‘No one ever wants to get benched’
Scheifele breaks silence after rough night against Carolina
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Mark Scheifele is more familiar with dodging hits from opposing defenceman than he is dodging questions from reporters, but it was the latter he was asked to address following Thursday’s morning skate at Canada Life Centre.
The Jets’ centre and leading goal-getter was stapled to the bench, along with his linemates, for much of the second period Tuesday night in an eventual 5-3 loss to the Carolina Hurricanes. Scheifele, Kyle Connor and Nino Niederreiter saw no ice time for the final 11:45 of the middle frame.
Afterward, the 30-year-old, 10-year veteran turned down a request for his post-game comments.
Scheifele, who had 38 goals and 60 points prior to a visit by the Boston Bruins on Thursday night, is part of the team’s formal leadership group as one of three alternate captains. Players are allowed to reject requests for post-game interviews — as long as it’s within reason, per NHL media rules — but it can reflect negatively on a player’s accountability, especially after a tough loss.
The Kitchener, Ont., product offered his rationale for saying no to the waiting media.
“I just didn’t want to,” Scheifele said hours before the tilt with Boston. “I was pissed off. I didn’t want to say something that you guys get some clickbait from. I just didn’t want to.”
Scheifele’s line had been on for all three goals against the Jets before head coach Rick Bowness decided to cut down to three lines instead of four for the rest of the second period. Bowness changed the forward lines up to begin the third, replacing Niederreiter with Mason Appleton.
Scheifele had played well through the first two games of the Jets’ three-game road trip, scoring twice and adding an assist in wins over the Florida Panthers and Tampa Bay Lighting. He struggled against the Hurricanes, ending his night a minus-4 while limited to a season-low 14 minutes and 17 seconds of ice time.
“Pissed off. No one ever wants to get benched,” Scheifele added. “We weren’t playing great. That’s what happens and we’ve just got to be better.”
Connor also faced some criticism for declining to do a post-game interview, but the Jets leading scorer said he originally had no idea he had been requested for comments. It wasn’t until later that he was made aware his number had been called, though he admitted to being relieved he didn’t have to speak immediately after the loss.
“I’m here talking to you guys right now. I have no problem with it. The number wasn’t on the board. So, I kind of got out of there,” Connor said. “Obviously a lot of emotions throughout that — and I’m sure you guys would have loved to talk to me right there. So, I guess it’s good to gather my thoughts the next day and kind of come back a little more composed.”
He added: “It’s something that probably happens in everybody’s life, obviously in pro sports. But you’ve got to go out and accept the challenge and my mentality, if I ever have a bad game or I don’t like the way that I’ve played is to work twice as hard.”
Connor currently paces the Jets in points, with 73, including 27 goals and 46 assists in 68 games. He’s going through an uncharacteristic stretch at the moment, with just one goal in his last 11 games and none in the last seven.
The Jets are fighting for a playoff spot, currently occupying the final wild-card spot in the Western Conference, with the Nashville Predators just four points behind and with three games in hand. They need Connor to be at his best in these final regular-season games, which means regaining his touch around the net.
“Keep playing the way I know I can. Don’t shy away from taking shots. Don’t change my game. It’s a matter of time,” he said. “I had a breakaway in Tampa. Obviously pissed I don’t score on that. I’ve had other chances here and there. You start (worrying) when you don’t get chances, you start looking at ways to create more. Sometimes that’s not the right answer, it’s just being a little more simpler.”
For his part, Bowness said he wasn’t planning on sitting Scheifele’s line for as long as he did, that he hoped to throw them back on the ice after commercial break with around six minutes remaining in the second.
“The other three lines were playing so well, I just decided to let it go. Was the original plan to let them sit there the whole period, absolutely not,” he said. “The other three lines gave us a lot of momentum, so I just let it go. It did go longer than I thought it would.”
As for players being accountable to fans through the media after the game, Bowness wasn’t about to add fuel to the fire.
“They’re grown men. They’re professionals. They deal with it. They’re not little kids. You can’t guide them around every little bit,” the coach said. “They make decisions on their own. I met with the three of them this morning. We move on and get ready for Boston.
“Clearly things weren’t going their way that night. The message is regroup on the bench and be ready to go next time your name is called, which they were in the third period. You’re sitting there, you’re mad, you’re not playing, I get it. That’s all part of it. The message is clearly we have to pick this up a little bit, and we have to respond. We got a better response in the third. Like I said, they’re pros, they’re men, they have a lot of pride. The top guys carry your team in the playoffs. That’s what the top guys’ job is, carry us into the playoffs. We’re confident they’ll do that.”
Injury update: Pierre-Luc Dubois participated in the morning skate but was ruled out of action against the Bruins, marking the fifth straight game he’s missed with an undisclosed upper-body injury. There’s no update on his timeline but the team remains hopeful he’ll be able to join them on their two-game road trip against the Nashville Predators and St. Louis Blues Saturday and Sunday, respectively.
Veteran forward Sam Gagner will miss the remainder of the year after electing for hip surgery to take care of a nagging issue. He underwent surgery on one hip this week and will have the other one done in the coming days.
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.