AS much as Zach Bogosian is looking forward to that first game in Edmonton, three of the Jets in camp on Friday won't get to be there. The team had 26 players in camp as of Friday, and must get down to 23 before the season starts.
After Friday night's game in Saskatoon, the Jets will head to a team-building weekend in Banff, with some players still waiting to find out if they made it off the bubble in camp. After a short morning skate at the MTS Centre on Friday, coach Claude Noel said he wasn't quite relishing making those final moves.
"It's always difficult, because I've been a player," Noel said. "You don't like to be the bearer of that type of news."
But Noel said he stresses the silver lining for the released players too, the fact that he expects to see them back with the Jets sooner or later.
"The door will open again for some players," he said. "You have to make sure that you're prepared for that opportunity, so when the door opens again, you're making it a tough decision to be reassigned again."
After years around the hockey biz, Noel said he doesn't worry too much about how the pending reassignments will affect the players who don't make the cuts. They understand that sometimes things aren't fair, that waivers and contracts play a role in who goes where.
"Players are smart enough, they've been in this situation and they've been down this road before," he said, though there is a caveat.
"It's usually a little bit more difficult for young players, because by the time they get here they've been the best player all the way growing up, all the way through junior or college," he said. "It's a little bit tough to deal with then. I feel their pain, but that's just the nature of the game, and a process they have to go through sometimes."
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It's not often -- or ever -- that Andrew Ladd, Bryan Little and Blake Wheeler get to watch a game together from the press box, as they did during Thursday night's exhibition game. "It looks a lot slower from the press box," Ladd said, with a grin. "You see mistakes and whatnot. I think everyone can learn from that kind of stuff. I don't mind sitting out and watching, but I'd rather be on the ice and playing."
Wheeler didn't skate at practice Friday morning, as coaches held him out day-to-day, and wasn't slotted to join his linemates in Friday night's game. Upper body injury? Lower?
"He has an all-body injury," Noel quipped, but stressed that it wasn't serious. "He's just got some tweaks in training camp that we just want to be smart about."
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Noel has been stressing the two Cs of hockey with his team lately: communication and checking. Those are things he's pressed with the Jets for the last two seasons, but Noel said that's just part of the process.
"Things change," he said. "Players leave, and players come back, so you have to keep re-establishing some things. Players see themselves as trying to grab a bigger role, or justify their contract for example. I understand that stuff. Yes, you'd like to have it solidified... but you've just got to be patient."
So, is Noel's message about being tough to play against, and taking care of the details getting through?
"I hope so," Ladd said. "Those are all imperative to winning hockey games."