MINNEAPOLIS — This scene had NHL lockout written all over it.
On Tuesday morning, a group of nearly 40 skaters were on the ice at St. Louis Rec Center for a regular on-ice workout organized by Octagon agent Ben Hankinson and after going through a series of drills, the players — most of whom were sporting NHLPA jerseys — made their way over to the second sheet for a scrimmage.
With time winding down and the ice starting to get choppy on the second sheet, they figured they would make their back to the original sheet — which had since been flooded.
However, due to some slight miscommunication, the original sheet was now in use as a figure skating instructor was giving a lesson to her eight-year-old student.
And when several players met the instructor at centre ice, she didn’t back down and the players were forced to head back over to complete their scrimmage on the choppy ice.
The scene caused plenty of chuckles for many players and a few casual observers, but it was another stark reminder that training camps are not in session.
“That’s when you know you’re locked out,” joked Winnipeg Jets winger Blake Wheeler, before sitting down for an extensive interview with me.
I was able to work most of our conversation into a series of four articles that appeared in the pages of the Winnipeg Sun and at www.winnipegsun.com but there were a few other items I wanted to share right here.
* On what he worked on most during the summer to improve his game? The answer was skating.
“That’s the biggest thing for me. When I’m moving my feet and am quick and powerful, that’s when the rest of my game is going. You can never be too strong on the puck or too strong in those corners.”
* I asked if he put on any weight during the summer and found out he tried to add weight, bulk up in Boston during his time with the Bruins and it didn’t work for him.
“I play at 225 and anything less or more is not good. That’s my playing weight. I found that out.”
* As most Jets fans already know, Wheeler is a huge sports fan, particular of Minnesota-based teams. He was sporting a Twins hat and proud to talk about the surprising 2-1 start for his beloved Vikings.
“It’s been slow going, watching Twins and Vikings the past few years. I’m a die-hard Vikings fan, so to see them be competitive and playing well, you go into Sunday’s actually excited to watch them, it’s fun. That’s what it’s all about. There’s a lot of buzz (about the soon-to-be-built new stadium) and (second-year quarterback) Christian Ponder, he looks pretty good. He’s looked good every week this year and he’s showing promise, for sure.”
* Wheeler also revealed that golf is one of his favourite hobbies, noting his mother got him started in the sport when he was five-years-old. Although his wife Sam is pregnant with the couple’s first child (due in early November), Wheeler has been able to get out on the links about twice-a-week at Golden Valley Country Club during the summer months.
How good is he these days? Try a 3-handicap.
“You don’t want to get too low. There’s no benefit. If you’re a scratch golfer, you’re giving strokes away all the time.”
What kind of game does Wheeler have?
“I can hit it pretty far, but that’s the good and bad part of it. When you’re hitting it far and straight it’s good. But when you’re hitting it far and far the other way. You can’t be locked in all the time.”
* Speaking of golf, Wheeler caught plenty of it on the tube this year and was impressed by the FedEx Cup and some of the tournaments that featured Rory McIlroy and Tiger Woods going head-to-head.