Roughly 5,000 fans showed up at MTS Centre on Sunday afternoon to watch the Winnipeg Jets participate in the first session of a six-day training camp leading up to the 2013 season opener against the Ottawa Senators.
Yes, there was anger and frustration felt by many during the 113-day NHL lockout but it looks like the Honeymoon period isn’t quite over yet for the adoring fans. Free popcorn and a drink was a nice touch, but that can’t be what attracted the majority of fans, many of whom were sporting Jets’ gear proudly in the stands and oohing and ahh-ing at several pretty plays or saves. As is generally the case, the Go Jets Go chants made a few appearances as well.
As for the day’s events, Winnipegger Derek Meech arrived in town just in time to hit the ice (after taking a 5 am flight from St. John’s, Nfld.) and forward Alexei Ponikarovsky was on the ice as well, bringing a total of 22 skaters and two goalies on the ice for the 70-minute session that concluded with the Jets’ saluting the assembled crowd.
Meech had been dealing with a groin strain recently, but got medical clearance to return to full contact on Saturday.
Despite dealing with a pair of knee injuries last season, Meech wasn’t concerned the latest setback was anything serious or might keep him out of training camp.
“It was one of those fatigue sort of tweaks, it wasn’t that big a deal. I was just trying to be smart about it and not over-extend it,” said Meech.
“My wife and I got up around 3:30 a.m. and it was a little foggy going to the airport, so I was a little bit worried,” said Meech, who then expanded about the storm that hit Newfoundland. “It was horrible, the snow was above your head on the side of the road. It was ridiculous. Even coming from Winnipeg, I don’t know if I’ve seen that much snow. It was crazy.”
Aside from D Zach Bogosian (wrist), forward Nik Antropov didn’t take part in the skate, as he’s dealing with an upper-body injury and hasn’t passed his physical yet, leaving his status for Saturday’s opener vs the Ottawa Senators in question.
Jets head coach Claude Noel said he was “hopeful” Antropov might find a way to get into the lineup by Saturday but obviously he won’t be rushed to action before he’s ready.
During his 15-minute session with the media, Noel wouldn’t reveal his plans for Mark Scheifele (who showcased some slick moves on Sunday) — or anyone else — for that matter.
Noel was evasive when it came to prospective line combinations, but you can be sure that after having nearly four months to think about who he’d like to see together that he’s not just going to pull names out of a hat at the start of the season and just see what happens.
“All that stuff will play out,” said Noel. “I know you guys will read into this, he’s on the third line, second line, first line. If you guys wouldn’t mind, if you could just let me know who’s on the first, second, third and fourth line, that would be appreciated and then I can call them as such.”
Then Noel got serious, sort of.
“We’ll make the assessments during the week. I can’t say that because you start on Monday with your team play, that you’re going to be there (on the same line) on Friday or Saturday. It’s about winning, it’s that simple. I don’t know where they’re going to land. I’d like to think that you could keep some unites together and familiarity would be good and chemistry would be good. These are things that we’re going to weigh. We’ll have to see how it goes through the week.”
Noel wouldn’t estimate on the number of games Ondrej Pavelec might start, saying it would come down to performance and managing energy levels with the condensed schedule. He spoke fondly of Al Montoya and figures the Jets’ goaltending tandem looks to be getting along nicely and should provide a formidable duo.
Some people scoffed when I suggested Montoya might hit double digits in games played, but I’m going to stand by that prediction, at least for the time being.
As for our package in Monday’s Sun and online at www.winnipegsun.com, I wrote a column on Noel, did a sidebar with more of Noel’s thoughts on how he plans to handle the goaltenders, wrote a piece on Meech being back and battling for one of the openings on the blue line, along with a short notebook, Kirk Penton handled the arrival of Ponikarovsky and took a closer look at the Jets 2013 schedule, while Ted Wyman did a column on fan support at the open practice and spoke with Scheifele about the first day of training camp.
The Jets are back on the ice Monday morning at MTS Centre, but that session won’t be open to the public.