Hey there, time traveller! This article was published 31/8/2016 (1794 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Blake Wheeler already gets it.
The newly minted captain of the Winnipeg Jets is keenly aware of the added scrutiny that comes with the role, particularly in hockey crazy River City.
"There’s a distinction that comes with wearing the ‘C‘ on your jersey," Wheeler said Wednesday afternoon, moments after being introduced as the second captain in Jets 2.0 history.
"Regardless of whether you like it or not, everyone looks at you a little bit differently — what things are supposed to look like, how you’re supposed to act, how you’re supposed to prepare and how you’re supposed to play on a nightly basis.
"That doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re going to have your A-game 82 times a year. That’s probably unrealistic. But people are going to look at you when you don’t have your A-game and see how you respond to that. There’s a bit of maturity that comes with that. Luckily, I just turned 30."
In fact, the announcement, made jointly by Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and head coach Paul Maurice at the MTS Centre, came on Wheeler’s birthday. Unfortunately, Wheeler’s wife, Sam, and children, son Louie, 3, and one-year-old daughter, Leni, couldn’t join in the party because Louie is under the weather.
But they were definitely in his thoughts.
"Since coming back to Winnipeg, I’ve been able to develop in a lot of different ways. My kids were born while we’ve been here. I’ve developed as a person, as a father and as a hockey player as well," said Wheeler, who heads to Columbus this weekend to join Team USA as it prepares for the upcoming World Cup of Hockey 2016.
"So, to take this next step in the evolution, I can’t really explain what it means to me and my wife to have this honour. I look forward to leading on the ice and in the community and trying to be a role model for not only my teammates but all the kids and everyone in this community."
Defenceman Dustin Byfuglien and centre Mark Scheifele — who both signed long-term contract extensions this year — were named alternate captains.
Wheeler, a native of Plymouth, Minn., is heading into his ninth NHL season and is comes off a career year in which he notched a career-high 78 points. He’s played 615 career games with the Jets, Atlanta Thrashers and Boston Bruins.
He is a charter member of the team since it relocated from Atlanta to Winnipeg prior to the 2011-12 NHL season.
Wheeler served as an alternate captain to Andrew Ladd the past three seasons, before Ladd was dealt to the Chicago Blackhawks in late February.
"I got to learn lot from Andrew Ladd the last five years in Winnipeg and see what it looks like every day to be the leader of a team, especially in a market like Winnipeg," he said. "It’s a pretty special honour, an honour he took with a lot of pride and I look forward to carrying the torch for him.
"I also got to learn a lot from Zdeno Charo from my days in Boston, so I’ve had two really good captains to look up to. I really look forward to being the leader on this team."
Maurice called it an important day in the history of the NHL franchise.
"I’m not sure I’ve ever coached a man that while staying on the ice or standing behind the bench, if I thought a young player was looking for direction, that I could so easily say, ‘Just watch him,’" said Maurice, who will begin his third full season behind the Winnipeg bench.
"When you think of young players coming into the Winnipeg Jets now, they get onto the ice with the captain of the team and he’s driving at that pace and that becomes normal. That becomes the standard. And really, that’s what he is for us — the standard bearer for the compete that we want them to show as a hockey player."
Maurice, who has coached in more than 1,200 NHL games in Hartford, Carolina, Toronto and Winnipeg, said he’s been blessed to have a number of great captains over the years. But the names of a pair of NHL hall-of-famers stick out — and he sees some of their strengths in the Jets new leader.
"The two biggest impacts would be Ron Francis and Mats Sundin," said Maurice. "The interesting thing about both of those guys and how they relate to Blake is they both had a really clean understanding of what they did very well.
"If they had a stretch of a couple of games that weren’t good — more probably Mats because it was in the paper that day that he had an off night — (they) could get back to the A-game very quickly and didn’t flounder for long periods of time where you’re trying to pick the captain up, too. I see that definition of game in Blake."
Scheifele, 23, is entering his fourth season with the Jets. He said he’s learned a lot since being selected in the first round of the 2011 NHL Draft and figures he can be a mentor to teammates like Nikolaj Ehlers and Patrik Laine.
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"Being a little closer in age to (them) definitely helps to have a younger guy talk to them," he said, via conference call from Aurora, Ont. "I know when I was 18, if I walked up to Buff or Wheels or Laddy, I’d be pretty intimidated.
"Hopefully, I can learn (from Wheeler and Byfuglien) and other leaders in our room, and to continue to be a helping hand for anyone that needs it, and also lead by example."
Speaking by phone from Minneapolis, Byfuglien, 31, said it’s an honour to get a letter on his jersey.
"It shows that you’ve done some right things in the way that you’ve been playing and you’ve done everything around the room," he said. "It’s not my first one, but it’s something you can build off and appreciate.
"It doesn’t matter with an ‘A’ or without an ‘A’. You come in and work and do what you gotta do, and be a leader any which way you can."
Jason Bell Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).
WHA Ab McDonald, 1972–74 Dan Johnson, 1974–75 Lars-Erik Sjoberg, 1975–78 Barry Long, 1978–79
NHL Lars-Erik Sjoberg, 1979–80 Morris Lukowich, 1980–81 Dave Christian, 1981–82 Lucien DeBlois, 1982–84 Dale Hawerchuk, 1984–89 Dale Hawerchuk, Thomas Steen, Randy Carlyle (co-captains), 1989-90 Thomas Steen and Randy Carlyle (co-captains), 1990–91 Troy Murray, 1991–93 Dean Kennedy, 1993 Keith Tkachuk, 1993–95 Kris King, 1995–96
NHL 2.0 Andrew Ladd, 2011-2016 Blake Wheeler, 2016