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Ex-Jets captain Blake Wheeler still leads by example


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DENVER — Blake Wheeler couldn’t have had the “C” ripped from his chest any better.

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Just days before the Winnipeg Jets opened their 2022-23 tally in training camp, newly installed head coach Rick Bowness dropped a little bombshell, stripping the 36-year-old of captaincy.

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As Wheeler walked into a semicircle of microphones and cameras, you could tell he was still making the decision.

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A suprise? For many, absolutely. In hindsight? Probably not.

But that doesn’t mean the sting was any less severe for Wheeler, who had served as captain since his birthday in 2016.

In Dallas on Monday, hours before the Jets take to the ice in an eventual 4-1 loss to the Stars, Wheeler deflected some questions about where it was a month and changed since the Jets chose a different direction in regarding their leadership.

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“I’m fine. I’m fine, I’m fine,” he said of the first attempt to dig a little deeper.

Wheeler is not one to really open up to the media.

The guard goes up and, as captain, he always prefers to talk about a teammate or the team as a whole rather than himself.

So, predictably, a second attempt to peer into Wheeler’s soul was handled as such by the man himself.

“I’m really excited about our group,” he said. “I’m really excited about the growth we guys have had and everything we’ve done during camp. We all learn together. Going to Banff and spending time together was a great way to get to know each other. I’m excited about our team, that’s where I’m at.

Fair enough.

One of the things that stood out in Wheeler’s immediate media scum after losing the captaincy was his resilience to keep pushing forward.

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He swore that anyone who thought he would blend into the background would be seriously mistaken.

He more than kept his word.

We don’t know how far GM Kevin Cheveldayoff and the Wheeler camp got to a mutual split from Winnipeg last summer, but if the reports are accurate, the former was unwilling to keep the 8 cap. .25 million achieved by the second. this season and next, so most of those phone calls have probably been cut short.

Staying in Winnipeg may have been a disappointing result for the roster’s only Jets player to be in Winnipeg since the Thrashers moved from Atlanta in 2011.

Here’s a guy who narrowly missed winning the Stanley Cup in 2011 with the Bruins, traded just months before the Thrashers as the Bruins looked to bolster their roster for the Cup race.

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Twelve years later and with more than 1,000 NHL games under his belt, it’s not unreasonable to think that Wheeler wants to find a place to make a few more runs at Lord Stanley.

Without any movement materializing, however, he is merely a soldier.

And head held high.

“Obviously for him, a lot has happened to him from the start until now,” said Jets associate coach Scott Arniel, replacing Bowness who was still in Winnipeg Tuesday with an episode of COVID-19. “What I see most is he’s the player I’ve watched for a number of years, the power forward with great skill, can play on the power play or shorthanded, you can kick him out in the last minutes of games.”

Few people ever questioned Wheeler’s efforts. They would be negligent in doing so.

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When he was announced among the Winnipeg player presentations last Friday at the Canada Life Centre, no one received a bigger ovation.

He’s a well-respected and well-loved player among the fan base, a player who could have been long gone before signing his current contract and setting up back-to-back 91-point seasons.

Wheeler is the guy who will play through any injury that doesn’t keep him on his feet.

He gives everything.

“That’s what I remember,” Arniel said when asked what he’s seen of Wheeler since losing the captaincy. “The player on the ice that we see, I know it in exhibition, but the other night too — he’s a leader, he’s a guy who plays for example. When your best players set an example like that, it’s a very good sign. He was great. He was excellent in the hall, excellent with the coaching staff and excellent with his game.

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“He handled it tremendously.”

Wheeler might open his heart to a few reporters in the basement of a hockey arena in the heart of Texas, but the truth is he doesn’t really need to.

He may be face to face with Father Time at this point in his career, but the Wheeler everyone sees playing hockey is still, as Arniel mentioned, the player who’s been wearing the same jersey for over a thousand years. a decade.

The leaders aren’t sulking and, captaincy or not, Wheeler isn’t about to start.

Wheeler on Lowry wearing an ‘A’

“It’s well deserved. Lows is a guy who invested his career in Winnipeg. I think it’s only fair that he’s recognized for that. He’s been a key figure in our team and kind of an unsung guy over the years. He leads by example in how he plays every night and how he presents himself. He is a huge contributor to our team and what we do behind the scenes as well. It’s a good step for him, that’s for sure.

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