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This article was published 13/12/2017 (1281 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Marko Dano is trapped in purgatory, in what amounts to a professional hockey version of no man’s land.
The 23-year-old Winnipeg Jets forward has been a healthy scratch for 22 consecutive games, with no end to his press-box banishment in sight. Yet the brass apparently think enough of him that they don’t want to risk losing him on waivers to another team by trying to send him down to the Manitoba Moose.
So he sits, knowing the only shot he has at seeing game action is if a couple of his teammates were to be felled by injuries or if Winnipeg’s play suddenly went into a tailspin.
It’s the type of situation that might have some players on the phone with their agent, demanding a one-way ticket out of town. But Dano told the Free Press on Wednesday that while he’s frustrated, he hasn’t asked for a trade and has no plans to do so.
"Yeah, everyone wants to play, and now the team’s doing well. That’s great, and I’m happy the team is where we are right now. But yeah, it’s a little hard if you’re not playing and still waiting for your chance," Dano said following practice, where he was asked to play as a defencemen to fill in for Tyler Myers, who was missing for maintenance.
"I’m trying to still be positive and work hard every day. I’m waiting for my chance to come. I know that chance is going to come, so you’ve got to be ready for it."
But is it, really? Dano has played in six games this season, ranging between a low of 4:53 in ice time and a high of 9:14. He has yet to register a point. It’s quite a change for a player coming off a promising season in which he put up four goals and seven assists in 38 games with the Jets.
He’s clearly not the first injury option for the team. When Kyle Connor couldn’t go last week for a game, veteran Shawn Matthias took his spot in the lineup before joining Dano back on the sidelines. That would seem to suggest the Jets would need at least two forwards to go down before Dano’s number is called — and even that’s not a guarantee. There are plenty of players with the red-hot Manitoba Moose proving their worth for a potential call-up, such as Jack Roslovic, Brendan Lemieux and Nic Petan, who potentially could leap right over Dano and into the lineup. They are all playing in meaningful games these days, while Dano’s only opportunity to showcase himself comes in practice.
Dano said Wednesday he had a chance to join the Moose earlier this season on a conditioning assignment, meaning he wouldn’t need to clear waivers and could spend up to 14 days in the American Hockey League. But he declined after discussions with the organization and his agent.
"We decided to just stay here," said Dano. "Just to be here and be in the practice and just be ready."
Dano, the 27th-overall pick in the 2013 NHL draft by the Columbus Blue Jackets, has always been viewed as a skilled player with a wealth of potential. But hockey history is littered with examples of talented players who were never able to leave their mark. Dano is already on his third organization, having come over to Winnipeg from the Chicago Blackhawks in the Andrew Ladd trade, and you wonder if a fourth stop will be necessary before too long.
"It’s just how it is. I’m happy here, I’m happy the team’s doing well. I love the boys here and the coaches, too," Dano said. "When you’re in a good spot, you want to be part of that team. So just trying to be positive, come in every day with a good mindset. I want to be part of a winning team. Like I said, it’s a matter of time. I hope my chance is going to come and I’ll be part of this team."
Jets head coach Paul Maurice praised Dano for handling the situation "exceptionally well."
"It’s not easy. It’s a slightly easier sell because we’re winning hockey games and we’ve stayed healthy," Maurice said. "Marko’s a young player, so he doesn’t have a lot of experience with it."
He said there isn’t a lot of daily dialogue between him and Dano or Matthias (who has dressed for 18 games this year, but just one of the past 13). Both players are doing their best to stay sharp if, and when, they are needed.
"They’ve pushed hard, and they’ve worked hard, and they’ve been worked hard. They’re giving themselves the best chance, that’s all they can do. We try to communicate with them. There’s not a whole lot to say to a guy day to day on this. Just keep going, and they’ve done that," Maurice said.
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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.