REGINA — If there was an official face of the Heritage Classic, Adam Lowry would be a prime candidate. After all, he was raised in Alberta, played his junior hockey in Saskatchewan and now makes his professional living in Manitoba.
Of course, that face would also be frozen, given the conditions at puck drop Saturday night in Regina for the outdoor clash between the Winnipeg Jets and Calgary Flames at Mosaic Stadium. The forecast called for a temperature of -3 C, with north winds gusting up to 46 km/h, making it feel like -10 C.
"A lot of hours on the bus, kind of going up and down. Looking back on my junior experience in Swift Current, I’ve got a lot of fond memories. I had great billets." - Adam Lowry
"I think a lot of us grew up playing outside. The wind’s definitely something we’re not used to in normal games," Lowry said prior to the tilt, which the Jets won 2-1 in overtime.
Cold, blustery conditions aside, Lowry was excited about the game, with all kinds of family and friends in attendance. And this trek to Regina has meant a bit of a trip down memory lane for the 26-year-old, who got his game ready for prime time while spending four years with the Swift Current Broncos of the Western Hockey League.
"A lot of hours on the bus, kind of going up and down. Looking back on my junior experience in Swift Current, I’ve got a lot of fond memories. I had great billets. The town of Swift Current was great, We always had such good support and kind of travelling throughout Saskatchewan and going to some other cities, seeing how they get behind their junior teams, and obviously, the support they have for the Riders is huge," Lowry said.
"First time they’ve had an NHL game. I think the city’s excited, and we’re excited to get outside, throw on the jerseys and take in the experience."
Lowry played in the 2016 Heritage Classic at IG Field, in which the game-time temperature was a balmy 10 C. He was hoping some lessons learned from that game against the Oilers (which the Jets lost 3-0) would serve his team well on Saturday night.
"There’s a little bit of advantage just knowing the ice is going to get a little worse a little quicker. You might have to alter some of your decision-making. You might think you have a clean pass, but the better option is just to put it at the net," he said.
"Just in that sense, sometimes in these games, whether it’s the first playoff game or big events like this, the first few shifts, guys tend to want to do a little bit too much and tend to maybe want to put on a show."
There’s a business side to all of this, of course, with the Jets (5-6-0) and Flames (6-5-1) both trying to turn their struggling games around and grab a couple of valuable points in the competitive Western Conference.
"I think it’s just trying to get that good feeling back, whether it’s playing at home, or on the road or kind of in a neutral site. And just trying to build. That’s what we’ve talked about in the room, just trying to get better as the season goes on, continuing to build, and hopefully, we can get on a roll starting (Saturday)," Lowry said.
In his case, that includes mixing his usual solid defensive play with an offensive game that has been missing in action so far. Lowry has yet to record a point through 11 regular-season games. He had 12 goals and 11 assists in 78 games last year.
After playing the first few weeks of the season with veteran journeymen Mark Letestu and Gabriel Bourque on his wings, Lowry is back to a more familiar role now with Andrew Copp beside him, along with young speedster Jack Roslovic. The trio have looked strong at times over the past two games.
"I think you saw it at times in certain shifts, where we started to get that O-zone pressure, that O-zone time. Obviously, you slot in a new guy on the wing (Roslovic, taking the place of Brandon Tanev from last year), you’re going to take a little bit of time to get some chemistry with him," Lowry said.
"But I think (Copp and I) are so familiar with each other, we read off each other so well and he’s so responsible and dependable on both sides of the puck, hopefully, we can start building. I like the defensive aspect of our game, and now it’s going to be important that we can chip in offensively, as well."
Head coach Paul Maurice said the early returns on Lowry’s line have been solid.
"Those guys will get into their rhythm. Lots of faith in the chemistry between Andrew and Adam. And I’ve really liked the way Jack Roslovic has added a little bit different dynamic to that line," Maurice said Saturday.
The Jets will quickly be able to thaw out, as they were flying to California following the match to begin a three-game road trip. Winnipeg will play Tuesday night in Anaheim, Friday in San Jose and Saturday in Las Vegas.
"I think, when you can have a little bit of fun built into your year, it’s a good thing. We’re trying to do that. Just in our normal operating. Get the guys together, try to have a little bit of fun. But when you’re 5-6-0, you may not feel like you’re having as much fun," Maurice said of the entire Heritage experience.
Ville Heinola took a seat for the Heritage Classic — but the healthy scratch is not a sign the Jets have soured on his play. However, it could be an indication the 18-year-old’s time with the big club is running out, for now.
Heinola has eight NHL games under his belt, and can only play one more until the first-year of his three-year entry level contract kicks in. Given that Winnipeg currently has eight healthy defencemen on the roster, the writing may be on the wall. Especially with injured blue-liner Nathan Beaulieu closing in on a return and a candidate to play on the upcoming road trip.
Maurice poured cold water on a question about whether Heinola could be kept around all year, coming in and out of the lineup, in a similar way that the Jets have used 19-year-old Swedish centre David Gustafsson so far this year.
"I don’t know that that makes any sense, for an 18-year-old to be in and out of your lineup. The difference with Gustafsson right now, for me, is he’s 19 and he’s also training for the job that he will personally have. That’s where David comes into the NHL, he comes in in that centre position on the fourth line. And then, where he develops into, we’ll see. He may end up being a second-line centre at some point or in the Adam Lowry mould," Maurice said.
"But Ville would not be training for the job that he’s going to do by being in and out of the lineup."
The Jets are expected to recall a forward from the Manitoba Moose to join them in California. Both Letestu (upper-body) and now Mason Appleton (broken bone in his foot) are currently out of action, leaving the club with no extra healthy skaters up front.
Appleton got hurt Friday afternoon while tossing around a football with teammates at Mosaic Stadium as part of a pre-practice warm-up.
"There’s not really much to say. It’s a pretty junky situation to deal with. And, obviously, we empathize and are there for Mason and wish him a quick recovery," centre Mark Scheifele said Saturday.
"But those things happen in life. You’re not going to stop living because you might get hurt. I know all the boys had fun throwing around the football and kicking around the soccer ball. It sucks that happened."
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.