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This article was published 22/9/2017 (1484 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
They are perpetual bad boys, a collection of players who can't seem to stop shooting themselves in their skates with their undisciplined play.
And so in an effort to curb their frequent trips to the sin bin, the Winnipeg Jets have taken a novel approach: retired referee Paul Devorski was in the dressing room and then on the ice with the club during Friday's training-camp session for a crash course in how to cut down on the penalty parade that has plagued the team for several seasons.
Coach Paul Maurice invited Devorski, who now works in a supervisory role with the league after officiating 1,594 games over a 26-year career that ended in 2015, to oversee his club as they participated in a number of intense battle drills. The National Hockey League approved the arrangement.
"I wanted him to get out on the ice and have some interaction with the players. He’s not calling games anymore. Nobody swore at him out there, which I think he said is the first time that’s happened that he’s been on the ice," Maurice said following the session. "
He was great with the guys. It worked out. We got a really young team here. We’ve got to figure out a way to learn some new skills. We’re thankful that he came in. The league thought it was a great idea. I think the Winnipeg Jets got a little better today."
Winnipeg was the second-most penalized team in the league last season, and their lacklustre penalty killing was a major factor in missing the playoffs for the fifth time in the six seasons since returning to the city. Maurice spent part of the summer watching video of every penalty the Jets took last season and said having such a young group of players factored into his request to bring Devorski in.
"It goes in part to our team becoming a better defensive hockey team. It’s a skill that has to be learned. Learning how to one-on-one somebody defensively, that’s a skill. So you either get beat, or you take a penalty on the negative half. So we tried to work on both of those," Maurice said. "It’s not just the penalty, it’s how. The first thing that happens usually when a penalty is taken is somebody loses defensive position. That’s the one-on-one part. But usually somebody else is blowing a route, so it’s a defensive liability first.
Devorski wasn't made available to speak following the skate about what he observed, but Maurice said he shared key information about certain "tells" officials look for during the play, particularly when it comes to holding infractions. The Jets committed 31 of those last year, a number Maurice said must be cut back in order to have success.
"For young players especially to be able to understand a little bit about what the tells are for the ref, what is the first thing he looks for. Clearly the sticks that come off the ice, the horizontal, the free hand. It’s good to hear a man who called it for 1,594 games, I think, in the regular season. He can explain it differently and it made great sense. So I thought it was a great day. We had a few calls, not as many. He said we did a really good job keeping our sticks down, but usually against your teammates you’re pretty good about that, but it's an awareness," Maurice said.
Several players were seen conversing with Devorski after individual drills Friday, with much of the focus appearing to be on hand positioning. Captain Blake Wheeler applauded the move, saying desperate times call for desperate measures.
"It’s an area we need to get better at, so we are looking to exhaust any resource we can to try and get better. He has a lot of experience and (we) just picked his brain a little bit, what they’re looking for, hopefully he can help us out," he said.
Wheeler was asked why it appears the Jets are the first team in the league to take this approach.
"I think we were about bottom of the league for penalties for the foreseeable past, so a lot of teams probably don’t need to do it," he said.
However, Maurice noted Minnesota and Philadelphia are also planning to bring Devorski in over the coming days.
The importance of becoming more disciplined is even greater this year with officials apparently instructed to crack down on several offences such as slashing, according to Mark Scheifele.
"It’s going to be huge. You get a lot of power plays, it gives you a lot of momentum. Hopefully, we can be on the right side of those calls," Scheifele said. "I think it’s obviously something you have to continue to work at and continue to think about. That’s something we all have to do — we have to be conscious about it and remind ourselves each and every game of what we can and what we can’t do. I think it’s a good learning experience.
Scheifele said being young is no excuse for being reckless.
"We just got to be smarter, that’s about it. We get told, we see what happens around the league, what they call and we just have to be conscious of it each and every night," he said.
Obviously time will tell whether the wild-child Jets are truly ready to settle down, or if all this talk ends up being cheap.
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.