‘We just want to play’: Winnipeg Jets head coach still hopeful NHL season can resume

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice answers questions during a video conference call on Monday.
Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice answers questions during a video conference call on Monday. Winnipeg Jets

It’s been almost a month without hockey for the National Hockey League (NHL) after the season was put on pause due to the new coronavirus pandemic.

Winnipeg Jets head coach Paul Maurice held a video conference call on Monday and described a tough few days after realizing the NHL wouldn’t be coming back any time soon, especially considering the Jets were just starting to hit their stride with four straight victories.

READ MORE: NHL suspends its season amid coronavirus pandemic

“Those first three or four days right after they paused the season are really hard because I felt that this team got stressed right to its maximum,” Maurice said. “But there was a light at the end of the tunnel ’cause I’ve never seen a March schedule like that. Our schedule was brutal in the first half.

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“I’m not going to complain about it too much because we’re always going to have a tough schedule here in Winnipeg, just on time changes and things like that,” he continued. “But our March was good, and I don’t ever remember seeing a March that was kinda that good. And I thought we’re just getting healthy. Like, here comes the payoff for these guys.”

Maurice said he was optimistic about the team’s prospects over the rest of the season.

“We were set up to be healthy and good and strong going into playoffs. And having survived an incredible year, you can build a lot of confidence with that.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Jets captain Blake Wheeler plays teacher role while hunkering down in Winnipeg

More than three weeks later, Maurice says it still bothers him but it pales in comparison with what many are currently dealing with.

Although the team is now spread out across the planet after most of the players headed back to their summer homes, the club is still in constant contact with the players.

“Most importantly, it starts with our medical group,” Maurice said. “Our athletic therapists are constantly in contact with the players. And they’re already checking for symptoms. How’s the health of the athlete? How’s the health of their family? Is there anybody in the family sick? Do we need to get people tested if we can?

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“We haven’t had any concerns with that.”

The NHL is looking at a number of scenarios to try and resume the season when it’s safe to do so, and Maurice wants to see what this edition of the Jets are capable of in the playoffs.

“I want to see this team, the Winnipeg Jets team, play,” he said. “This is all small potatoes between what people are going through. People are losing their lives. The hardship that’s out there, [people] lose their jobs — certainly the challenges the world faces with this far outweigh what Paul Maurice wants to see happen with the Winnipeg Jets, and I believe that.”

Still, Maurice reflected on his experience with the Jets so far.

“It’s been an incredible year. Some of the most enjoyable moments of my career, I think, have been here: knowing the struggles, knowing the hardship that this team faced and got itself to a point it was feeling good,” he said.

“I want this group back together and I want to see what they can do. I don’t care what format it is. I want an opportunity to compete for the playoffs and I want a fair opportunity to do that, but I want to see this season played.”

The idea of playing all the games at a neutral site is one of the many possibilities the NHL will have to consider.

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“My first thought is, the Winnipeg Jets fans, I’d like to play in front of them,” Maurice said. “Everybody wants to play in front of their home crowd. Secondly, we just want to play. I’m not much of TV watcher at all, but I’ve been surfing TV lately, at night, and if there was a hockey game on, man, I’d be watching it.

“We just want to play. It’d be a wonderful, maybe, partial distraction for some people that are dealing with tough times.”

READ MORE: True North expects more Winnipeg cancellations as Jets, Ice and Moose games all on indefinite hold

Maurice has been hunkering down in Winnipeg with his family while the world goes into isolation. And like he often does with hockey, he’s taking the glass-half-full approach.

“The positive here for me and my family is I got three kinda university kids at home together,” Maurice said. “It’s a window I’m never getting again. I’m never gonna get to have dinner every night with them as a group or sit around and watch bad moves with them that they think are funny and are just clearly not.

“There’s a lot of interactions that I’m going to get with my family that there’s no set of circumstances that will ever present itself again that are going to allow this to happen, so I’m absolutely making the most of that.”