Finally! A taxi when you need one

D-man Heinola the first man on Jets' emergency squad


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Welcome back to hockey purgatory, Ville Heinola. Hopefully your stay doesn't last very long.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 27/12/2021 (519 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

Welcome back to hockey purgatory, Ville Heinola. Hopefully your stay doesn’t last very long.

The 20-year-old defenceman once again finds himself parked on an NHL taxi squad, meaning plenty of practice and very little game action could be in his immediate future. Such is the nature of the beast caused by the global pandemic which has once again forced the league to shift plans on the fly.

As of Monday, every club is able to designate six skaters for what is essentially a COVID-19 insurance policy. They are called up from the farm team, can practice and work out with the big club, but only added to the main roster in the case of an emergency.

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Ville Heinola once again finds himself parked on an NHL taxi squad.

Heinola is no stranger, having spent about a month in that state last season. And now he’s returned, the first official member of Winnipeg’s current edition.

“Right now it feels good with the (Manitoba) Moose not skating and it’s hard to get ice time. Now it’s pretty good to have some practice under the belt. It’s not that easy always, but I think right now it’s a good thing so you can practice with the team,” Heinola, the 20th-overall pick in the 2019 NHL draft, said following Monday’s skate at Canada Life Centre.

The Moose have been on an extended holiday break, but players are expected to filter back in to town by Tuesday. At that point, expect another five players to join Heinola on the taxi squad. Manitoba last played Dec. 17, with games on Dec. 21 and 22 in Texas postponed. They were expected to resume action at home on Dec. 30 and 31 against Abbotsbford, but the AHL announced Monday those, too, have been postponed.

The next Moose game is now slated for Jan. 2 when they are set to host Iowa.

“It’s more day by day right now. It’s new for those guys too, so it’s hard to say what’s going to happen,” Heinola said about his current situation.

Indeed, interim coach Dave Lowry is on record as saying he doesn’t want young prospects like Heinola sitting in the press box too long, preferring to use the taxi squad for older, more established players. So it’s possible Heinola could be shipped back to the farm in time for the next Moose puck drop.

Of course, he could also be summoned to the Jets depending on how things shake out. Winnipeg does have seven healthy defenceman in the fold right now, although Neal Pionk missed practices on Sunday and Monday due to travel issues. He drove back from Minnesota and arrived in the city Monday afternoon.

“Well right now what we’re going to do is we’re limited to who’s in town. Obviously with Neal having travel problems, Ville’s in town. He’s able and willing to skate and it’s a good opportunity to get him up to speed. We were uncertain with Neal’s timeline, whether or not he’d be in town, whether or not he’d be available. And Ville’s a guy that was readily accessible so that’s why he’s here,” said Lowry.

“The biggest thing is he’s here right now. I thought he had a great practice. The Moose aren’t practicing until the 28th so a great opportunity for him. Every day for us is unpredictable. We don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow and that’s the biggest thing with Ville: we’ll continue to address that on a daily basis.”

Heinola would certainly be the top option to step in for the Jets. He has 13 NHL games on his resume, including five last year, and has two goals and 12 assists in 20 games with the Moose this year.

“My start was pretty good. We had a lot of success and a lot of points. Our team played well. I feel like the last couple games we’ve lost a couple players, so the last two games wasn’t that good. But overall I think we’ve been playing pretty well, myself included,” Heinola said of his year so far.

The smooth-skating Finn admits there are plenty of benefits to simply practicing with the Jets.

“You see where the guys are at. It’s a different speed. It’s a different level. You have to work harder here. You really have to focus what you do on the ice,” he said. “It’s good to see where the level is and you know what you have to focus on to get there. The main thing is to get there, then get some games. You have to see what you have to do.”

However, he’s hoping he doesn’t have to wait too long to get back in a game, whether it’s with the Jets or the Moose.

“Last year was tough, for sure. It was hard, but this year you already have half the season behind you with the Moose. It’s kind of good, you have so many games behind you. It’s more like going day by day, you can’t think about what’s going to happen because you don’t know what’s going to happen,” said Heinola.

“It’s kind of like, just focus on what’s going on, not think too much. Like you said, it’s not easy always if you’re not playing and you’re just in the press box. You just have to wait for your chance and when you get your chance, you have to prove you can play there. That’s my mindset right now.”

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.

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