Keep calm, Winnipeg – it’s only exhibition Full credit to the re-born Winnipeg Jets for the early tea leaf readings from training camp. Team looks sharp; coaches appear to know what they’re doing; and after the “A” team whipped a “D” team from Columbus Blue Jackets 6-1 here in Winnipeg Tuesday, there’s been nothing but elevated expectations kicking around Portage and Main.
The greatest excitement concerns the remarkable play of 18-year-old Mark Scheifele, a big, gangly junior from the Barrie Colts whose smile has been compared to the bend of the Red River around The Forks. And no wonder. Two goals and two assists Tuesday night against Columbus. First star selection to a standing ovation. Front page coverage.
And now, Saturday night in Nashville, a sweet assist on the Jets’ second goal by defenceman Paul Postma – coincidentally, Postma’s fifth point of the pre-season, as well.
But this is pre-season. If the game had ended after one period, Winnipeg would be floating on the play of both Scheifele and Postma, but this was a three-period hockey game against mostly real NHLers. Scheifele faded dramatically as the game went on to a Nashville comeback victory, 4-3 over the Jets. Postma grew weary and seemed drained in the third period.
Hockey lore is filled with stories of stunning starts by rookies and others in the exhibition season that translated into little or nothing in the real season. Similarly, hockey has hundreds of stories of veteran players dogging it through the pre-season and coming to life once the season truly starts – and not all the stories concern Brett Hull.
Every franchise has such tales. There was a pre-season a few years back – 2005, I think – where the Ottawa Senators believed they had a rising superstar from pre-season in rookie Brandon Bochenski, who was quickly moved onto the top line with Jason Spezza and Dany Heatley and tore up the exhibition season. The line seemed set for the season.
But then the real season started. First game and Bochenski found himself bumped off the top line in favour of Daniel Alfredsson, and the line of Heatley-Spezza-Alfredsson went on to become the best line in Senators’ history. Brandon Bochenski lasted only 20 games, scored six goals and is hardly remembered in Ottawa.
So it goes with September hockey.
None of this is to suggest that Mark Scheifele will be anything but a very fine National Hockey Player.
Just that it may not happen quite as quickly as some – perhaps even the young man himself – were thinking and even predicting after that remarkable opening match for the re-born Jets.