Winnipeg Jets Training Camp

NHL makes its official-unofficial return to Winnipeg tonight

The last time a NHL game was played in Winnipeg that featured the hometown team standing front and center was April 28, 1996 when the Detroit Red Wings eliminated the Winnipeg Jets from the playoffs in six games. While there have been preseason games that have come back to Winnipeg over the last few seasons, tonight’s preseason match-up at the MTS Centre will be something special as there’s a home team to root for once again.

The Winnipeg Jets host the Columbus Blue Jackets tonight and while it’s a split-squad affair between the teams (the other half of their rosters are in Columbus to face each other) it makes the return of the NHL a real and tangible thing for fans in Manitoba. If you think they’re not excited about that, you’d be completely wrong.

Patrick Williams of NHL.com gets the word from Jets coach Claude Noel heading into tonight’s coming out party.

Noel admitted his team is in uncharted waters, to some extent, given the city’s NHL history and the significance of the game.

“I don’t know what to expect,” Noel said. “I have a pretty good idea of what to expect for the Montreal game. I think it will be good. I think it will be enthusiastic. If it’s anything like our first practice, goodness, I thought our first practice was fabulous.”

A potential pitfall for the home team would be trying to impress the crowd or over-complicate the game. Noel, however, sees the possible distractions as positive challenges to his club.

“I think it’s all good,” Noel said when asked about the game’s significance possibly affecting his club. “I don’t think it will be a distraction. I think, if anything, it will be a big help for us. I think you’ll be able to see who is nervous, who has trouble in front of this excitable crowd. Those are the things that you want to look at and see how the response is.”

The Jets (and Blue Jackets) roster for tonight’s game is available from the guys at Illegal Curve (PDF) and the hometown fans will get a look at their starting goalie Ondrej Pavelec as well as likely starters in Zach Bogosian, Mark Stuart, Alexander Burmistrov, captain Andrew Ladd, and Dustin Byfuglien as well. 2011 first round pick Mark Scheifele will also get a chance to show the home fans what he’s about as well while hometown guys Troy Bodie and Jason Gregoire look to impress and win jobs.

It’s just a preseason game, but to see the buzz and excitement that’s coming out of Winnipeg for it is outstanding to see. Given that it’ll likely be a packed house for the game tonight, it’s doubtful you’ll see another preseason game played this year with this much excitement surrounding it.

Stanley Cup Final referees: McCauley, O’Halloran, O’Rourke, Sutherland

BUFFALO, NY - DECEMBER 13:  Referee Dan O'Halloran #13 holds up a face-off between the Buffalo Sabres and the Ottawa Senators during their NHL game at First Niagara Center on December 13, 2011 in Buffalo, New York.  (Photo by Dave Sandford Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

From the NHL:

refs

Pretty veteran crew, including three returnees from last year’s final.

Per the NHL, O’Halloran and O’Rourke will call tonight’s series opener from Consol.

After advancing to Cup final, DeBoer had Sharks fans coming up to him with ‘tears in their eyes’

PITTSBURGH, PA - MAY 29: Head coach Peter DeBoer addresses the media during the NHL Stanley Cup Final Media Day at Consol Energy Center on May 29, 2016 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Justin K. Aller/Getty Images)
Getty
1 Comment

PITTSBURGH — When Pete DeBoer was hired to coach the San Jose Sharks, he wasn’t totally cognizant of how much heartbreak the fan base had experienced throughout the years.

Now he knows.

“First year in the community, I didn’t realize kind of the baggage that was carried around,” DeBoer said this morning ahead of Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final. “Twenty-five-year season-ticket holders coming up to you with tears in their eyes and crying.”

The Sharks, of course, have never been this far in the playoffs. Prior to this year, they’d made it three times to the Western Conference Final, losing each time.

More painful were the first-round exits. Like in 2009 when they won the Presidents’ Trophy and got knocked out by the Ducks, and two years ago when they led the Kings 3-0 before dropping four straight.

It was only after the Sharks beat the Blues that DeBoer fully realized the “gravity of what they’ve been through” as fans in San Jose, and “how important this is to them.”

Not that he’s satisfied with getting this far.

“The business at hand now is to get off on the right foot, plant the right seeds for this series, impose our game,” he said. “Every series is the same — it’s whatever team can impose their game on the other team the quickest and for the longest. That’s our goal here tonight.”

Related: For Pete DeBoer, San Jose was the perfect landing spot

Kopitar will play for Slovenia in Olympic qualifiers

SOCHI, RUSSIA - FEBRUARY 13: Anze Kopitar #11 of Slovenia skates against Russia during the Men's Ice Hockey Preliminary Round Group A game on day six of the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at Bolshoy Ice Dome on February 13, 2014 in Sochi, Russia.  (Photo by Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)
Getty
Leave a comment

Los Angeles Kings center Anze Kopitar will spend part of his offseason trying to help Slovenia qualify for the Olympics.

RTV Slovenia has the story here.

The qualification games will be played September 1-4 in Minsk. Slovenia is in a group with Belarus, Denmark and Poland. The winner of the group will qualify for the Olympics.

The NHL reportedly has no issue with Kopitar’s participation, even though the league has yet to commit to sending its players to Pyeongchang.

Slovenia made its Olympic debut in ice hockey at the 2014 Games in Sochi.

Kopitar will also represent Team Europe at the 2016 World Cup later in September.

Related: Slovenia beats Slovakia for historic win

Zubrus in, Nieto likely out for Sharks in Stanley Cup Final opener

ST LOUIS, MO - MAY 15:  Dainius Zubrus #9 of the San Jose Sharks skates against Alexander Steen #20 of the St. Louis Blues in Game One of the Western Conference Final during the 2016 NHL Stanley Cup Playoffs at Scottrade Center on May 15, 2016 in St Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images)
Getty Images
Leave a comment

PITTSBURGH — Matt Nieto is healthy, and ready to go.

But it doesn’t look like he’ll go tonight.

The San Jose Sharks are unlikely to make any lineup changes for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final in Pittsburgh — at Monday’s optional morning skate, Nieto stayed out late with the extras while the guy he’d (presumably) replace in the lineup, Dainius Zubrus, told NHL.com he was in.

Sharks head coach Peter DeBoer wouldn’t reveal any lineup decisions during his morning media availability, instead talking up both Nieto (for his speed) and Zubrus (for his “heavy” game), adding he liked the versatility the two give the club on a night-by-night basis.

Nieto suffered an upper-body injury in Game 6 of the Nashville series, and missed all of the Western Conference Final.

Prior to getting hurt, he had three points in 11 games — this after a regular season in which he scored eight goals and 17 points in 67 games.