This is how Charlie Huddy remembers the Winnipeg Jets, back in his day: as the speed bag for his Edmonton Oilers to warm up on before taking on the NHL heavyweights for the title belt.
Of course, Huddy means that in the nicest way possible.
“After beating them, it really helped us get as far as we did,” the Jets assistant coach said, “because that first round of the playoffs, you sometimes coast in there and aren’t ready for it. But we knew we had to be ready against the Jets.”
Faint praise, indeed.
Today, Huddy’s job is to ensure the Jets are ready for everyone else. Specifically, the Jets defence and penalty killing.
Safe to say he’ll need every bit of experience gained from winning five Stanley Cups as a player: Only one NHL team gave up more goals than the Jets, dressed up as the Atlanta Thrashers, last season. And only three were worse on the penalty kill.
So after 12 years as an NHL assistant, Huddy hasn’t exactly worked himself up to the penthouse suite of gigs.
Then again, this elevator can only go up.
“That’s something we talked about,” Huddy said of the team’s penchant for fishing pucks out of its own net. “Probably a lot of it was knocking some goals off the penalty kill. The penalty kill wasn’t very good last year, and maybe just a little bit of defending. It’s just a matter of us getting our structure in place ... and the guys following along.
“You always look at the goaltender, you look at the defencemen not doing their job. But at the end of the day it’s the five guys on the ice.”
Huddy will be working with basically the same defence corps that finished last season: Dustin Byfuglien, Toby Enstrom, Zach Bogosian, Mark Stuart, Johnny Oduya and Ron Hainsey.
Ready to pick up any slack are Randy Jones and Derek Meech.
If last season was any indication, they won’t be waiting long.
The Thrashers gave up too many easy ones, allowing intruders onto their prime real estate too often.
“We have to be a little bit more patient,” Huddy said. “Some of the games I saw last year they got running a little bit, opening up some holes in the middle of the ice. Giving up opportunities from that area is always tough.”
Considering the Jets have more than $21 million invested in its top-six along the blue-line, that line should be more like a fence.
And in hockey, we all know, better fences make better goaltenders.
“It’s not about the defencemen,” starter Ondrej Pavelec argued. “It’s about the whole team, how the forwards play defensively, how the defence play defence and how the goalie plays.”
Pavelec says he likes what he’s seen from his D in the pre-season.
Of course, what’s he going to say?
“It’s pretty good. Every defenceman has experience in the league. They’ve blocked a lot of shots. But the season hasn’t started, yet. We’ll see what’s going to happen in the season.”
With so much attention on who’s going to score the goals, it’s easy to overlook how much this team could improve simply by preventing less than 3.20 per game.
“Hopefully we can cut that way down,” Byfuglien said.
That’s where Huddy comes in.
“He should be able to bring a lot of experience to us,” Byfuglien said of his new mentor. “He can still see the game the way it’s played. A few little tips never hurts anybody. You can always learn.”
Especially from a guy who has five championship rings.
As glittering as his resume is, though, Huddy’s philosophy remains fairly basic.
“We’ll have a hardworking team that’s going to go out and challenge every night,” he said.
A bit like the Jets teams he remembers.
With one notable difference.
“Hopefully we get a bunch of wins.”