About the Rink Rat Scheifele feel-good story…pass the broccoli but hold the mushrooms…Hitch is Mr. McGrumpy after the “mauling” of Connor McDavid…wah, wah, wah in Edmonton…a tough day at the office for Kerri Einarson…and other things on my mind

Monday morning coming down in 3, 2, 1…because Mark Scheifele and the Jets keep working overtime, I will too…

The thing about Rink Rat Scheifele is that he’s already one of those cool “Remember when?” stories.

As in:

  • Remember when the Winnipeg Jets chose him seventh overall in the National Hockey League’s annual auction of freshly scrubbed teenagers and most folks said, “Huh? Who’s he?”

  • Remember when he initially arrived in River City and took more tumbles than a load of laundry? Clumsy? Bambi was Tessa Virtue compared to this kid. If he stayed vertical for more than 15 seconds, someone would alert the media and there’d be film at 11.

  • Remember when he was so scrawny he could have qualified as poster boy for a UNICEF famine relief campaign? I’ve seen more flesh on a Christmas turkey wishbone. He rattled like a pair of dice when he walked.

But just look at nice guy Scheifele now.

Chevy and the Rink Rat were all smiles in 2011.

You need a goal in OT? Who you gonna call? Mark Scheifele. He did it twice in three days, in two different cities. He’s done it three times this month. He’s fifth in NHL scoring, just 10 points out of the lead and three in arrears of Connor McFabulous in Edmonton.

It’s kind of a rags-to-riches story when you consider they didn’t even have a team jersey for Rink Rat to wear on stage the day general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff plucked him in the entry draft. Remember, les Jets were a team with no name ahead of the 2011 teenage rummage sale, so why not pick a no-name player, right? And drape him in an NHL sweater, just to add a touch of humility to the moment.

Not that the hockey nerd from the Barrie Colts seemed to mind. He beamed, his smile measured in megawatts. Ditto Chevy, who cared little that many observers considered his selection of Scheifele to be something of a head-scratcher.

Turns out les Jets scouts knew exactly what they were doing. And it’s a terrific, feel-good story about a guy who, by all accounts, is the sort you hope your daughter brings home for dinner.

Rink Rat Scheifele

If you kids out there want to grow up to be just like Mark Scheifele, eat your veggies. But you can pass on the mushrooms. “That’s the only vegetable I don’t eat,” the fitness freak told GQ magazine last summer. “Other than that, I am good with anything. If you put a mushroom in front of my face, I will not go anywhere near it. If I’m in a restaurant, I’ll tell them to hold the mushrooms. I don’t want mushrooms on any of my food at all.” But bring on the broccoli!

The biggest surprise in the NHL standings this year? Five Pacific Division outfits currently are in playoff positions. Who saw that coming? No one. The big dogs of the Western Conference are supposed to be in the Central Division, but the St. Louis Blues and Dallas Stars are major disappointments. Bruce Boudreau, meanwhile, will be the next head coach looking for work if his Minnesota Wild don’t get it together.

I’ve always been a Bryan Little fan, but I still say les Jets will need a guy like Paul Stastny once it’s crunch time (read: the Stanley Cup tournament). That and an upgrade on left defence. I fully expect Chevy to tinker with his roster before the trade deadline.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t believe the Calgary Flames are for real. I’m not sold on their goaltending. Just saying.

Alexander Ovechkin: Still the Gr8t 8.

Something tells me Bruce Arthur of the Toronto Star might like a do-over on his “Auston Matthews is the greatest goal-scorer in the world” column. Every time I check the leaders in the chase for the Rocket Richard Trophy, that Gr8t 8 guy in Washington is atop the chart. I suppose if Matthews could stay out of the repair shop he might challenge Alexander Ovechkin, but until then any suggestion that he’s the planet’s premier sniper is pure propaganda from the Republic of Tranna.

Hitch is McGrumpy.

Apparently Connor McDavid has become Connor McMugged, and that’s made Edmonton Oilers head coach Ken Hitchcock a Mr. McGrumpy. After his lads dropped a 4-2 verdict to the Canucks in Vancouver on Sunday night, Hitch went all squawk-a-lot about the guys in striped shirts:

“The stuff that really bothers me is what is happening to Connor, and that really bothers me because we’re in a league that is supposed to showcase our top players, and you don’t want to give them all the freedom, but the tug of war on him was absolutely ridiculous today,” said Hitchcock.

