November 23, 2017

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Ready to make an impression in the 'Peg

After playing for three teams in five years, Sgarbossa wants to take the next step

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES</p><p>Sgarbossa sees an opportunity to play for the Jets for the whole season and contribute.</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS FILES

Sgarbossa sees an opportunity to play for the Jets for the whole season and contribute.

Michael Sgarbossa has a one-way ticket to ride for the first time in his NHL career, but very little changes for the sixth-year pro from the Toronto area.

The left-shooting natural centre, who turned 25 in July, still puts his work boots on each morning, heads to the job site and punches the clock.

Last season, Sgarbossa split his time in sunny locales like San Diego, Anaheim and Sunrise, Fla., as well as a stint in Springfield, Mass. He’ll earn the largest regular pay cheques of his life this winter, likely playing hockey for a Winnipeg-based club.

He signed a one-year, one-way US$650,000 deal with the Jets this summer, and the intense on- and off-ice workouts he’s been putting in lately at the Bell MTS Iceplex — a week before the NHL club’s training camp — are part of a regimen to give himself the best opportunity possible to snag a bottom-six spot with the big club.

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Michael Sgarbossa has a one-way ticket to ride for the first time in his NHL career, but very little changes for the sixth-year pro from the Toronto area.

The left-shooting natural centre, who turned 25 in July, still puts his work boots on each morning, heads to the job site and punches the clock.

Last season, Sgarbossa split his time in sunny locales like San Diego, Anaheim and Sunrise, Fla., as well as a stint in Springfield, Mass. He’ll earn the largest regular pay cheques of his life this winter, likely playing hockey for a Winnipeg-based club.

He signed a one-year, one-way US$650,000 deal with the Jets this summer, and the intense on- and off-ice workouts he’s been putting in lately at the Bell MTS Iceplex — a week before the NHL club’s training camp — are part of a regimen to give himself the best opportunity possible to snag a bottom-six spot with the big club.

"For me, signing my first one-way deal was very exciting. But I’m trying not to look at it as being comfortable, but as an opportunity to play on this team, play the whole season and contribute," the 6-0, 185-pound product of Campbellville, Ont., said Sunday morning after a 65-minute skate with about 16 other Jets hopefuls during the club’s "mini-camp" and then another 90 minutes in the gym.

"It’s been intense, a lot of battle drills, a lot of working on things you’ll use in a game which, I think, is really important."

Head coach Paul Maurice and his coaching staff have been running practices since Thursday with participation from Manitoba Moose regulars such as forwards Jimmy Lodge, JC Lipon, Brendan Lemieux, Jack Roslovic, Kyle Connor and Chase De Leo; defencemen Jan Kostalek, Nelson Nogier, Julian Melchiori and Peter Stoykewich; and goalie Eric Comrie.

Another group of prospects is in Penticton, B.C., for the annual Young Stars Classic tournament against youngsters from the NHL’s three other western Canadian teams. The Winnipeg squad is 0-2 after losses to Vancouver and Edmonton, and hooks up with Calgary this morning.

Sgarbossa, a veteran of 48 big-league contests split between the Colorado Avalanche, Anaheim Ducks and, most recently, the Florida Panthers, said he’s relished the unique chance to chat up his new hockey bosses and demonstrate some of his skill set.

"It gives you a chance to get a sense of what they’re looking for, how they coach and what they’re expecting of you. The systems on each team are usually different, so it’s nice to kind of not go right into the fire of main camp. You have a little bit of a crash course beforehand," said Sgarbossa, who would have to clear waivers if he doesn’t make the Jets out of training camp and is sent to the Manitoba Moose.

Winnipeg’s main camp begins later this week at the Iceplex.

Sgarbossa had a terrific four-year junior career in the Ontario Hockey League, highlighted by a 47-goal, 102-point output during the 2011-12 campaign with the Sudbury Wolves.

Undrafted, he signed as a free agent with the San Jose Sharks, but his rights were dealt to the Avalanche soon after and he made his pro debut with the Avs’ AHL affiliate, the Lake Erie Monsters.

Almost immediately, he flashed the touch that earned him the OHL scoring title in that final year of junior, netting 19 goals and chipping 25 assists in 57 games with the Monsters. He also earned a six-game promotion with the Avs but was held pointless.

During that stretch with Colorado in the lockout-shortened season, a road trip included a stop at Winnipeg’s downtown rink.

"I played here once… it was tough to play in that building as an away team," he said. "The fans seemed like they are right on top of you here. They were loud, they were intense, but intelligent about the game."

In his short time in the Manitoba capital, he’s experienced the community’s devotion for its NHL franchise.

"Everywhere I go so far, I see Jets hats and jackets and logos everywhere. It’s exciting to be part of a city that’s so involved and so interested in what the team is doing and has the team back," he said.

Sgarbossa, who dressed for three more games with the Avalanche during the 2014-15 season, was acquired by the Ducks a year later and got in 10 games through parts of two seasons, registering a pair of assists. But he was dealt to Florida last November in exchange for Logan Shaw and was recalled from the AHL by the Panthers in late December.

He was a fixture on the club’s fourth line and was occasionally injected into the struggling Eastern Conference team’s power-play unit, finishing the season with the first two goals of his NHL career and five assists in 29 games with the Panthers (35-36-11), who missed the playoffs for the fourth time in five years.

Sgarbossa, a restricted free agent at the end of ’16-17, is still surprised the Panthers cut him loose.

"When I finally made it in Florida, I got my confidence and it’s really where the first time I felt like I belonged," Sgarbossa said. "I thought I was going to go back there. Obviously, they had a lot of changes in staff, a new coach (Bob Boughner) and GM (Dale Tallon), and when that happens, they tend to want to bring in their own guys and do things their own way or maybe even start fresh."

The Jets had a busy day July 1, inking big-name free agent goalie Steve Mason and left-shooting blue-liner Dmitry Kulikov to multi-year contracts. News of Sgarbossa’s signing broke late in the day and didn’t exactly rock the hockey world — but it was monumental for the player involved.

"It was a good day. It was an interesting day. I was up at my cottage up near Toronto and we don’t have the greatest cell service and trying to communicate was difficult with agents and teams. It was my first go with free agency and it definitely was fun," he said. "I knew the Jets were interested, and when the day finally hit, it just all happened, the negotiating and back and forth, and I’m just glad I’m here."

jason.bell@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @WFPJasonBell

Read more by Jason Bell .

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