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Jets excited to get started on eve of Qualifying Round

"When you're on the ice, you're just in the moment." -Morrissey

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton /

EDMONTON - Paul Maurice has coached over 1,600 games in the National Hockey League. He's been in the Stanley Cup Playoffs eight times, including a spot in the Stanley Cup Final in 2002.

Although, he's not sure any of that experience matters much going into Game 1 of the Qualifying Round against the Calgary Flames on Saturday.

"This is completely different. What it has allowed me to realize is that you need to look at this as a special time and to enjoy it," said Maurice. "It's certainly an unusual environment, but the puck still drops and everything else is the same after that. The game is the same."

If he can relate it to anything, perhaps it would be his World Cup of Hockey experience with Team Europe in the fall of 2016.

During that tournament, teams saw each other at hotels, at the rink, everywhere. The hub city of Edmonton (and Toronto, for that matter) are similar in that regard.

Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice

All that extra time together as a group has been beneficial though.

"This whole thing has been a great experience. You get to spend more time with the people you work with in a different environment, you get to know them differently," said Maurice. "The casual conversations because the players are around so much more, means something."

The Jets have been skating together since July 13, they earned a 4-1 exhibition victory over the Vancouver Canucks on Wednesday, and have their final practice on Friday afternoon.

When it all comes down to it, the Jets are still facing a Flames team they've only played once this season - and that was outdoors, with a different head coach.

Jets defenceman Josh Morrissey was born in Calgary, so he's been the target of some good-natured barbs from family members in the days leading up to the series getting underway.

"I grew up a Flames fan, grew up going to games, and all my family and friends were for the most part. I'll take some ribbing," said Morrissey. "It's unfortunate we weren't able to be playing in Winnipeg and Calgary, that would have been a cool experience in a regular situation. I hope I can come out on the right side, the winning side of it."

Morrissey's first chance to get the upper hand comes with a 9:30 pm CT puck drop on Saturday. One thing the Jets can draw on is the fact the exhibition game against Vancouver started at the exact same time, so knowledge of the ice conditions after it has been played on earlier in the day could be an asset.

"I honestly thought the ice was better than I thought it would be," Morrissey said.

"As it goes along and it gets more games and the ice chewed up a little bit, it's going to continue to get better. The ice got a little heavy at times, but I was pleasantly surprised."

Video: PRACTICE | Laine, Morrissey

Morrissey spent a total of 20:26 on that ice on Wednesday, assisting on the eventual game-winner from Nikolaj Ehlers. As much as the game was important just to play in to shake some rust off, it was also important to experience playing in an empty building.

"The only time that I've ever really felt it's a challenge to hear your teammate on the ice is when it's really loud and the fans are going crazy. That happens more in the playoffs. That'll be interesting to see as we go along," he said. "Once you're playing the game, especially when you're on the ice, you're just in the moment."

Calgary played their exhibition game at the exact same time as the Jets, just 24 hours earlier. They dropped a 4-1 decision to the Edmonton Oilers, with Elias Lindholm scoring the lone goal. Matthew Tkachuk - who led the Flames in points with 61 in the regular season - had a team-leading four shots on goal.

"He's a power forward. He's a strong guy. He goes to the tough areas and he plays a physical game. He's really good around the net and he's not afraid to go there," said Morrissey.

"As a defenceman, you have to have good body position on him and have a good stick on him. Just try not to give him too much time and space because he can make plays when he has space."

After weeks of talking, only one night separates the teams (and fans) from a summer hockey experience they won't soon forget.

"It's an interesting feeling. One exhibition game and we're right into the Qualifier, but it's exciting," said Morrissey. "We haven't been in this situation before at the end of July, but it's exciting and I'm looking forward to getting started tomorrow."

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