“And that’s a little bit discouraging to be honest with you. Because I can see the whackin’ and hackin’ going on when he’s got the puck, but to me it’s all the stuff behind that doesn’t allow him to showcase his speed. And if that’s what we want, well, that’s fine. But I think it’s a real disservice to a player like him. He’s not allowed to play give-and-go. It’s give-and-hold. So we’re going to have to figure out a way to fight through it. We’ll just play toughness with him and figure it out from there.”

Can’t fault Hitchcock for spouting off, but, let’s face it, it’s nothing more than mind games. He’s looking for an edge, as if McDavid needs it.

Connor McDavid: Too much hooking and hacking.

In the boo hoo, cry me a river department, I present Postmedia Edmonton scribe David Staples, who, in an exercise of blatant homerism, cranked up the wah-wah-wah machine and eagerly provided the backup vocals for the Hitchcock lament.

“Hitchcock has now made clear the truth of the matter, making comments that should embarrass the refs for their slack work and the National Hockey League for allowing its greatest star(s) to get repeatedly mugged,” Staples wrote about the “mauling” of McDavid. “I hope ears are burning at NHL head office. They should be.

“If you think my own comments are the self-indulgent whining of an Oilers fan, you are correct. But what of it? Because I’m mad that the hometown hero gets a bad shake from the refs doesn’t mean Hitchcock isn’t right. He is right. McDavid gets mugged repeatedly and the NHL doesn’t do anything much about it. It’s a bad joke. This isn’t a league for superstars to shine, it’s a league for hookers, holders and hackers to slow down those superstars and to thwart them with the complicity of incompetent refs.

“Wayne Gretzky never hesitated to blast the officials. Some folks called him a whiner, but I call him a winner. Glen Sather was a master of getting under everyone’s skin, be it opposing coaches, players, the league or the refs. It’s time the Oilers stood up for themselves verbally. Why? Because it works. Calling out rubbish for what it is has an impact.”

Wow. Take a pill, man. Maybe have some mushrooms.

The TSN World Junior Hockey Championship will be coming to a rink exactly two blocks from my humble home next week. I can hardly wait to see that big Kazakhstan-Slovakia showdown.

Briane Meilleur, Shannon Birchard, Val Sweeting, Kerri Einarson.

Talk about your bad days at the office. What Kerri Einarson endured in the women’s final of the National curling tournament in Conception Bay South, N.L., on Sunday wasn’t pretty. It was painful to watch. The Manitoba skip did a lot of wincing, but not much shot-making, and finished at just 54 per cent in a 4-1 loss to Rachel Homan. Not to worry, though. The Pebble People are done for the year, so Kerri and her all-skip team of Val Sweeting, Shannon Birchard and Briane Meilleur can enjoy their Christmas turkey and have ample time to regroup. They’ll be the ladies to beat at the Toba Scotties late next month in Gimli.

And, finally, the Winnipeg Sun sports section on Sunday: 13 pages, 1 local story. Sad. The Sun sports section this morning: 15 pages, 1 local story. Really sad.

About Jumbo Thornton’s chin whiskers…an expansion team in Seattle…and they’re buzzing about the Winnipeg Jets

Midweek musings on the edge of a fresh National Hockey League season…

Jumbo Joe Thornton and the here and after.

There was good news and bad news at the NHL’s roster cut-down deadline this week. The bad news is that Joe Thornton’s chin whiskers became a casualty. That’s right, the San Jose Sharks forward had his mountain-man beard hacked off. The good news is that they discovered Jimmy Hoffa, Amelia Earhart’s airplane and a golf ball that Tiger Woods lost at last summer’s U.S. Open under all that scruff.

Looks like Seattle will be awarded an expansion franchise for the 2020 NHL season. Reaction to the news in Ottawa was swift: “Can we get one, too?”

You know that tired lament about how no one notices the goings-on in Good Ol’ Hometown? About how anyone who works and plays in River City flies under the radar? About how life sucks because everyone in the eastern time zone is tucked snugly into bed by the time they drop the puck out in the colonies?

Well, you wanted recognition for the Winnipeg Jets? You’ve got it.

Les Jets de Winnipeg have been in more headlines this week than anyone not being considered for a seat on the United States Supreme Court. They’re getting buzz from one of our two national newspapers, the Globe and Mail. They’re getting buzz from Yahoo! Sports. The “insiders” at Sportsnet are buzzing about our local hockey heroes. ESPN is boffo on les Jets. NBC/NBCSN will feature les Jets five times on Wednesday nights. Online and sports books in Las Vegas are bullish on Winnipeg HC.

