Winnipeg Jets captain Blake Wheeler has traded in his sticks and pucks for paper and pencils these days.
With the NHL on pause during the coronavirus pandemic, instead of preparing for a playoff run, Wheeler has been playing the role of teacher at his home in Winnipeg for his three young children.
“We’re full-time teachers, nannies,” Wheeler said. “It’s a full-day job. I’m more tired, I think, now than I was a few weeks ago. We’re just cooking and cleaning and trying to teach. We’re keeping it together.
“My seven-year-old and my four-year-old daughter — they pretty much fight all day,” Wheeler said. “It’s a battle.”
Wheeler has been working out on his Peloton to keep in shape. And the time away from the rink has given him a chance to better connect with his youngest son, who is two.
“Since he’s been born, like, he doesn’t want anything to do with me really, like, a month ago. And now that I’m here all the time, he’s starting to realize that I am his dad. He’s tough. He’s really tough. Terrible twos, and now he’s turning three in June — big personality.”
While many players headed to their summer homes, Wheeler is hunkering down in Winnipeg. But the team has kept in contact with a group chat.
“Guys pretty much took off right when they had the opportunity, so I think we’re pretty spread out,” he said. “Just checking in with guys to see how everyone’s doing. You get the odd picture or whatever to kind of break up the day. We tried a team FaceTime at one point and it was a mess, so we haven’t done it again.”
The Jets moved into a wild card spot on the final night of play before the league was shut down. And the three weeks off have given Wheeler a chance to reflect on their roller-coaster season.
“We dealt with a lot this year, you know — injuries were a big part of that,” he said. “We’re kind of playing shorthanded a lot of the year. And I think finally towards the end there we were starting to get healthy.”
Goaltender Connor Hellebuyck was “playing out of his mind,” Wheeler said.
“Helly gave us a chance to kind of hang in there and stay within striking distance of the wild card. Yeah, we’re starting to string some wins together. So it was nice to have a full lineup and kind of see what type of team we had.
“So regardless of if we ended up making the playoffs, we gave ourselves an opportunity and we had something to play for. So that was exciting.”
Wheeler has also been keeping in touch with players around the league, participating in a video chat with the Dallas Stars’ Jamie Benn, the Minnesota Wild’s Zach Parise and the Colorado Avalanche’s Gabriel Landeskog on Tuesday.
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Benn joked that he asks Wheeler to fight every game.
“There was one game you asked,” Wheeler told him. “I think we faced off against each other like 20 times, he asked me to fight 20 times. Like, third period in a tie game, like, whatever.”
All four players were asked what teammates they’d like to quarantine with the most, as well as the least.
“My next-door neighbour in Winnipeg is Luca Sbisa, and he’s the man,” Wheeler said, adding that the two have “kept each other company” over the fence.
“For the least guy — Jack Roslovic,” Wheeler said. “Rosie’s apartment hasn’t been cleaned or I don’t think he’s cooked in it, ever. And he talks a lot, too. And Rosie’s the best. Like, I love hanging out with Rosie, but I think in an extended stay might be long.
“(Mark Scheifele) isn’t gonna like this, but you might be a tough one, too, because for whatever reason, because our last names, our rooms are pretty close on the road, all the time. And whenever I’m going down to get a pregame snack or bring my suitcase down to the boss, Scheifs is always typically in the shower at that time. And he’s always blasting, like, High School Musical or, like, Taylor Swift or just the worst music. So I think that could probably get old after a while.”
Wheeler indicated his household’s wine collection is getting low and said he has also spent some of his free time binging TV shows like Tiger King and Ozark.
Wheeler finished the video call by praising the medical workers on the front line.
“You know the amount of work that those guys have right now. I mean, it’s around the clock,” Wheeler said. “So obviously can’t thank them enough for everything that they’re doing here.
“The more that people take (the COVID-19 pandemic) seriously, especially earlier on, the shorter it’s going to last, the more you can flatten the curve in the shortest amount of time, and then you can start to hopefully get back to a normal routine, but for the time being like these guys said, just take care of one another, and try to enjoy the time that we do have with our families and hopefully we can get back on the ice sooner than later.”