Jets maximizing minimal practices

Short and fast is the focus

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After being limited to morning skates and optional practices for the better part of the last two weeks, the Winnipeg Jets finally had the chance Thursday to hit the ice for a real practice.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 28/01/2021 (739 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

After being limited to morning skates and optional practices for the better part of the last two weeks, the Winnipeg Jets finally had the chance Thursday to hit the ice for a real practice.

It was the first time the Jets have had a “full” workout — forwards Blake Wheeler, Mark Scheifele and Paul Stastny were absent — since Jan. 17, the day before setting off on a three-game road trip through Ontario. Over the next 11 days, the Jets had six games, two optional practices and a cancelled practice owing to an abundance of caution over the coronavirus, as well as a pair of mandated days off.

Considering Winnipeg is now seven games into a 56-game campaign and has only had a handful of practices, there’s reason to believe this will be the new norm for the NHL club.

MIKE DEAL / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Winnipeg Jets' associate coach Jamie Kompon talks to players during practice at BellMTS Place Thursday morning.

After this three-day stretch between games, the Jets will have just one instance where they’ll get that kind of break between games. In fact, after a four-game series with the Calgary Flames that ends Feb. 9, which follows with a four-day break, the most time off the Jets will have between games until the end of the season in early May will be two days.

“When we were stepping out on the ice as coaches, we felt like it was pretty close to 10 days since you’ve had a real strong practice. There’s just not going to be any practising time,” said Jets head coach Paul Maurice. “Then when you get those blocks off, you’re not going to be looking at those as ‘hey, we can get the guys on the ice for three straight days.’ You’re going to be looking at rest and recovery most days and trying to maximize that. We would adapt — I don’t know if change — but we would adapt our philosophy on the way you would practise a hockey team based on the schedule, for sure.”

For those unfamiliar with practice schedules in the NHL, even in a season under normal conditions a practice is often rare. Having to navigate through a global health pandemic will only further pull back on the number of days you’re able to conduct on-ice work outside of game day.

The challenge, Maurice said, is trying to replicate the real thing. It’s not about manufacturing intensity as much as it is trying to work on the in-game scenarios while also creating an atmosphere that doesn’t allow his players to let up on their effort.

It can be a difficult balancing act.

“Game-like situations, that’s what we always like to practise in. The problem with that is that it’s five-on-five and that usually means that there’s a lot of contact. So you’ve got to figure out a way to get the game-like pace in your practice, that game feel without running heavy drills,” said Maurice. “With video, maybe all teams will rely on video for the heavy component of your teaching and then you’ll use your practice as much about maintenance, recovery and speed as anything else. You’re just not going to see a lot of battling — or any — by any team. We want to practise fast and it will be short in duration and you want the intensity level high. You’re just not going to have the physical intensity.”

Ask around the league and there’s a split when it comes to players and the importance of practise. Some players love to practise, while others hate it.

Another thing about an NHL practice is the length — very rarely does a workout last more than 45 minutes to an hour, if ever. Drills often include working on the fundamentals, whether it is focusing on transitions, passing or shooting. Other times the Jets get into systems, spending time on offensive or defensive zone breakouts, or specific work on special teams.

It can often be left up to the individual player for what they get out of practising.

“You can kind of watch your shifts and watch your game and see some trends. In the first couple games I felt like I was a little bit excited to jump up and so I tried to calm that down a little bit, just coming out of our own end and stay underneath puck support. Today, we were focusing on trying to have stick on puck and really focus on defence in our own end and it’s amazing how many times you can knock pucks down or get a reflection on it and I think that’s the strength of my game. But I just felt like I wanted to sharpen that up a little bit today after watching the last number of games on video,” defenceman Josh Morrissey said. “It just depends; if you’re a forward, maybe you’re working on a specific shot that you’ve been getting but you haven’t been hitting it properly in the game or certain things like that… For me, I like to have sort of one little thing from each game that I’ll focus on in the practice the next day.”

It just so happened Thursday was the first NHL practice for Cole Perfetti, the centre the Jets selected with the No. 10 overall pick in October’s NHL draft. The 19-year-old is fresh off a standout career with the OHL’s Saginaw Spirit, where he scored 185 points in 124 regular-season games.

Junior hockey is a different beast when it comes to practice. With most games played on the weekend, teams will often practise multiple times a week, usually in the afternoon after finishing up school for the day.

Often, new players will refer to working on being a “better pro.” Part of that is the adjustment in practice routine.

“It’s a little bit of a heavier schedule and, especially this year, there’s going to be a significantly less amount of skating. The big thing that I’ve noticed is just the little details. Passes are always on the tape, they’re crisp, they’re hard. That just improves the flow of the practice. You get through your drills quicker and ultimately, it allows for less skating and less work when you play like that and you’re that efficient with the puck,” Perfetti said.

“In junior hockey there’s more errors in practice and stuff like that, more teaching, where here, everyone is so smart and so good that there’s not as much teaching. So it’s a big learning step. After one practice, I learned a lot in what it’s like in a pro schedule and what it’s like to be a pro.”

It’s a transition that occurred two years ago for defenceman Logan Stanley. Stanley has played two seasons with the AHL’s Manitoba Moose and has been one of the Jets’ best surprises this season. His development over the off-season, along with some injuries on the blue line, has allowed him to earn regular work with the club this season.

He said the jump from the OHL to the NHL was fairly seamless, if only because you don’t have the time to overthink with how many games are played in a season. What he noted, though, were the off-ice efforts used to complement the on-ice workouts.

“I think (Jake) Wolff here, our strength coach, has a good program for us and we get what we need to do in the gym and I think there’s lots of stretching and small lifts to keep our body sharp,” Stanley said. “A day like today is great, to get up and down the ice and feel the puck a little bit and get our legs going. Practices might be a little longer because you’re playing on the weekend, but today and tomorrow will be good for us and get us ready for Saturday night.”

 

jeff.hamilton@freepress.mb.caTwitter: @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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