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Jets’ Bowness on shelf until Wednesday, at least

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Nate Schmidt was getting ready to do a pre-game interview ahead of Friday’s 4-1 season-opening win over the New York Rangers when a member of the Winnipeg Jets media relations team pulled him aside.

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Nate Schmidt was getting ready to do a pre-game interview ahead of Friday’s 4-1 season-opening win over the New York Rangers when a member of the Winnipeg Jets media relations team pulled him aside.

Knowing the TV camera light was seconds away from turning on and that a specific question was awaiting him, the Jets staffer informed Schmidt that head coach Rick Bowness had tested positive for COVID-19 and that he wouldn’t be behind the bench for the game.

Schmidt, the Jets veteran defenceman and resident class clown, has contracted COVID multiple times, including last season, his first with Winnipeg, but in this moment, his mind went somewhere else; naturally, humour took over.

Winnipeg Jets' head coach Rick Bowness missed the team's first game after testing positive for COVID. (Mike Deal / Winnipeg Free Press files)

“I kind of thought he was screwing with me,” Schmidt told the Free Press following Saturday’s practice. “They told me Bones was positive and I thought, ‘I know, he’s super positive. Same. I know the feeling.’”

Reality would soon kick in and while Schmidt finished up the interview, Bowness’s battle with the coronavirus was just beginning. The Jets provided an update after the game, with associate coach Scott Arniel sharing that Bowness had started to feel symptoms after the team’s morning skate, prompting the Jets to administer a test.

Not much had changed Saturday, with Bowness still on the shelf, beholden to the NHL’s updated COVID-19 protocols. Bowness won’t be available for Monday’s road game against the Dallas Stars — his former team, adding insult to injury — but the hope is he will be able to return Wednesday, ahead of their tilt with the Colorado Avalanche in Denver, Arniel said.

That hasn’t exactly stopped Bowness from coaching or Arniel’s phone from buzzing.

“I left my phone in my desk because I knew there would be 15 text messages. There weren’t any after the first period, but there were about 15 after the second. I knew that was coming,” Arniel said. “But at the end of the day, he was watching and this morning he’d already watched the game and made clips. It really bothered him that he couldn’t be there last night, but he’s pretty happy that we got the win.”

Under league rules, Bowness must isolate from the team for five days. After that, because he was symptomatic, he must be at least 24 hours removed from a fever or other symptoms (coughing, shortness of breath, etc.).

At that point, an individual can exit isolation on day six or later and after a lab-based PCR test that is negative; or a lab-based PCR test that has a CT value >30; or two negative molecular point-of-care tests collected two hours apart.

Medical steps aside, the loss of Bowness comes at a critical juncture of the Jets season. It’s Bowness’ first year running the team, which has implemented new systems, so it only makes sense that losing the architect of the team’s blueprint will have its effects.

“His job is usually a delegation of finding something that’s going on. If something is going on with the D, he’s coming down the bench and telling Arnie, who’s telling me,” Schmidt said. “Or he’s telling (offensive coaches Brad Lauer or Marty Johnston) that this is what we’re seeing, watching the matchups, understanding where the game flow is. He’s just kind of an overall umbrella. He’s keeping us all dry.”

“It’s less eyes on more guys, so you don’t have as great a feel for the game. You maybe kind of get a team-feel, rather than positional. It definitely hurts not having him around,” Schmidt said, noting it helps to have someone as experienced as Arniel running the bench, while also crediting the rest of the coaching staff for adjusting well on the fly.

Jets forward Kyle Connor echoed those sentiments, adding although Bowness’ absence was less than ideal, there may have been some benefits.

“It’s kind of one of those things that maybe it’s a little eye-opening,” Connor said. “We know we’ve got to lead as a team and with a lot of guys, but without the bench boss behind there, everybody’s kind of maybe a little more vocal, a little more sharp, so it may have been a good thing.”

The Jets won their first game of the season on Friday, beating the New York Rangers 4-1 without their new head coach behind the bench. (John Woods / The Canadian Press files)

Arniel admitted that despite COVID-19 ravaging the league since it first popped up in March of 2020, there isn’t a contingency plan in place for what they’re currently going through. It’s been so far, so good through one game, but it remains unclear what challenges might occur on the road.

“Rick’s given all of us a lot of responsibility, whether it’s practice drills or whether it’s showing video, different things that we’re presenting the team through training camp,” Arniel said.

“So, it’s not like all of a sudden I haven’t stood up in front of the players or Lau or Marty. I mean, it’s what we’ve done. We have our assignments kind of prior, going into this. For me, it’s more talking to the team prior to games, between periods, those type of things, maybe the start of practice, that type of stuff. It doesn’t change our workload a whole lot.”

The players say they will miss Bowness’ presence and look forward to his return. He’s ushered in a new era, one built around accountability and attention to detail, with the early reviews positive.

The biggest storyline heading into the season was what the “Bowness effect” could have on the club, which was built around him actually being with the team.

“He’s still in hockey mode,” Arniel said. “He sent me some text messages at 5:45 (a.m.) to make sure I put some clips in the video that we show the players. He’s still down and out, said he had a tough night. But I’m sure he’ll continue to get better each day. Hopefully, the worst is behind him.”

Jeff.Hamilton@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @jeffkhamilton

Jeff Hamilton

Jeff Hamilton
Multimedia producer

After a slew of injuries playing hockey that included breaks to the wrist, arm, and collar bone; a tear of the medial collateral ligament in both knees; as well as a collapsed lung, Jeff figured it was a good idea to take his interest in sports off the ice and in to the classroom.

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