Jets fired up, ready for takeoff, pilot Maurice says

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It's a day before the big day, and excitement abounds around the Winnipeg Jets hockey club.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 12/10/2016 (2248 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It’s a day before the big day, and excitement abounds around the Winnipeg Jets hockey club.

But the nerves are there, too — even for a guy with nearly 1,300 games of NHL head-coaching experience.

“It’s always the same, right? It’s mixed with the excitement and then you can feel that NHL tension coming back into your day,” Jets bench boss Paul Maurice said Wednesday afternoon. “It’s a good thing.”

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice at practice Wednesday at MTS Iceplex. The Winnipeg Jets were practicing to prepare for their first NHL regular season home game against the Carolina Hurricanes.

The Jets open the 2016-17 regular season Thursday night when the Carolina Hurricanes visit the MTS Centre. Game time is 7 p.m.

“You miss it over the course of the summer. You’re planning for it and you know the grind that’s coming, but, boy, you live for it. So, we’re pretty excited here,” Maurice said following practice at the MTS Iceplex.

All 23 players on the Jets roster skated, including Drew Stafford and Shawn Matthias, who had missed chunks of training camp due to injury. The veteran forwards skated on a line with centre Bryan Little for many of the drills.

Matthias, who was sidelined with an upper-body injury, said it felt good to be back with the group, preparing for the Hurricanes.

“You want to get back into the swing of things, especially when you are new to a team and just getting to know guys,” said the 28-year-old forward, who signed with the Jets during the summer. “I’m excited to get back and start the season.

“I feel good. I’ve been working hard to be ready and I feel ready. I know all the guys are excited and ready to have a good start to the season and get some wins under our belt.”

Winnipeg plays seven of its first 12 games on home ice.

The Central Division squad looks healthy going into the opener, although Maurice, somewhat superstitious, balked at discussing the issue.

“Why would you do that to me? Do you hate me?” he jokingly asked a media member. “Why don’t just start screaming ‘shutout’ while you’re at it?

“It’s a long season and we’re healthy today.”

Mark Scheifele centred a line with Blake Wheeler and Nik Ehlers, while Mathieu Perreault skated between much-heralded rookie wingers Kyle Connor and Patrik Laine.

Adam Lowry played up the middle between Joel Armia and Brandon Tanev, while Chris Thorburn and Alex Burmistrov spotted in.

Still, the head coach wouldn’t say with certainty who would play with whom.

“I had seven white and seven blue so you have to be careful about making up my lines before the game. I haven’t told anyone who’s out of the lineup yet,” he said. “I like the idea of a lot of different combinations today.”

On the blue line, Josh Morrissey was paired with Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom played with Tyler Myers and Mark Stuart was with Ben Chiarot. Paul Postma was also in the mix.

Maurice wasn’t dropping any hints about whether Connor Hellebuyck or Michael Hutchinson would get the start Thursday night.

The Jets open with four rookies in the lineup, including Connor, Laine, Tanev and Morrissey.

Maurice, whose team finished last in the division at 35-39-8 to miss the playoffs last season, was asked what he expects from a lineup with that much youth.

“If we’re predicting what our team’s going to look like 82 games from now, I don’t have much of an answer. But the expectations are that the core is very close to being set,” he said. “We’ll be really, really careful we don’t put a ceiling on our team with expectations about who we are going to be eight months from now.

“We go with the expectation that if we go out and play our A-game, we’re going to win that game. I’m expecting us to be exciting and play really, really hard.”

Maurice said he offered some special words to Morrissey and Tanev when they made their NHL debuts last season, and he did the same with Connor and Laine this week.

“For the two first-gamers, what an exciting time for them and for their family, probably even more,” he said. “It’ll be a huge day for them.

“We want to make sure they are fully nervous and take it all in. Part of that speech is they can feel free to win 10 Stanley Cups and every award the NHL will ever give you, but you only get one first game… enjoy every minute of it.”

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Jason Bell

Jason Bell
Sports editor

Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).

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