If it’s true that a team assumes the personality of its coach, then it’s easy to see why the Winnipeg Jets play hockey the way they do and why they have fooled so many people.
I mean, you look at their puppet master, Paul Maurice, and the first two words that come to mind are not “tough guy.” More like “book worm” or “bean counter.” Coach PoMo looks tough like Clark Kent or Buddy Holly look tough. Start with the eye glasses. Black, horned rimmed and science-project nerdy, if he were in junior high school he’d be a wedgy waiting to happen.
Coach PoMo’s hair doesn’t help, either. It’s thinning and in rapid, middle-age retreat, like a neglected lawn. Another few years and he’ll have enough forehead to start a second face.
It’s only when Maurice opens his mouth that you realize what you see isn’t what you get.
The Jets’ bench jockey talks like a tough guy. His voice is bottom-of-the-barrel deep. Commanding and no-nonsense. He often speaks with a clenched jaw, as if he is clamping down—hard—on an irksome thought that requires his immediate attention and deserves the back of his hand. He sniffs a lot, like a pug at the end of 10 rounds. It is clear he does not suffer fools well. There is a street fighter in Maurice, someone with a hidden fury who’s prepared to throw down on you at the very hint of defiance.
And so it is with his Jets.
You look at the Winnipegs’ roster and it is found wanting when measured against those of the Chicago Blackhawks, St. Louis Blues and Los Angeles Kings. Yet there they are, in lockstep with the Blackhawks, two points in arrears of the Blues and distancing themselves from the Kings, who entered this 2014-15 National Hockey League fray as defenders of hockey’s holy grail, the Stanley Cup.
The inclination, even this deep into a crusade that began with scant hope of achievement and even less promise, is to suggest the other shoe has yet to drop. That the Jets shall awaken one morning, perhaps not long after this weekend’s all-star recess, and collectively say, “Who are we trying to kid? We aren’t this good.”
Just don’t count on it.
The Jets, you see, have assumed the Maurice mentality. They are street fighters. They are—dare I say it?—truculent. Which is why they win games they have no business winning. It explains how they can skate into the United Center in Chicago and, challenged by the Blackhawks to a bash-and-bang bit of roller derby on ice, they give as good as they get. And win.
In short, the Jets don’t take any crap.
Maurice calls it “teamness” where “everybody takes care of everybody else.”
One, of course, could point to the Daniel Carcillo-Mathieu Perreault crosscheck episode in the Toddlin’ Town on Friday night and suggest it didn’t look that way. That the Jets’ reponse to their hottest hand being harpooned and rendered unavailable by the Chicago pest was less than adequate. That they had lost the plot. This repeat offender should have been drawn and quartered, right? Well, a case could be made that the time wasn’t right to deploy the assault squad. There was a hockey game to be won. The bill collector could perhaps visit Carcillo another time, another place.
The Jets might choose to not seek retribution for Carcillo’s callous act, but on no level would that be in disagreement with the reality that they can be a rather beligerent bunch with gusts up to ornery. We shouldn’t expect that to change as long as Maurice is riding herd.
“You are who you are as a team,” says Maurice, his jaw clenched, “and you have to be true to that.”
That’s a tough guy talking…even if he doesn’t look the part.
HITHER & YAWN: I realize he’s a broadcasting legend, a wonderful man and he still has the great chops, but listening to Bob Cole describe a hockey game is painful. It’s anybody’s guess who has the puck. It’s like trying to guess the number of jelly beans in the jar…So, what was this week’s lesson for “all you kids out there” from the resident curmudgeon on Coachless Corner on Saturday night? Just this: Be like Phil Kessel—if you score the most goals, kids, don’t sweat the little details like backchecking. “Kessel…forget it comin’ back,” Don Cherry bleated. “Just score goals. He’s your magic guy with the hands. Forget backchecking. Let him go.”…Is it just me, or does anyone else sometimes forget that Ottawa actually has a team in the NHL?…Mark Hunter, director of player personnel for the Toronto Maple Leafs, on junior phenom Connor McDavid: “He could play in the National Hockey League right now and get 50, 60 points, I think. That’s how good I think he is.” Not if McDavid played for the Leafs. They only score one goal every four games...So, the Disney Ducks retire Teemu Selanne’s jersey No. 8 in an elaborate ceremony that takes a little more than 90 minutes. The L.A. Kings retire Rob Blake’s No. 4 in a ceremony that takes 35 minutes. The Buffalo Sabres raise Dominik Hasek’s No. 39 to the rafters in a ceremony that takes less than 20 minutes. At this rate, jersey-retirement ceremonies soon will last about as long as a Hollywood marriage…This from Roberto Luongo, courtesy Ed Willes of the Vancouver Province: “People don’t understand how hard it is to be a goalie in a Canadian market. You have to wear the pressure during the game; then, after the game, you have to answer every question about every goal. ‘How did that one go in? Why did that one goal in?’ And it’s after every game. You can’t escape it.” Somewhere, Ondrej Pavelec of the Jets is nodding in agreement.
THE FAB WHO? Blake Wheeler is my new fave Jet. I like the way he plays, first of all, but when I discovered he can name the Beatles—all four of them—I was sold on the Jets big winger.
The folks at NHL.com have this fun feature called Puck Personalities, you see, and Wheeler was one of 14 players asked to provide the names of the most famous rock band in history. How did they score? Let’s just say this: If they were this bad at hockey, they’d all be playing in beer leagues.
Except Wheeler, who was the sole player of the 14 who rattled off John, Paul, Ringo and George—in that order—while the others…so sad.
Erik Karlsson wondered if “John Something?” was a member of the Beatles. Claude Giroux asked about “McArthur?” and Kyle Okposo figured a lad named “Paul Ringo” was one of the Fab Four. It was left for Henrik Lundqvist to sum up the exercise by saying, “This is awful, by the way.”
Yup, it was.
Patti Dawn Swansson has been writing about Winnipeg sports for more than 40 years, longer than any living being. Do not, however, assume that to mean she harbors a wealth of sports knowledge or that she’s a jock journalist of award-winning loft. It simply means she is old and comfortable at a keyboard (although arthritic fingers sometimes make typing a bit of a chore) and she apparently doesn’t know when to quit. Or she can’t quit.
She is most proud of her Q Award, presented to her in 2012 for her scribblings about the LGBT community in Victoria, B.C., and her induction into the Manitoba Sportswriters & Sportscasters Association Media Roll of Honour.