February 27, 2012
Life good in Winnipeg fishbowl
By ROBERT TYCHKOWSKI, QMI Agency
WINNIPEG - Say what you will about Winnipeg, but it beats Atlanta.
Jets players who used to be Thrashers players might have been a little stunned, and a little scared when they found out they were, as the commercial says ‘Goin’ to Winnipeg,’ but now that they’re here, it’s pretty cool.
“It’s been completely different,” said captain Andrew Ladd, who’s played in Carolina and Chicago before Atlanta and Winnipeg. “Just the fact that this town lives and breathes Winnipeg hockey. There’s not much else in the winter to focus on.
“You can feel it on game day; the excitement and the passion that people have for the game here has been fun to be a part of. This rink every night is rocking. It’s one of the most exciting rinks to play in. It has to be one of the loudest buildings in the league.”
It does shake. The MTS Centre, a little too small by NHL standards (15,004 capacity), has a Boston Garden bandbox feel, and it works for the hometown Jets, who are 19-9-4 here.
“The fans are nuts,” said former Oilers assistant coach Charlie Huddy, who’s now on Winnipeg’s staff. “They’re into every game, getting on somebody from the other team. They’re just excited that it’s back. And we’ve been good at home, we’ve given them some excitement.”
The fishbowl feeling might be greater here than anywhere else in the league, but it beats being ignored.
“It’s fun having the pressure of performing every night, coming to the rink knowing it’s going to be packed and you’re going to have everyone there behind you,” said Ladd. “It’s been a lot of fun, as a player you’ll take that before the anonymity.”
Of which there was plenty in Atlanta.
“It was tough sometimes getting up for games,” said Ladd. “As a player you learn to appreciate this that much now that we have that atmosphere. It just gives you that extra little jump. It’s a no-brainer — I’d take this any day.
“It’s more laid back here and the people are very friendly, which is something you learn to appreciate.”
PULL OF WINNIPEG
Nikolai Khabibulin wished he could have completed his Winnipeg reunion with a start, but an iffy groin kept him in the press box. But at least there is a Winnipeg to go to, and the former Jet from 17 years ago is glad they’re back.
“I was sad to see the team leave, so it’s really good to see NHL hockey back here in Winnipeg,” he said after Edmonton’s morning skate. “It’s really exciting to get back and see it again.”
Khabibulin declared himself ready to play on Sunday in Edmonton and when it became obvious at the morning skate that he wasn’t getting the sentimental start against the Jets, it smelled like he was on the trading block. In fact, Tom Renney decided to give him more rest.
“I talked to TD (Forss, head trainer) a lot and he could bring the conversation to a certain point and then it was ‘But.’ And as soon I heard ‘But’ I thought, OK, that’s it.
I don’t need this guy out for the rest of the year. He’s important to us.”
Good move, bad timing.
“I was really hoping to start this one,” said Khabibulin. “I thought I felt good, but after talking to the medical staff they said it’s not quite ready yet.
“It’s natural that I would want to play here, but as much as I want to play you have to be smart, too.”
Tough start for Devan Dubnyk. He had his mask knocked off by an Evander Kane stick in the face, then took a high hard one off the shoulder when Ladd ripped one from the faceoff circle. Dubnyk got even with Kane by absolutely robbing him with a pad save in the second period... Magnus Paajarvi was a healthy scratch, along with Theo Peckham, while Ryan Jones drew in after three games on the shelf. Jones, who scored in the third period, has two goals in his last three games played... Nick Schultz will join the team in Edmonton Wednesday.
Huddy had a year off with pay when he was let go in the Dallas Stars purge, but wanted to work. So he rang up the Jets, who had a help-wanted sign in the window, and landed the gig.
“I had another year on my deal in Dallas, but I love doing it and I wanted to try and stay in it,” he said. “I just called, interviewed a couple of times and it went from there.”
Much has been made of Winnipeg playing in the southeast division, but Huddy says it’s no worse than Edmonton, Detroit or Vancouver, to name just a few.
“It’s not that bad,” he said. “Everybody says it’s bad, but it’s no worse than some. We go on the road for a week or 10 days and play four or five games, which is OK. Once you get out east everything is close together, Tampa, Florida. It’s just the initial flight. Teams have to come here, too, so it evens out.”