Diabetics need not apply
This weekly column looks to discuss a certain number of relevant Jets topics on a certain day of the week. That certain number? Five. That day of the week? Friday. Also, hole. This is the Friday Five-Hole.
BYFUGLIEN AND WHEELIN’ IN SOCHI (BUT NOT BYFUGLIEN)
While most of the world was waking up in a pool of what they drank the previous night, and after Tyler Bozak scored the Winter Classic game-winner the only way he possibly can, USA Hockey revealed their Sochi roster on New Year’s Day in front of the frozen fans at Michigan Stadium.
Can you guess which Jet made the roster? Hint: it’s not the one you’re thinking.
It’s Blake Wheeler! Yes, the Plymouth, Minnesota native and Jet managed to earn a spot as an extra forward, alongside New York Ranger Derek Stepan. Though his name has been in the mix for quite awhile, Wheeler’s inclusion on the team could be seen as a surprise, especially when you consider the players USA will leave at home – players like Kyle Okposo and Bobby Ryan (the latter of which scores goals in the NHL at a greater pace than any other forward on the American team). However, USA Hockey brass – and most other hockey brasses – have stressed the importance of having speedy players who will adapt quickly to the bigger Sochi ice. Both Wheeler’s exceptional skating ability and strong December likely factored heavily in US GM David Polie’s decision.
Curiously, Polie and Co. did not name Winnipeg’s Dustin Byfuglien to the roster – a decision that almost anybody who follows the Jets can’t quite wrap their head around. The knock on Byfuglien is that he’s slow and coughs the puck up, but what he does best above all other things is provide offense. No other defenseman named to the American squad has more than Byfuglien’s 31 points this season, nor do forwards David Backes, James van Reimsdyk, Ryan Kesler, Zach Parise, Max Pacioretty, Paul Statsny, Derek Stephan, Ryan Callahan, Dustin Brown, or Blake Wheeler. If you were paying close enough attention, you might’ve noticed that would make Byfuglien the fifth highest scoring player on the US Olympic team.
I understand the paranoia facing Olympic GMs this year. Tight-checking, restrictive hockey is making its way back into the NHL, and was certainly on display in 2010 by teams like Switzerland and Finland. No one wants to be the Goliath downed by same crappy David-esque hockey country, but you still need to score to win. Every country poses a different challenge, from the high-octane Russians to the cerebral Swedes to the ageless Czechs, and the winning team will need to weather a variety of playing styles to claw to the top of the podium. America’s inclusion of toolbox players like Wheeler, Brown, and Callahan and exclusion of firepower players like Byfuglien, Ryan, and Phoenix’s Keith Yandle may come to haunt them in the long run when they can out-check Germany but can’t out-score Slovakia.
The Jets have been on a tear this past week with back-up Al Montoya in the driver’s seat, winning three of their last four games. Montoya boasts a respectable .924 save percentage and one shutout during the stretch, and many are wondering if a goalie controversy is brewing in Winnipeg. Coach Claude Noel made an effort not to place any blame on Montoya after a 4-3 loss to Ottawa Thursday night. With Noel’s backing and a tidy winning streak under his belt, Montoya may have earned himself a bit more time in Pavelec’s light.
Goalie controversy can be a double-edged sword. As we are seeing this season in Toronto and Los Angeles, having no clear starter can push both goalies to compete harder and thrive. However, as we saw in Vancouver last year with Roberto Luongo and Cory Schneider, it can also end in disaster.
Luckily for Kevin Cheveldayoff and his team, there can’t be a goalie controversy between Pavelec and Montoya, because that would be like trying to choose between suffocation or drowning.
Either way, it’s pretty much over.
JUNIOR JETS JOLLY IN MALMO
When the present is bleak, we look with hope to the future, and that’s exactly what Jets fans are doing in Malmö. Winnipeg sent four of their 2013 draftees to participate in the World Junior Championships this year: C Nic Petan and D Josh Morrissey for Team Canada, C Andrew Copp for Team USA, and D Jan Kostalek for the Czech Republic.
Copp and Kostalek had strong, but short tournaments. Kostalek played a shutdown role, registering only one assist in five games, but was a boding physical presence, and kept his head above water against touch match-ups on a weak club. Copp found himself primarily on USA’s third line, but that didn’t stop him from posting five assists in as many games. Copp has taken big strides at the University of Michigan this year, and continued his progress with a convincing performance in Sweden. Both player’s teams were elimnated in the quarterfinals.
Petan, Morrissey, and the rest of Team Canada’s hopes are still alive. Petan started the tournament tentatively, but slowly became more visible, explodingwith a two goal effort against Slovakia. Petan is 4-1-5 through five games, and is meeting Jets fan’s hopeful, increasingly desperate expectations at every turn. Morrissey hasn’t produced at the rate he does in the WHL, but isn’t a top pairing guy on Team Canada. The Prince Albert Raider has been solid in his role, and moved the puck well in transition.
That being said, Pat Falloon did pretty well in the ’91 World Juniors, and now he’s probably sitting on a tractor somewhere in Manitoba.
That was still my best year yet, so let’s just pretend it’s still ’09.
TSN hockey analyst Jeff O’Neill angered Jets fans this past Tuesday during a hilarious diatribe in which he claimed Trouba and Schiefele wouldn’t stay in Winnipeg long-term because nobody wants to play there (namely because it’s cold). On Thursday, Winnipeg Sun columnist Doug Lunney posted an equally hilarious response diatribe to O’Neill’s comments, claiming the TSN analyst "hasn’t paid much attention to what’s happened in Winnipeg."
It’s hard to say which take is more comical. O’Neill’s weather comments ignore the success of 1980’s Oilers, and I may be in the minority, but I think those guys were pretty decent. (Also, Scheifele isn’t going anywhere until Kane decides his shoulders are getting too sore to carry him anymore.) Lunney, on the other hand, acts shocked O’Neill doesn’t consider core players like Bogosian, Pavelec, Enstrom, and Wheeler a lock for the cup. (Would we be better with comparables Myers, Nabokov, Timmonen, and Versteeg as the core?)
If everybody could just get over themselves, this would be a more peaceful world.
FIVE-HOLE OF THE WEEK
How could it be any other goal?
US Olympian Blake Wheeler redirects a beautiful pass from non-Olympian Mark Scheifele past likely-Olympian Semyon Varlamov with only seconds left in OT. However, the real hero of this video is Keaton Ellerby, who takes a stiff punch from Dustin Byfuglien in the ensuing goal celebration, and then labors over it for the remainder of the video.