Scheifele escapes torture chamber

Jets top centre returns to action after two weeks of hellish COVID isolation


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Mark Scheifele is usually a pretty positive person, but that proved to be a real problem over the past couple weeks, a time which kept him away from the Winnipeg Jets and battling boredom and frustration while in isolation.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 01/11/2021 (461 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Mark Scheifele is usually a pretty positive person, but that proved to be a real problem over the past couple weeks, a time which kept him away from the Winnipeg Jets and battling boredom and frustration while in isolation.

“Holy mackerel. It’s been an adventure, that’s for sure,” Scheifele, 28, said Monday as he rejoined his teammates for a skate at Canada Life Centre. “It’s nice to be back with the boys. It felt like forever. A lot of FOMO going on. It was nice to be back with the boys and back at it.”

The 4-2-2 Jets kick off a season-long seven-game homestand Tuesday against Dallas. Scheifele, the team’s top centre, expects to be in the lineup for only the third time after riding an emotional roller-coaster.

Mark Scheifele expects to be back in the lineup on Tuesday for only the third time this season. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press)

He was a spectator when the club opened the 2021-22 NHL campaign in Anaheim on Oct. 13, serving the last of a four-game suspension handed down last spring in the playoffs against Montreal. He made his debut three nights later in San Jose, then laced up the skates for a second time on Oct. 19 in St. Paul. And then his story took an unexpected turn. After landing in Winnipeg late that night, Scheifele learned he’d tested positive for COVID-19. He had no symptoms, unlike good friend and regular linemate Blake Wheeler, who got his diagnosis a day earlier and was left behind in Minnesota to isolate.

A negative test came later that afternoon, one which he figured would clear the path for a prompt return (NHL protocols require two negative tests within 24 hours to get back on the ice, or the passage of 10 days provided there are no symptoms). Unfortunately, it was followed the next day by a second positive test and then positive test results for the next six straight days. Like all players on the team, Scheifele is fully vaccinated.

“I think I’m the first guy to play 25 minutes with COVID,” he said of that game against the Wild which would prove to be his last. “I got back-to-back negatives when it was day 10, so it didn’t really matter that I got back-to-back negative tests. From talking to the trainers, they gave me info that I was teetering on the edge of being negative in terms of like the viral count or whatever it is, but it just wouldn’t get past that line.”

With the Jets on the road in California last week, Scheifele remained in Winnipeg and resumed skating late last week. He couldn’t join them south of the border, because that would have meant not being allowed to return to Canada for 14 days from his initial diagnosis. 

“I’ve felt fine, think I’ve had like nine straight days of working out. This is the fifth day in a row skating. I feel great,” said Scheifele. “It’s one of those weird ones where usually if you’re rehabbing an injury or actually sick, you have the motivation to rest up, heal. You have something you’re looking forward to, a date, where if I do the right things on this date I’ll be able to skate and do this, but when you’re literally just sitting at home feeling 100 per cent normal, you get pretty bored.”

The Jets lost the season-opener to the Ducks without Scheifele, then dropped the two games in San Jose and Minnesota (in overtime) with him. They’ve since gone 4-0-1 during this extended absence.

“We’ve got fantastic players on our team. I wasn’t surprised at all. I thought the boys played great, got some big wins. I wasn’t surprised at all,” 

Still, it wasn’t easy to watch on television, which had Scheifele bouncing off the walls looking for a distraction. Fortunately, he had one at the ready.

“I have a golf simulator at my house, so intermission, I played nine holes,” said Scheifele.  “I hit the range and all the boys, when I first saw them (Sunday), they were all like, ‘I bet your golf game is fantastic right now after being stuck inside for 10 days.’ I got a good routine going down, so it will be weird to actually play in a game. Won’t be thinking about nine holes in between periods.”

Now Scheifele, who has two assists in his two games, will be trying to quickly get back into the swing of things on the ice. Curiously, he was put on a new-look line with Wheeler (who returned from COVID on Saturday in San Jose in a 2-1 overtime loss) and Adam Lowry. Coach Paul Maurice likes how his top six has been going of late, with Andrew Copp between Paul Stastny and Nikolaj Ehlers, and Pierre-Luc Dubois between Kyle Connor and Evgeny Svechnikov.

“I didn’t find out until I was out there, saw that I had a blue jersey. I don’t think I’ve had a blue jersey on since I played with Michael Frolik and Matt Halischuk nine years ago, said Scheifele. “Two great players, two great guys. Could make my job really, really easy. Two guys that clean a lot of space out. We’ll see how it goes (Tuesday) and go from there.”

That would leave some combination of Riley Nash, Dominic Toninato, Jansen Harkins and Kristian Vesalainen for the fourth line.

“In the absence of Mark and Blake we’ve had each line step up and look really good,” said Maurice. “The two lines I left together, do no harm sometimes is a good way to look at your line-up. If you like two of them, we know Mark and Blake have played well together. With Adam there as a left-hand centre, he’s a big man, can go to the net, it’s a different look to the line for sure. You have two guys who took a big chunk of time off kind of in-season, it gives them some time to work together and get back together.”

The Jets were waiting on some other good news Monday, with goaltender Connor Hellebuyck absent from practice. Normally that might be a concern, but not this time. His fiancee, Andrea, was due to give birth to their first child.

“New season ticket holder we hope,” cracked Maurice.

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.


Updated on Monday, November 1, 2021 9:27 PM CDT: Clarifies timeline of test results.

Updated on Monday, November 1, 2021 9:37 PM CDT: Changes 9 straight days to 6 straight days.

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