The first thing Mark Scheifele felt upon arriving in Winnipeg was the blast-furnace heat, but that was soon superseded by a feeling he's been getting from people all over our city in his first visit since being drafted by the Jets.
"Enthusiasm. That's the thing I've noticed most since arriving here. It's only been a few days but everywhere I go and everyone I've talked to is enthusiastic about the Jets," said Scheifele, drafted in the first round by the Jets this summer at the NHL Entry Draft and in Winnipeg to take part in the Dale Hawerchuk Charity Classic golf tournament.
"It's been unreal. The people are unreal and the town is really nice. It's exciting to go to a place that is so excited about its team. It makes you feel so good to know you are wanted."
Scheifele, along with current Jets centre Bryan Little, represented the future and present at the Hawerchuk event while former Jets Ray Neufeld, Thomas Steen, Kris King, Dave Ellett, Dean Kennedy and Dave Manson filled the old guard role.
King, now working for the NHL as a vice-president of hockey operations, has been a regular in Winnipeg since his playing days but arrived in town Monday for the first time since the announcement of the Jets return.
"I noticed right away, especially coming down Portage Avenue. There's a different feel. I was surprised to see the Moose logo still up at the store. It didn't take long for me to see the excitement in the city. The doorman at the Fairmont, he filled me in right away. Everyone it seems wants to talk about the Jets. This city has some great leaders and they've done everything right. The fans, they bought those tickets up in a hurry, they've spoken. Everyone is glad to have the NHL back in their town."
Hawerchuk believes Winnipeg is enjoying a well-deserved renaissance.
"There's a lot of buzz. The Jets are back. The town is growing, everything is happening at this particular moment and it's a great thing for the town," said Hawerchuk. "Anyone who played here is glad to have the team back and if you talk to guys around the league, they think Winnipeg should have a hockey team if they can support it. Winnipeg has proven itself."
As for Scheifele, Hawerchuk thinks the Jets have a keeper.
"He was such a treat to coach and whether or not I get to coach him again is up to him," said the the Barrie Colts coach, who had Scheifele on his team last season. "That's the thing with Mark, he gets so much better so fast. He's a humble kid and he loves the game. He's a good fit for Winnipeg and the people are going to love him. His potential is straight up. He was the best forward for Canada at the under-18s. He's the real deal."
Manson says the return of the Jets is good not only for Winnipeg but the whole country.
"The city is electric. So many positive things. The Bombers are winning, the Goldeyes are winning. The Jets are back," said Manson. "It's good for Canada. I know how bad it was for people when the team left, so now to see the smiles people have on their faces -- it's a great thing."
Little is now in town for good and will begin skating with local pros as his new teammates begin to trickle into Winnipeg.
"I've been here a day and a half and all I've had is people coming up to talk to me about hockey. You can feel the excitement," said Little. "It's been growing with the players all summer. We're excited too. It started out when you saw how excited people here were when they announced the team was coming back. Then they were at the draft. It's nuts. And now we all just can't wait for opening night. Guys are going to get here early because they're excited to get going. We're coming."
The 18-year-old Scheifele played last season for the Colts and will come to camp with the Jets in September looking to join the big club. If not it's back to the OHL's Colts and likely a spot with Team Canada at the world juniors.
"My goal is to make the team. I've been working hard all summer and will work even harder at camp to prove myself," said Scheifele, who had 22 goals and 53 assists last season which was his first in major junior.
Eric Fehr shapes up /C4