Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

THAT'S A WRAP Camaraderie counts, too

Doesn't hurt that players seem to genuinely like each other

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It's not the kind of thing the National Hockey League tracks because there are no statistical categories or formulas that can effectively measure team camaraderie.

But the more Claude Noel watches his Winnipeg Jets -- including Saturday's highly entertaining shoot-out competition at the end of practice -- the more he likes what he sees.

After all, the theory here is simple:

There are no guarantees a team that gets along wins more, but it sure as heck can't hurt, either.

"It's evident to me the players get along well and I continue to see that," said Noel. "They seem to be having some fun, they're enjoying themselves, they're enjoying being in Winnipeg. I think they're enjoying the attention they're getting.

"There was no reason for me to believe it was not a close group and they've proven they are close."

Saturday's practice was Exhibit A. After a spirited workout assistant coaches Charlie Huddy, Pascal Vincent and Wade Flaherty -- Noel watched, but was not on the ice -- had the squad line up in a shoot-out competition. Every time a player scored, he dropped his gloves and stick on the ice. And the last man standing -- it was veteran Mark Stuart -- had to corral the equipment strewn all over the place.

"Today was a good day to let us loose and get the guys enjoying ourselves," said defenceman Dustin Byfuglien. "It was nice to have a practice like that where everyone got to laugh at each other."

After Friday's shoot-out loss to the Nashville Predators in their pre-season finale Noel raved about his team's hockey intellect. What he has also discovered is the leadership in the room has helped make that camaraderie solid.

Captain Andrew Ladd is the consensus perfect choice to wear the 'C' but a number of others have stood out in this department, too -- whether they are wearing letters or not.

Of course, all this means little until the puck drops for real, but seeing positive initial signs is a whole lot better than the alternative.

"These are all things we're looking at and trying to sort through," Noel said. "Whenever you get a new franchise or a new team they are other people's letter carriers, they're not necessarily yours. So, you look at those things and say, 'Is it right? Is it not right? What should we do?'

"At the end of the day it's more than your letter carriers that are your leaders. You have a leadership group and that can consist of probably six, max. There's a lot of behind-the-scenes leadership stuff. Everybody leads, everybody has an opportunity to lead."

And so, as camp officially closes and the preparation for the regular season cranks up on Monday -- today is a day off for the players -- Noel is confirming he likes the hand he's been dealt.

This is a better team than he thought. More talent, more hockey smarts, more depth.

All this doesn't change this fact, however: this hockey team is very much a work in progress. Camaraderie and leadership can be severely tested if the wins don't come.

"I like the elements that we have," said Noel. "It's going to be dictated as we play along. We've only played a few opponents and sometimes you have different opponents that present different things and now you don't like your team quite as much, These are things you have to sort out.

"But I like what we have here. We have the potential to do some good things, When we start on Monday it's for real and we'll see if we're all for real."

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

A capsule look at Jets training camp:

Record: 3-3-1

Goals for: 18 -- Mark Scheifele (4), Evander Kane (3), Andrew Ladd (2), Paul Postma (2), Ben Maxwell (1), Blake Wheeler (1), Derek Meech (1); Troy Bodie (1), Kevin Clark (1), Spencer Machacek (1), Ivan Telegin (1).

Goals against: 19.

Leading scorers: 1. Scheifele - 8 pts (4G, 4A); 2. Paul Postma - 5 pts (2G, 3A); 3. Bryan Little - 4 pts (0G, 4A); Evander Kane - 4 pts (3G, 1A).

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 2, 2011 B2

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