Cripes, man, there’s even Jets buzz on TSN, where they could be found on the main page of the website on Tuesday morning. In three different headlines.

When I saw that, I immediately called up the Weather Channel.

“Is it true?” I asked a young woman who answered the phone.

“Is what true?” she replied.

“Has Hell frozen over?”

“By Hell, do you mean Ottawa and the Senators?”

“No. I mean Hell as in Hell. You know…Satan, hissing, misery, suffering, eternal inferno. That wretched place.”

“Sounds like Ottawa and the Senators to me. But if you mean the biblical Hell, the usual warm front persists and remains parked over most of it. Why do you ask?”

“Because TSN has three mentions about the Winnipeg Jets on the main page of the website and there’s nada—bupkus!—about TSN’s favorite lousy quarterback, Johnny Manziel. They can’t possibly start a day without slobbering over Johnny Rotten, so I figure it can only be one of two things: 1) I overslept and it’s late November; 2) hell has frozen over.”

“No,” she assured me, “you didn’t sleep in and snowballs still don’t have a hope in Hell. Trust me, you and everyone else will know when Hell has frozen over.”

“How so?”

“There’ll be a Stanley Cup parade on Yonge Street in Toronto.”

Blake Wheeler

According to the pundits hither and yon, Winnipeg HC, while not everyone’s flavor of the month, figures to be a very prominent player in its eighth crusade since the Atlanta caravan rolled into River City in 2011.

Les Jets, who commence their 2018-19 journey vs. the Blues in St. Louis on Thursday night, are listed at No. 2 on the TSN power rankings, behind the Tampa Bay Lightning. (Those ratings, by the way, are determined by five talking heads—Ray Ferraro, O’Dog Jeff O’Neill, Craig Button, Jamie McLennan and Darren Dreger.) For its part, Yahoo! Sports ranks Winnipeg HC fifth, behind Tampa Bay, Nashville Predators, San Jose and the defending Stanley Cup champion Washington Capitals.

Over at Sportsnet, meanwhile, 16 “insiders” are gaga for les Jets.
* 9 pick them to win Stanley Cup;
* 10 pick them to win Western Division;
* 11 pick them as the Canadian outfit with highest points total;
* 1 (Kristina Rutherford) picks Blake Wheeler to win Hart Trophy as the NHL’s most valuable player;
* 5 pick Connor Hellebuyck to win the Vezina Trophy as the league’s top goaltender.

Connor Hellebuyck

At The Athletic, 47 scribes/editors weighed in on the upcoming season and les Jets are the second favorite to cop the Cup; Puck Finn is the overwhelming pick to win the Rocket Richard Trophy; Connor Hellebuyck is the second choice for the Vezina; and even the head coach, Paul Maurice, is feeling the love as co-favorite to be named coach of the year (with Peter DeBoer of San Jose).

Not since the World Hockey Association have we witnessed such pre-season hype for Winnipeg HC. Those WHA outfits delivered the goods. We’ll know about these Jets in about nine months.

Rink Rat Scheifele

Interesting take on les Jets from Dave Shoalts of the Globe and Mail:

“Everybody has fallen in love with the Toronto Maple Leafs as the team to break Canada’s 25-year Stanley Cup drought. But it might just be the Winnipeg Jets who accomplish that. The Maple Leafs may be the darlings of the oddsmakers, but the Jets are big, fast, skilled and better than the team that went to last spring’s Western Conference final.

“With that experience under their belts, the Jets are now poised to take the next step. Their top line of centre Mark Scheifele and wingers Blake Wheeler and Kyle Connor is one of the best in the league. Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck played his way into the top tier of goaltenders with his work in the playoffs. At 25 years of age he, like his teammates, is only getting better.”

A couple things to peel away here:

Bryan Little

I’m not convinced this Jets outfit is “better than the team” that lost to the Vegas Golden Knights in the Western Conference final. The departure of Paul Stastny tells me it isn’t. Unless Bryan Little has a bounce-back season or Jack Roslovic is a revelation, Winnipeg HC is weaker at centre ice.

Hellebuyck, meantime, was terrific during a burdensome regular season and early in the playoffs. He did not, however, play admirably in the five-game ouster vs. Vegas. He was sketchy and Marc-André Fleury outperformed him by a wide margin, despite his repeated mantra that “luck” was Fleury’s greatest ally.