WINNIPEG – “Be nervous.”
Nikolaj Ehlers and Nic Petan will every right to be when the puck drops tomorrow night at TD Garden, but that’s quite all right with Head Coach Paul Maurice.
After all, as he so eloquently put it, you only get one of those in the lifespan of a career.
“Ask any player in that room, ‘Where was your first game?’ and they can tell you,” Maurice said. “I want them to take it all in – not fight the nerves. Remember everything – the national anthems, the whole package. I want them to be as present as they possibly can. The game’s going to happen,
The 19- and 20-year-olds had terrific training camps, earning their jobs with solid offensive contributions (a combined five points) and mature, veteran-like defensive play.
A regular-season game against the Boston Bruins will indeed be a tougher test, but the Jets are confident they’ve amassed enough experience to handle it like the pros they are.
“All of these young guys have already been exposed to such a high level, so they’re not nearly as wide-eyed as maybe they used to be or I was in my first year in the league,” Maurice said. “I still remember going down to Manhattan the first time and I had never seen it before. For some of
the new guys, it’s a big change.”
Starting on the road might be the best thing for this new group of 23. Up until today, the team has traveled on game day for all three of its pre-season contests. In the regular season, teams always travel the day before, leading to bonding and team-building opportunities that hadn’t previously existed.
The Jets departed for Boston immediately after practice and will arrive around 4:00pm local time.
“I like going out on the road early [in the season], just for the fact that the players don’t get to spend a lot of time together up until this point,” Maurice said. “It’s the first time this group will get to go out and have a dinner together. After a game, whether you win or you lose, they’re together.”
Ehlers will be skating on left wing alongside Mark Scheifele and Mathieu Perreault, while Petan will be getting a look on the fourth line with Andrew Copp (playing in his second-career game) and Chris Thorburn.
Veterans Andrew Ladd and Tyler Myers are looking forward to integrating the new youth. Both know they’re counted on to lead, both on the ice and in the locker room.
“They earned the right to be here,” Ladd said. “There weren’t any freebies and we weren’t giving them an opportunity because we think we’re going to be good players down the road – they’re good players right now and they’ll fit in great with our lineup, so we’re excited to have them.
“For those guys it’s a pretty special moment, so they’ll be fired up to be in the lineup and get going. We want to bottle up that energy and use it the right way.”
“I definitely think with a younger group that we have this year, guys are going to have to step up and take charge,” Myers said. “With the system we play, communication is a big part of it, trying to make the adjustment as smooth as possible for the young guys. You see a lot of the older guys talking to them already at practice to try and make it as easy as possible for them jumping into their first game tomorrow. … We’ll do everything we can to help them. It’s going to come down to us executing our systems together.”
Puck drop goes at 6:00pm CT and you can watch the game live on TSN3.
– Ryan Dittrick, WinnipegJets.com