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Wheels still inflated by Olympics

Jets forward excited to get back to making playoffs

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Blake Wheeler didn't try to hide the fact that he brought some Olympic disappointment back to Winnipeg but he loved the experience and insisted you're barking up the wrong tree if you somehow believe he wasted his time as a low-minutes player for Team U.S.A.

"It wasn't about one guy, know what I mean?" Wheeler said Tuesday, his first day back at the MTS Centre with his Winnipeg Jets teammates. "We were buzzing through the tournament pretty good the first four games. To be a part of that was awesome.

"To make it to the semis, where realistically I think we all believed we had a pretty good shot to take the whole thing, so for me, my role was a non-issue. I was really happy to be a part of that group, such a great group of guys. It was an experience I'm sure down the road in my life that I'll look back on a really cherish it.

"It's kind of tough now with all the travel and the chaos but one day soon I'll be able to look back and think it was pretty cool to participate in the Olympics."

'I'm really excited about the direction we're going and the way we left things here and I can't wait for Thursday'

-- Blake Wheeler

With 22 goals and 48 points, the right-winger from Robbinsdale, Minn., returned to Winnipeg on Monday as the Jets scoring leader as their schedule resumes here Thursday against the Phoenix Coyotes.

"I was able to sleep for a good amount of time on the way back," Wheeler said. "I stayed up all day yesterday and slept through the night. I feel better than when I got to Sochi.

"I'm going to have to get a coffee and run around with the kid for the day (have him) try to remember who dad is for a while."

As for memory, Wheeler said he's not about to forget some of the Team U.S.A. things he witnessed anytime soon.

"A lot of guys on that team had been on the silver-medal team from 2010 and a lot of those guys have won Stanley Cups, some of them multiple Stanley Cups so you learn pretty quick the dynamic of the locker room and the dynamic of a team that wins," he said. "Like I was pointing at before, it's not about one guy, who's scoring, any of that.

"It's truly about getting a win every game. It was a bummer we fell short but to learn a lot from a lot of guys who have had success in their careers was great for me."

The Americans' fourth-place finish was a non-factor in Jets coach Paul Maurice's assessment of Wheeler's last three weeks.

"In my mind when I look at it, you're in the top 20 players in the United States of America and you're a pretty good player," Maurice said. "And whether you get used a lot of minutes or not, you're still thought of as in a very high, elite group."

Tuesday's practice at the MTS Centre was Wheeler's choice. Both he and Olli Jokinen of Finland returned to Winnipeg on Monday and were given the choice of what to do on Tuesday.

"I was really excited to get back on the ice with these guys today," Wheeler said. "I'm really excited about the direction we're going and the way we left things here and I can't wait for Thursday."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

 

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition February 26, 2014 C3

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