Pierre-Luc Dubois and Kristian Vesalainen played as linemates in what turned out to be their final game before the extended NHL holiday break, when the Winnipeg Jets defeated the St. Louis Blues 4-2 on Dec. 19.
But Christmas Day could not have been any different for the two young forwards.
The 23-year-old Dubois and his family spent three days and two nights during a quick getaway to Banff, Alta.
The 22-year-old Vesalainen spent Christmas Day in isolation after testing positive for COVID-19 on Dec. 21, the same day his family arrived in Winnipeg after travelling from Finland to spend the holidays with him.
“I was really surprised. I didn’t have any idea at all. I didn’t have any symptoms,” said Vesalainen after his first practice with the team on Thursday.
“I thought it was just a bad joke at first. But I guess it was not.”
Vesalainen says his family spent some of their nine day visit in Winnipeg shopping, but none of it with him. “We played Monopoly on the phones and Face Timed at the same time so that was kinda the only thing we did,” said the Jets 2017 first round draft pick. “I mean they enjoyed their time, but they obviously wanted to see me so that was not too fun.”
By contrast, the Dubois family got the chance to enjoy each other’s company in Banff — including the experience of dog sledding.
“That was my second time doing the dog sledding,” said the Jets’ second leading scorer with 14 goals and 11 assists for 25 points in 30 games. “I did it three years ago with Columbus. I think we played Edmonton, and then we didn’t play Calgary for like two or three days so we went to Banff.
“So when we were thinking about our Christmas plans, the first thing that came to mind for me was it’s not far from here — I had a great time so I wanted them to see it, I wanted them to do the dog sledding. They really loved it.”
Dubois says he was the one driving the sled the entire time, which he hopes added even more to the family’s enjoyment.
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“It’s an experience I didn’t even have on my bucket list prior to doing it. It’s one of the best experiences of my life,” said Dubois, who also mentioned his parents brought along their Husky-Mount Bernese mountain dog.
“We’ve always said he belongs in front of a sled, and when we got there and saw the dogs, they acted exactly like my parents’ dog does.”
One thing on which Dubois and Vesalainen could share a common thought was Wednesday’s cancellation of the 2022 World Junior Tournament. Both players competed in the 2017 event and Dubois says he has nothing but fond memories of playing in front of home country crowds in Montreal and Toronto that year.
“I got cut my 17-year-old year, but I went at 18 and had a great time. We lost in the finals in a shootout,” recalled Dubois, who logged 22:49 of ice time in that eventual 5-4 loss to the United States.
“The memories I made from that tournament, it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. For some guys it’s two or three, but I’m sure a lot of those guys are disappointed. It was their first tournament. It might be their last.”
Vesalainen says he feels bad for all the players who suddenly had the ice pulled out from underneath them late Wednesday afternoon. “That’s brutal; I enjoyed every World Juniors I played in,” said Vesalainen, who also competed for Finland in 2018. “Especially when you’ve been around with those guys for a long time. Hopefully they’re going to play together somewhere.”
In the meantime, the big Finnish winger’s focus is on getting his timing back after being off ice for 10 days.
“Today I didn’t feel my legs at all. The hands were not there so for sure it’s going to take some time,” admitted Vesalainen. “I think it’s going to come. Just have to work hard these first couple days.”
Jets head coach Dave Lowry had Vesalainen taking fourth-line shifts with David Gustfasson and Mikey Eyssimont during Thursday’s practice. But Lowry is expecting to also have Andrew Copp back in the lineup for Sunday’s 3 p.m. CT faceoff in Vegas.
“He’s one guy who took his equipment with him,” said Lowry of Copp, who also tested positive on Dec. 21, but didn’t find out until after he had left Winnipeg to spend the holidays with family in Michigan.
“With protocol different in the U.S. than Canada, he will have had the ability to get on the ice.”
The Jets will have not played in two weeks by the time they play on Sunday at T-Mobile Arena, so Lowry says practices over that time frame have been aimed at one thing in particular.
“What we’re just trying to do is just make sure that when we go into our next game that we’re not going to be shocked by how quick the opposition is coming at us,” explained Lowry.
“We’ve got an anxious group right now that’s excited to get back into game action.”