WINNIPEG - It might have been the next best thing to attending a game.
A couple hundred Jets fans, including dozens of kids, filled one of the rinks at the Iceplex, Tuesday, where they were treated to an intense practice, and not one of those short or optional skates.
With four days between games, head coach Claude Noel wanted to ramp up the intensity in advance of a Wednesday night’s visit by the Dallas Stars.
“We had a day and a half off on the weekend, which is a little bit odd,” Noel said. “It’s the enthusiasm. The players are really looking forward to playing. I noticed the enthusiasm early in the practice. We had some really good energy.”
While acknowledging the time off might cost his team some rhythm, Noel hopes the rest more than compensates, as the Jets try to end a two-game losing skid and get back into the playoff mix in the NHL’s Eastern Conference.
“Because it seems like it’s been really busy for us, really constant,” Noel said. “The break is kind of like a welcome catch-your-breath, a breath of fresh air for us. It should lend itself to be energized in the game, especially here with the fans.”
The Jets are coming off yet another disappointing road trip, with losses in Vancouver and Calgary.
They’ll flip the switch back to “home ice” for the next three games, and none too soon, as Winnipeg has fallen out of a playoff spot.
“I don’t think you should have to flip the switch at all,” defenceman Mark Stuart said. “The switch should already be flipped. The rest of the season, really, it doesn’t matter if you’re playing home or away, it’s points we need.”
Going into Tuesday night’s games, the Jets were four points out of the eighth and final playoff spot, as Buffalo and Washington took advantage of games in hand to pull ahead.
All the Jets could do was watch.
“It’s been long,” goalie Ondrej Pavelec said. “It’s time for a game. Hopefully we’re going to be better than we did in Vancouver and Calgary. Because it’s big games coming against big teams. It looks like everybody around us winning right now.”
The team’s mini-slump didn’t curb the enthusiasm at the practice rink.
“Do they not have school here, or how does it work here?” defenceman Ron Hainsey joked. “It’s awesome. It makes practice a little more lively. It’s not the same, listening to the coaching — you can’t really hear Claude a whole lot.”
The sound of shattering glass marked the end of the workout, as a Dustin Byfuglien shot broke a pane of glass along the end boards.
One fan suffered cuts due to the falling glass.