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This article was published 7/11/2014 (2587 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
If every hockey team needs an identity, Winnipeg Jets forward Blake Wheeler says his team’s can be summed up in one word - "ugly."
And that, says Wheeler, is actually the beauty of these 2014-15 Winnipeg Jets. "We see ourselves as an ugly group of guys that are going to work harder than everyone else on the ice. And that gives us a chance to win every night," Wheeler said at MTS Centre Friday morning prior to his team’s optional skate.
"It’s kind of an ongoing joke in our room - that we make ugly passes, that we make ugly plays out there. But when push comes to shove, we’re going to win those battles and win enough of them to win games."
If the face of us these new - and red-hot - Jets is pock-marked, gap-toothed and bleeding (think Bobby Clarke, circa 1975), then it was on display in all it’s gruesome glory Thursday night in a 4-3 penalty-filled shootout loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins at MTS Centre.
While Pittsburgh won the game, the Jets - to a man - think the gritty effort they showed against the Penguins is exactly the kind of game that is best suited to the group of players they have assembled this year.
"There’s some offence there and there’s definitely some skill there," Jets head coach Paul Maurice said of his dressing room. "But as a group, what we can do well is play a really hard game together and recognize on the ice that’s our game...
"They can all do the things we’re asking them to do. We’re not asking anyone to over-reach."
An over-riding emphasis this year on playing gritty defensive hockey - above all else and at all times - has paid big dividends in recent weeks, with the Jets riding a 5-0-2 streak in their last seven games as they head out this weekend for a five-game road trip that begins Saturday night in Ottawa.
Wheeler says a more wide open style the team used to play was ill-suited to the team the Jets have. "Some nights it worked and some nights it didn’t and that’s why we were inconsistent," said Wheeler.
"I really do believe that Paul identified what we are and just kind of broke it down - this is what we are and this is what we aren’t. You can want to be something you want to be all you want, but it’s not in this room."
Jets forward Evander Kane laughed when he was asked Friday morning if Wheeler’s description of the Jets as "ugly" also applies to him personally. "No, I don’t think I’m ugly," Kane grinned. "My face looks alright.
"But yeah, we’re a tough team to play against. And anytime Blake Wheeler is leading your team in fights that’s a pretty obvious statement that we have no skill and will have to go out there and just fight our way through the game."
Both Kane and Wheeler - along with Jacob Trouba and Adam Lowry - dropped the gloves against the Penguins Thursday night and Kane said that kind of edgy game is of the type the Jets are going to need to play to be successful this season.
"I think we’re finding out we can have some success when we play a kind of smash-mouth hockey in a way. And I think that’s a reason I definitely signed up to play when I was a kid -- you get that physical play and you get to take out some aggression and you get to score some goals and it’s fun to play in that type of atmosphere.
"I think if we can continue to do this - maybe not in terms of the fighting so much, but just in terms of the physical-ness and the battle level and the mentality we have going into games - it will give us a chance to win every night."
Paul Wiecek was born and raised in Winnipeg’s North End and delivered the Free Press -- 53 papers, Machray Avenue, between Main and Salter Streets -- long before he was first hired as a Free Press reporter in 1989.