Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Young Scheifele yearned to be a Red Wing

Idolized Yzerman, Lidstrom as a kid

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DETROIT -- Growing up just a three-hour drive away in Kitchener, Ont. -- and in a family full of rabid Detroit Red Wings fans -- the subject of which NHL team Mark Scheifele would cheer for never really came up in the Scheifele household. It was just assumed.

"I went to about 10 Red Wings games as a kid with my whole family. We'd kind of go to one game a year," Scheifele reflected Tuesday morning after getting his first look as a player at the venerable Joe Louis Arena ice surface he until Tuesday knew only as a fan.

"It will be pretty fun. Detroit was my favourite team growing up and I always dreamt about playing in the Joe. So for it to actually happen is pretty cool and hopefully we get the win."

A visitors' win is not something Scheifele has seen before. "I've seen 10 games here," Scheifele said following his club's morning skate, "and every time the Red Wings have won."

Until Tuesday night, that is, as Scheifele's Jets won 3-2 in a shootout to record their third victory in a row and second in eight days over Detroit.

Earlier in the day, the Jets rookie was asked to list his favourite Red Wings players growing up and such is his youth -- he's only 20 -- that a couple of them are still playing.

"Steve Yzerman was my favourite. And then Datsyuk, Zetterberg, Lidstrom," Scheifele recalled, chuckling at the idea that both (Pavel) Datsyuk and (Henrik) Zetterberg would be playing against him Tuesday night.

"It's kind of weird playing against two of your favourite players, but it's pretty cool as well. You take it as a challenge and want to be better than them," said Scheifele.

Scheifele was reduced to a spectator in the first period, however, when -- while sitting out his first-ever NHL penalty -- Zetterberg fed Datsyuk for Detroit's first goal of the night.

Scheifele faced his former favourite team last week at the MTS Centre in a 4-2 Jets win. And he certainly did not look out of place playing his heroes in that instance, notching a pair of assists in his first multi-point game in the NHL.

"It's a pretty surreal feeling to actually play against guys that you looked up to as role models," said Scheifele. "But I think it's also a good challenge because you see those guys as the best players in the league and you want to be better than them. You want to take that as a challenge. It makes you a better player."

Scheifele said he had six family members comingto Detroit for Tuesday night's game and was hopeful they would see their new favourite team continue to play in a fashion that had seen Winnipeg win three of their last four games coming into Tuesday, including a 5-4 shootout win Sunday at the MTS Centre over a high-octane San Jose team.

"Obviously to beat a team like San Jose... that's a playoff team every year, they have a deep team and I think it showed us we can play with any team in the league," said Scheifele. "I think we've done that all season -- we know we can stick with the best teams in the league. We just have to bring it every night."

Scheifele said he's feeling more confident with each passing game of his rookie season and it hasn't hurt he's been playing on a line with a Stanley Cup-winning veteran in Michael Frolik.

"I think I've been around this league for awhile so I try to talk to the guys," Frolik said of Scheifele and the third member of the line, Matt Halischuk. "I think communication is important. We try to talk before the game about what's the plan and so we know where we are."

Jets head coach Claude Noel says the line is exactly where he wants them to be right now.

"I think they've been fairly consistent over the past four, five games," he said.

paul.wiecek@freepress.mb.ca Twitter: @PaulWiecek

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 13, 2013 C6

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