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Jets relive childhood memories during outdoor practice in Regina

"Everything about this game is so exciting." -Laine

by Mitchell Clinton @MitchellClinton /

REGINA - As the home team for Saturday's 2019 Tim Hortons NHL Heritage Classic, the Winnipeg Jets get to use the facilities reserved for the Canadian Football League's Saskatchewan Roughriders over the next couple days.

Let's just say, the facilities are a cut above.


"The thing that caught me by surprise is they have a barber shop in there. I've never seen that in a locker room before," said Jets captain Blake Wheeler. "Nobody was working, I could get tightened up before the game. That was pretty cool. We have to find a place in our room for that."

Video: PRACTICE | Wheeler & Hellebuyck

Friday was the first chance the Jets had to see Mosaic Stadium, holding a 45-minute practice on the outdoor ice.

Sure, the 33,350-seat stadium is significantly larger than the outdoor ponds they used to skate on, but it was hard not to think back to their respective childhoods.

"I grew up - not on a lake - but on a pond. I spent a lot of time out there," said Wheeler. "There was a lot of nights of coming home from practice and eating some sort of dinner, then going back out there until who knows how long. There was a lot of outdoor time, whether it be there or meeting friends at a local community outdoor rink."

As for Connor Hellebuyck - the simple fact the lights go all around the ice surface is a bit different than his favourite childhood memory.

"One fond memory I can remember is just a neighbourhood down the road from mine," said Hellebuyck. "They'd build a rink on their little lake. We'd play all night. So we finally got some lights and I tried to suit up, but the lights were behind me, so I couldn't see a thing. I was just guessing. Not my fondest moment, but I will remember that forever."

Video: PRACTICE | Paul Maurice

Both Wheeler and Hellebuyck were on the Jets roster for the 2016 Heritage Classic in Winnipeg. In fact, nine players on the current Jets roster played in that event. Patrik Laine was another one, but his hockey career was just getting started at that time.

His first Heritage Classic was just the fifth game of his rookie season.

"It's still exciting. Being able to play an NHL game and play it outside was pretty new to me. Going through this a second time, it's still as great as it was last time," said Laine.

"Obviously it's not in Winnipeg this time, but I think all the facilities here are great. The arena and where we're going to play, it's great. Everything about this game is so exciting. It'll be fun to play here tomorrow."

Video: PRACTICE | Patrik Laine

The forecast for Saturday evening indicates a chance of flurries and a temperature around minus seven degrees Celsius.

Jets head coach Paul Maurice says whatever the weather is at 9 pm CT when the puck drops, both teams will have to play through it.

There are contingencies in place if the wind gets severe as well.

"If it gets to the point that it's a factor, they'll flip and cut it in half in the third so it's equal for both teams," said Maurice. "There will be a hard whistle at the 10 (minute mark). In overtime it'll be a hard whistle at two-and-a-half."

But hey, since it's in a football stadium, Wheeler has a better idea.

"We'll defer to the second half and take the wind."

The countdown to kick off - or, puck drop - is on.


The weekend didn't get off to a great start for forward Mason Appleton.

He was among the group of players throwing around a football before the practice when disaster struck.

"He broke a bone in his foot trying to intercept a football," said Maurice. "He stepped in front of Connor and he'll be out for a while."

Maurice said the next time he'll offer an update on Appleton's condition is in four weeks' time. But for now, he just feels bad for the 23-year-old.

"When you think about the time that a man like that would have put in to try and make this team, try to grab a spot, the amount of commitment he would have put in. His fitness numbers were outstanding," said Maurice.

"It's one of those things. They play soccer before the games, play basketball, do all kinds of stuff. You're having fun out there. You feel for him."

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