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This article was published 16/5/2018 (694 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
LAS VEGAS — Paul Maurice just shook his head when it was mentioned Wednesday how Winnipeg Jets fans are pouring into Las Vegas this week, including several charter aircrafts that have brought the Whiteout down to the desert.
"I think they’re having a great time. It’s its own little story and its own party. So I drive home from the game the other night, it’s almost all residential the way I take home. And there’s three or four cars in front of almost everybody’s house. And they got the TVs on and they’re still showing the highlights. Everybody is having their own little good time with this. And the ones that are fortunate enough to get on a plane to come down, they want to keep it going," said Maurice, who then shared a funny story about his own recent interactions with Jets fans.
"It’s changed. It was ‘Good luck’ at the start, ‘Hey it’s great.’ Now it’s ‘I’m exhausted.’ Not me. It’s every second night, right. They’re in. They’re invested. They’re spending money and emotional capital and if they can get on a plane they’re doing it, too. It’s a great story."
The Jets' head coach said he first got a sense of Winnipeg's passion during his first summer in the city, when he was at Bell MTS Iceplex and saw how many young girls were playing the game. As the father of a young daughter, he was impressed.
"So hockey’s part of that community maybe in a way that we wouldn’t have experienced in any other city that we’ve been. Everybody loves the game," said Maurice.
All of which made him fondly recall his first conversation with Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff, right after Claude Noel had been fired and Maurice was brought in to finish out the 2013-14 season.
"I wish I’d taped it, because it was exactly what’s happened. Exactly what’s happened. He told me what the plan was going to be. He said ‘Look, we’re not bringing you in to see if we’re a fit together.' Because I came in on just a half-year contract. He said: ‘We’d like you to put some structure into the game here, we’ve got to make a decision on some veteran players.’ He said: ‘I want to tell you if the relationship continues we’re going to get real young, real fast. We think we have some good players coming. We have confidence in our ability to draft,’" said Maurice.
"So that was pretty close to the entire plan laid out, and it’s never changed. For my part of it, I can’t explain it any better than I remember walking into the room against, I don’t know if it was Phoenix or Arizona at the time, and feeling like I fit in that room. And then when I drive around town, I fit in the town. My family fits there. I don’t have a more eloquent way to say it, other than it feels like home."
Defenceman Ben Chiarot said he'd love to spend some time seeing the sights of Sin City. Just not right now.
"It’s a new market, a new NHL city and there’s lots to do here. But you get that out of your system during the regular season. Playoffs is not a time to be enjoying Vegas," he said Wednesday following the morning skate.
It was much the same in the second round, with the Jets playing four games in Music City against the Nashville Predators.
"It really is just hotel, rink, plane, hotel, rink, plane. And when you’re home, the off days you’re just doing whatever you can to recover. Playoffs are a grind but something we’re learning to enjoy," said Chiarot.
Fellow blue-liner Josh Morrissey said players at this level, and this time of year, show a tremendous amount of discipline both on and off the ice.
"We’re here on a business trip. We’re here for hockey. We’re here for two huge playoff games and that’s all that has really crossed my mind," said Morrissey. "There’s a lot going on but you spend time in the hotel room, go out for dinner with the team like we always do on the road and stick to the same routine that’s been working throughout the whole season."
Jets captain Blake Wheeler apparently thinks there are a lot of TSN channels. He gave a humorous answer Wednesday when asked if he and his teammates are paying attention to the IIHF World Championship currently underway in Denmark.
"A little bit. It seems like the European guys pay more attention to the world championship than maybe we (Americans) do. Being in Canada, it’s on TSN 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7 through 10. So, it’s on and it’s fun. We’re (the United States) doing well this year. Having a little bit of diversity through our group is fun, too. When you have the odd matchup, like Finland versus the U.S.A. or whatever it may be, it’s fun to give it back to them," said Wheeler.
He was asked who the "proudest" American in the room is.
"That’s a loaded question. We all have done it, have represented the U.S.A. and take a ton of pride in doing so. I don’t want to single anyone out. We take a lot of pride in doing that in playing for our country," said Wheeler.
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.