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College student fills in for Mason at Jets' practice

by Patrick Williams
WINNIPEG – Distance, admonishment, light-hearted relief and a goaltender missing geography class served as the ingredients at work for the Winnipeg Jets' recovery on Tuesday.

After a 5-1 season-opening loss to the Montreal Canadiens on Sunday, the Jets stayed away from the rink Monday. The off-day allowed the players and coaching staff to spend the Canadian Thanksgiving with their families. It also allowed the team to recover from the non-stop frenzy that has surrounded the club since players trickled into town for informal workouts in late-August.

But Tuesday's arrival brought the Jets back to the ice, and coach Claude Noel unleashed a spirited admonishment to his club after seeing what he considered to be sloppy execution from his young club.


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Even the presence of Noel's sister -- in town and attending practice -- did not prevent the Jets from receiving the coach's fury.

"She had no influence on my behavior at all," Noel told reporters afterward. "This is exactly what happens after a day off. When you have a day off, your mind is not back and engaged [upon returning]. So that was my method of saying, 'Hey, what the heck? Wake the heck up.'

"We practice like we play. You've got to have engagement, and you have to engage them back to practice."

But then Noel dialed up the enthusiasm and the "joy" that he so often makes a focus of managing his club. The Jets spent the end of the practice session engaging in a spirited scrimmage. Beginning Thursday, Winnipeg faces a two-game trip for games against the Chicago Blackhawks and Phoenix Coyotes that will begin a stretch of 11 of the next 14 games on the road.

One Jet not present was veteran goaltender Chris Mason, who missed practice on Tuesday. Mason's wife was due to give birth at any moment.

Mason's absence meant that the Jets found themselves in the market for a goalie for the day. So the club brought in University of Manitoba Bisons goaltender Joe Caligiuri, the younger brother of communications coordinator Christina Caligiuri.

The goaltender brought a solid hockey resume to his temporary assignment. The 22-year-old Winnipeg native spent parts of three seasons in the Western Hockey League with the Brandon Wheat Kings and Prince George Cougars, including seeing 54 games in net with the Wheat Kings during the 2007-08 season. After his junior career, Caligiuri chose the university route with the Bisons.

The Bisons play in the Canada West circuit, a level of hockey that includes many Canadian Hockey League alumni looking to extend their playing careers while pursuing their university educations.  Last week, Caligiuri won Canadian Interuniversity Sport weekly honors for a pair of shutouts against the University of Calgary.

Needing a replacement for Mason on Tuesday, the Jets asked Caligiuri's sister whether he would be able to fill in at practice. Becoming a Jet for a day meant that Caligiuri missed a morning geography class, but Caligiuri quite willingly made that trade-off.

"It was good to see what the best players in the world are like," Caligiuri explained while his proud sister looked on. "It's nice to see what they're like and how good they are. It was a dream growing up to play at this level and to do it for a day was [wonderful]."

Caligiuri even managed to steer aside some NHL-level shots, though he took a humble approach after practice lest he invoke ribbing from his teammates-for-a-day nearby.

"If you're in there long enough," Caligiuri said with a laugh, "a few [shots] are going to hit you."

Facing NHL shooters up close proved to be a jarring experience for even a goaltender with CHL and Canadian university experience.

"The biggest thing is their releases," Caligiuri said of the difference between facing NHL-caliber shooters and players at lower levels. "They can get [shots] off way quicker, so you have to be ready at all times. A couple of times out there, they just caught me completely by surprise."

Caligiuri cited Jets captain Andrew Ladd and center Bryan Little as the players who most tormented him offensively.

"Little was scoring at will," Caligiuri said to laughs.
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