WINNIPEG - The suspense has been lifted for Derek Meech.
On Monday morning, the 27-year-old Winnipegger was told by Winnipeg Jets head coach Claude Noel that he had earned a spot on the opening-day roster.
“It’s nice to kind of know what’s going on and know that I’m going to be around here for a bit,” an elated Meech told reporters. “It’s definitely a load off the mind for sure. I still have to battle to get in the lineup and that sort of thing.”
After spending the past seven seasons in the Detroit Red Wings organization, Meech took a bit of a flier by inking a one-year, two-way deal with his hometown team.
It turns out the small gamble paid off and Meech is one of eight defencemen to start the season with the Jets.
“I’m a specialist at this role now,” quipped Meech, who has been an extra blue-liner at various points in his NHL career. “I’ve been around for a while and it was kind of my thing in Detroit. It’s a tough league to crack, there’s a lot of good players out there and I’m just really fortunate to be able to do it in my hometown now.
“It’s very rewarding. I worked very hard this summer and had a lot of motivation. To get to start here in Winnipeg at the beginning of the season is a really good thing.”
Meech admits to having a little extra jump in his step while playing in front of the rabid hometown fans.
“It’s already pushed me personally in camp, stepping on the ice and hearing the roar of the crowd,” said Meech. “They’re very prideful fans in Winnipeg and we’re looking to do our best and make them proud.”
Meech also took some time on Monday to reminisce about growing up and dreaming about playing for the Jets.
“That was a very important thing for me as a kid,” he said. “I remember being out on the street and saying you were Teemu Selanne or whoever it was. To be in a position where I’m actually playing on the pro team in my hometown is a really special thing.”
Jets general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff praised Meech for having a strong training camp.
“He’s someone that has tremendous flexibility and has experience at the NHL-level,” said Cheveldayoff. “He can play forward, can play defence, is a tremendous person. He’s earned an opportunity.”
The other Manitoban sticking around remains in limbo, as forward Troy Bodie of Portage la Prairie continues to wait to hear if he’s in the plans for the Jets.
He was on the ice again on Monday, but still didn’t have a contract in hand, leaving him to wonder what the future would bring.
“I haven’t heard anything,” said Bodie. “I’m just trying to do what I can on the ice and try not to think about it. It’s really up to them and what they’re thinking and I’m just going to go with the flow.”