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This article was published 17/9/2019 (645 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
It was a jarring way to start training camp. But now, Winnipeg Jets Sami Niku and Kristian Vesalainen are ready to start making an impact on the ice after recovering from a minor car crash.
The two young Finnish players were left shaken and a bit sore after their vehicle T-boned another car on Portage Avenue last Friday. They were headed to the rink for on-ice testing at the time.
Niku, who was driving, estimates he was going about 60 km-h at the time. The driver of the other vehicle was making a turn at the light and cut in front of their path, but wasn't injured. Airbags were deployed and police and first responders attended.
"I had a few seconds when I realized, 'Oh my god, we're hitting.' But after that we were both in shock. We didn't know what to do. It was a tough time," Niku recalled Tuesday as he spoke with media for the first time since the incident.
"I was looking up and saw the car and was like ‘Ahh, now it’s going to be a huge mess.’ I didn’t have so much time to think about it, it came pretty fast," added Vesalainen.
Niku, 22, and Vesalainen, 20, were held out of skating with the main groups for the first few days of camp as a precaution, allowing their bodies extra time to heal. But they've now got a clean bill of health and are expected to be in the lineup Wednesday night as the Jets host the Minnesota Wild at Bell MTS Place for the second of seven pre-season games.
"Obviously it’s good that nobody got hurt. That’s a big thing. Sometimes that happens, and life moves on. So nothing that big," said Vesalainen.
Niku was skating in practice Tuesday with No. 1 defenceman Josh Morrissey, so it's possible coach Paul Maurice will give that duo a look together.
"I really like to play with him. We are both same type of players. I think we play very good together," said Niku. "We lost some D, so I have a big opportunity to go to top-six. And I think I'm ready. I had a good summer. So I have good possibility to take my spot in top-six."
Vesalainen was doing drills on a line with No. 1 centre Mark Scheifele and veteran Mathieu Perreault.
"First, thank God they’re healthy, like at the end of the day they’re OK. And then you work your butt off all summer, you’re ready to roll, it’s tough for them. But hey, welcome to the NHL, you’re always going to have some turbulence in your career," said Maurice.
Hockey fans are breathing a bit easier these days with knowledge that the next NHL lockout or strike is at least three years away. Players made sure of that on Monday when they opted not to trigger an opt-out clause in the current collective bargaining agreement after this season, meaning it now runs through the 2021-22 campaign.
Adam Lowry, the Winnipeg Jets union rep, had a front-row seat for ongoing discussions about the matter.
"We had some good discussions on Friday and on Sunday about the paths we could take. We feel this is the best one right now. Obviously there are still some issues in the CBA players aren't happy with. We've had some good talks with the league and they're going to continue to negotiate, and hopefully we can find a resolution to some of these issues," Lowry said Tuesday.
Indeed, there is hope further negotiations could ultimately produce an even longer extension.
"We agreed the game is continuing to grow and is in a good spot. But like I said there's still some issues players feel need to be resolved. This just gives us a way to continue to grow the game while we work on those issues," said Lowry.
"We're continuing to talk to the league. Hopefully those productive talks continue. I don't think there's a time line to possibly have anything extended, but we're still open to extending the CBA."
Lowry, who is about to begin his sixth full season with the Jets, said the entire process has been a real eye-opener.
"You start running through the numbers, and you get informed on a lot of things. There's a lot more things that go into it than you'd be aware of if you aren't in the room or you haven' t been through one of these things before," he said.
"I find this stuff interesting. It's good to learn about the league and your union and be able to be informed and make sure the other guys are informed. I enjoy doing this stuff."
A more experienced Jets squad will hit the ice Wednesday night compared to the one that fell 2-0 on Monday in Edmonton.
Several returning players, including Blake Wheeler, Andrew Copp, Lowry, Scheifele, Perreault and Morrissey, are slated to make their pre-season debuts. Nikolaj Ehlers, who didn't skate Monday due to a minor injury but was a full participant Tuesday, will be held out as a precaution.
There will also be plenty of Finnish content, with Niku and Vesalainen joining 2019 first-round draft pick Ville Heinola and free agent signing Jonna Luoto.
Laurent Brossoit will start in net. Five players who skated in Alberta will play a second straight game, including forwards Luoto, Andrei Chibisov and C.J. Suess, and defencemen Tucker Poolman and Anthony Bitetto.
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.