Somewhere between Pittsburgh and Winnipeg — As I write this piece at 37,000 feet, on the way home following a season-opening four-game road trip, one obvious question comes to mind: Is the glass half-full for the Winnipeg Jets, or half-empty?
Depends on your perspective, I suppose. But it says here, in my window seat at 17A, that a 2-2 record to begin the new NHL campaign is pretty much the best-case scenario, given the depleted lineup that hit the ice in enemy territory.
They started identically last season, by the way. But I’d suggest this year’s .500 record is a lot more impressive than last year’s, and reason for some early, guarded optimism around these parts.
With the eastern swing now in the rear-view mirror and tonight’s home opener at Bell MTS Place on deck, it’s time for the season’s first edition of notes, quotes and anecdotes.
What was the biggest surprise of the trip? That the Jets franchise snapped a 12-year, 18-game losing streak Tuesday night in Pittsburgh, or that my iPhone somehow survived a plunge from the press box at PPG Paints Arena?
You read that right. About an hour before puck drop, just as the doors were about to open, I accidentally catapulted my precious possession from my perch high above the rink as it got caught up in a laptop cord I was trying to plug in.
You had to be there.
I peered over the ledge to see it bounce off a seat far below, then hit the concrete floor. Rushing towards the press box elevator to head down, I expected to find my phone in a million tiny pieces. Instead, with some help from a few friendly ushers who quickly formed a surreal search party, we discovered it perfectly intact and none the worse for wear.
That OtterBox just paid for itself. And then some.
My phone must think I have a grudge. Last June, while covering the NBA Finals in Toronto, I left it behind in the back seat of an Uber. Fortunately, our separation was only short-lived, and much less painful.
And yes, thankfully nobody was in their seats at the time.
There’s been several impressive performances for the Jets early this season, with 18-year-old rookie phenom Ville Heinola being at the top of the list. You could see the entire Winnipeg bench come to life after the young defenceman scored his first NHL goal Tuesday night, which prompted me to ask Jets head coach Paul Maurice what kind of lift that can give a team.
"Well, it depends if they like the kid or not," Maurice cracked, before going on to add "they really like this guy."
Maurice does, too. Which is why Heinola might want to start looking for a permanent place to stay in the city, because it’s hard to envision him being sent back to Finland at this rate.
The New York subway system is a marvel. Seriously, it’s incredible to think there’s this vast world beneath the streets and buildings keeping millions of people moving smoothly.
I don’t even know why you’d want to drive if you lived in the Big Apple, considering the bumper-to-bumper traffic congestion and incessant horn honking you see and hear everywhere.
The subway is quick, cheap and relatively easy to navigate — except for my first ride last week in which I accidentally got on the wrong platform after leaving my hotel in Astoria and ended up going about 15 stops in the wrong direction.
Manhattan had to wait a bit, as I got a nice below-ground tour of Queens and Jamaica, complete with a man in a cape entertaining riders with his saxophone.
Spotted in the loading zone area at Prudential Center in New Jersey following Friday night’s Jets-Devils game: former Nashville Predators teammates Anthony Bitetto and P.K. Subban sharing hugs and playful banter as they got caught up on what had been a busy few months for both.
We often forget about the friendships that are made, and then often broken up, by the business of sport, so it’s always neat to see teammates-turned-rivals come together and catch up following a hard-fought game.
Another Jets player who has impressed early is Patrik Laine. Despite missing all of training camp with a contract dispute, the 21-year-old Finn arrived in tremendous shape, looking leaner and faster than ever on the ice.
While he’s only scored once so far, Laine already has five assists. It would be six, had winger Blake Wheeler not been a millimetre offside on Mark Scheifele’s overruled goal in Pittsburgh.
Maurice had some interesting post-game thoughts about Laine’s play, including moving him up to play with Wheeler and Scheifele and what he needs to do to stay there.
"I still don’t think he’s there, to be honest with you. That’s just how good he is. What he’s doing now he didn’t do the first couple years, nor should he. He’s battling now. And that’s the difference. I think his hands are going to get better. I think his feel for the puck will improve. But he’s got more compete in his game and we’re going to keep looking for more," said Maurice.
"It’s a requisite to play with those two players, to play against Sidney Crosby for most shifts. For those kind of players you have to have great hands and compete."
Laine certainly looks like a guy determined to keep his spot on the top line.
It doesn’t have the old charm of its previous incarnation, but Yankee Stadium is still an incredible place to watch a baseball game.
I was quietly cheering and silently weeping for the Minnesota Twins as I took advantage of a Jets off-day and watched them get pummelled by the New York Yankees Saturday evening in Game 2 of their playoff series.
One of the highlights is the roll call fans in the outfield bleachers do during the top of the first inning, chanting each player’s full name until they turn and acknowledge it.
Good stuff, but hard to imagine it working in a hockey environment. After all, baseball players have a bit more idle time on their hands during in-game action.
Speaking of character buildings, I got my first chance to check out Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum Sunday night.
A few observations: it makes Bell MTS Place look cavernous. The banners hanging in the rafters are a sight to behold. And despite an announced crowd of less than 10,000, it was loud.
The game was originally scheduled for Barclays Center in Brooklyn, but moved out to Long Island just a couple weeks ago, along with seven other New York dates this season. The Islanders are in the strange position of bouncing between their aging former barn and the new rink that was built for basketball, not hockey, while waiting for a future home in Belmont Park that will be move-in ready by 2021.
Nassau nearly gives me NHL arena bingo. I’m up to 29 out of 31 venues on my card, with only TD Garden in Boston and BB&T Center in Florida left to get to.
Congratulations to Jets defenceman Dmitry Kulikov and his wife, Emelie, for the birth of their second child on Monday. This was the personal matter Kulikov left the team for following Sunday’s game — and it was indeed a very happy one.
Kulikov is expected back in the lineup tonight.
One of the best things about walking the streets of the city that never sleeps: the ability to buy hot nuts at seemingly every corner in New York. Seriously, how can you beat freshly roasted cashews, almonds and peanuts? Answer: you can’t!
I’ll give the final word to Connor Hellebuyck, who stood tall in Tuesday’s win, on what being .500 means. Sounds like he’s a glass half-full AND glass half-empty kind of guy, which probably sums up how a lot of Jets fans are feeling right now.
"We’re both happy and a little bit upset because, of course, we’d like to go 4-0," he said.
Just remember: it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Govern your excitement, and your angst, accordingly.
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.
Updated on Wednesday, October 9, 2019 at 9:34 PM CDT: Adds photos.