The Winnipeg Jets held their first Fan Fest at the MTS IcePlex on Saturday, giving fans a chance to check out the team going through the rigours of training camp, while also enjoying some outdoor activities. Rain hampered the outdoor portion in the afternoon, but there was a hockey team to watch indoors.
Before the rain showed up, fans had an opportunity to check out various interactive booths as well as get a free lunch. And no one will ever turn down free food. For the active youngster, there was a ball hockey game going with Jets mascot Mick E. Moose. If arts and crafts are more appealing, there was a tent for that. Fans could even emulate Jets broadcasters as TSN 1290 set up a booth where fans took turns at being a play-by-play announcer.
— Nicole (@NicDea48) September 20, 2014
Crazy atmosphere at #JetsFanFest
Too many fans for the practice so they use 2 rinks! (Switch rinks 1/2way through)
— Lockdown, Part Deux (@NHLJets2point0) September 20, 2014
On the main outdoor stage, Jets play-by-play voice Dennis Beyak conducted Q & As with Jets personalities such as Andrew Ladd, Mathieu Perrault, general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff and governor Mark Chipman. There was also live music and a military display as well.
The Action On The Ice
What most fans were interested in was the action inside the IcePlex. Some wanted to get a closer look at some of their favourite veterans while others were looking forward to getting a chance to see the young prospects and their continued development. The players were divided into two groups: Team Blue and Team White. Both teams had a mixture of youth and experience.
Head coach Paul Maurice stressed fitness at the end of last season and the players took that as a challenge. Veterans such as Dustin Byfuglien, Ondrej Pavelec, Evander Kane and Blake Wheeler came into camp in terrific shape. It was a welcome sight, in particular for Byfuglien and Pavelec who have had questions asked about weight in the past.
Maurice wants his team to play an up-tempo style that relies on getting to and moving the puck quickly. Breakout drills were featured prominently in the workout sessions as Maurice barked out his orders. This was a much different atmosphere than the camp former coach Claude Noel ran. Noel was more laid back and relied on teaching. Maurice stressed pace and was intense throughout both practices. Each session ended with a bag skate that had some players gasping for breath.
Since the early part of camp is about the kids, we’ll focus on the prospects here. The veterans will get their turn later.2014 first round pick Nikolaj Ehlers has wowed observers with his blend of speed and skill. His skating is smooth and effortless that it feels like he’s gliding on air. However, his slender 163 pound frame will probably be too slight to handle the physical NHL. Expect Ehlers to play for the Halifax Mooseheads of the QMJHL this season.
Josh Morrissey has a chance to make the Jets this season. The 2013 first round pick had an outstanding season in Prince Albert last year, and carried that over with St. John’s of the AHL during the IceCaps run to the Calder Cup Finals. Morrissey will be battling veterans Adam Pardy and Keaton Ellerby for spots on the blue line, but many feel he has a chance in making the team.
2013 second round selection Nicolas Petan has a bright future ahead of him as well. His skating and defensive play need work so another year in Portland will be required. But there is no denying his talent.
2013 third round choice Jimmy Lodge looked very sharp at the Young Stars tournament and has carried that over into camp. While it is expected for Lodge to return to Saginaw of the OHL, management will keep a very close eye on his progress.
2014 fourth round pick Chase De Leo won’t make the Jets this season. But his speed and offensive flair have been impressive. Watch for De Leo to light it up in Portland with Petan this season. De Leo is expected to represent the United States at the upcoming World Junior Championships.
I share season tickets for the Winnipeg Jets since their return to the Manitoba capital in 2011. I have written about the Jets since 2011 on various sites.