele's last stint in Canada's colours was at the world juniors in Ufa, Russia over the 2012 Christmas holidays.

"It's pretty cool to do this much travelling and to represent Canada is always a privilege," said Scheifele. "I didn't expect this to happen, so I'm excited to get it started and hopefully we can bring home the gold."

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

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 23, 2014 D2

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