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Mark Scheifele has already forgiven. But the Winnipeg Jets' No. 1 centre says he'll never forget the helpless feeling of going down with what he initially feared was a career-threatening injury in the opening minutes of his team's playoff series against the Calgary Flames.
"I’m very, very lucky that it wasn’t worse than it was. Initially I thought that I tore my Achilles and I was done for six months. So I definitely was in a dark place," Scheifele said Tuesday morning in a 30-minute Zoom call with media.
The 27-year-old wouldn't give specifics of the injury, which came after he got tangled up with Flames forward Matthew Tkachuk. The controversial play, which left Scheifele writhing on the ice in agony, was called a "filthy, dirty kick to the back of the leg," by Jets coach Paul Maurice. No penalty was assessed, and Tkachuk maintains it was an unfortunate accident.
“All I could do was thank God that I am on the mend, I didn’t need surgery and I’ll be back better than ever.” – Mark Scheifele
"If someone is on the ice trying to cut someone with their skate, I don’t think Matt was trying to do that. The way I look at it, at the last second, I turned up and it was kind of like a knee-on-knee scenario. The one thing I know — and he talked about being out of control and skating too fast. He took ownership of that," said Scheifele.
"That’s just the way the game works. It’s a fast-moving game. I had a lot of bad thoughts go through my mind that I was going to be out for six months and that my career could be over. That was tough on me and the worst part was the anticipation of getting some answers. But all I could do was thank God that I am on the mend, I didn’t need surgery and I’ll be back better than ever."
Tkachuk reached out to Scheifele after the fact, and the two have a shared history of working out in the off-season with former NHLer Gary Roberts.
"I’m a guy that forgives pretty easily. I can definitely hold a grudge once in a while if something bad happens, but the way my parents raised me you forgive everyone, and that’s all you can do. You wish the best on every person," said Scheifele.
"Matt’s a great hockey player and has a ton of work ethic. I have no hard feelings, obviously I wish it never happened and I played in the rest of that series, but there’s nothing you can do about that now."
Despite being in a bubble, Scheifele said he leaned on his teammates, his family back home in Ontario and Jets chaplain Lorne Korol for support in the initial days after he went down.
"I know my mom, she had to take a walk when it happened because she was thinking the worst as well. You turn to the people that you love most in your life. When you're thinking about the worst and you get negative, you know you've got to turn it around and look at it in a different light and God's got a plan for everything," said Scheifele.
The off-season will be longer than hoped, with the Jets going down to the Flames in just four games, not even making the 16-team traditional playoffs which get underway Tuesday night. A big reason for that was the loss of Scheifele, along with sniper Patrik Laine to a wrist injury, in a costly Game 1 loss. The Jets did gut out a Game 2 victory despite being severely short-handed — Mason Appleton was also knocked out of the series in Game 1 — but were wiped out in Games 3 and 4.
“I know my mom, she had to take a walk when it happened because she was thinking the worst as well. You turn to the people that you love most in your life.” – Mark Scheifele
"It’s tough when you lose three guys, no matter their stature, that are in your lineup. A lot of guys stepped up and worked hard and that was kind of the resiliency of our team all season, from the start of the year with Buff and Bryan Little going down, we had guys step up over and over and over and it just shows the character we had in our room this year, guys that kept working on their game that when they got put in the lineup, were ready to succeed," said Scheifele.
"A lot of guys stepped up and played really hard and that’s all you can ask. When you leave it all on the ice, that’s all you can do. The guys battled hard right to the end."
At this point, the 2020-21 season is projected to start around the beginning of December, with training camps beginning around mid-November. Scheifele expects to be ready.
"Obviously, I wish that didn’t happen and I would have been playing in the rest of that series, but that’s the way hockey is. I’m happy and I’m very, very thankful that it wasn’t as bad as it could have been. I’m on the mend now and I’ll be as good as new soon," he said.
Scheifele was part of the NHL's return-to-play committee and came away impressed with what the league was able to pull off in the hub cities of Edmonton and Toronto, despite his stay being shorter than anticipated. Now, the self-described hockey "nerd" says he'll be keeping a close eye on the playoffs from his off-season home in Waterloo, Ont., picking out Vancouver and Philadelphia as a pair of potential "dark horse" teams to watch.
Scheifele will also be thinking about his former junior coach, Jets legend Dale Hawerchuk, who is currently battling a recurrence of cancer, while also heeding some wise words from "Ducky."
"Dale Hawerchuk told me this my first year with him. He said, 'Watching the NHL is an education. It's a school class on its own. You can learn from the best players in the world every single day.' I've taken that to heart ever since he told me that and now that's, maybe 12 years ago. I'm thankful for that lesson that long ago and I still have that today," he said.
As for the Jets, Scheifele believes they will come back stronger next season as a result of this year's adversity. He said there were bound to be growing pains with so much roster turnover, especially on the blue-line with the losses of Byfuglien, Jacob Trouba, Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot.
“We have a lot of great players on our team and we have a great foundation, but you never know what’s going to happen until free agency time hits.” – Mark Scheifele
"It’s going to be a year that everyone’s going to remember for a long, long time. Sadly the hockey season is the one thing that’s going to be put to the back burner because it ended so abruptly," he said.
"We have a lot of great players on our team and we have a great foundation, but you never know what’s going to happen until free agency time hits. Obviously, like what I said before, we are a totally different team from the team we were when we went to the Conference Finals, but it doesn’t mean we are still far off. As you can see, any team can win in this league, and you just got to hope that guys come back bigger, faster, stronger next year and are able to step into some bigger roles. Hopefully in free agency we can get some good pieces you know. If I was the GM I could give you some more answers, but I’m not… so, we’ll see what happens."
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 Tuesday, August 11, 2020 at 5:00 PM CDT: Photos and format changed.
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