It's a 'win and you're in' kind of game Sunday from Winnipeg's Bell MTS Place. Following an interesting Saturday, in which teammates Ben Chiarot and captain Blake Wheeler exchanged shots, words, cross checks and punches mid practice, the team resumed their daily schedule with Sunday's optional morning skate.
"That was all me," Wheeler said. "I had a little bit of a bad day yesterday, and sent one a little high and tight at Benny. I thought it was great. If it were me in his position I would have gone after whoever did it too. I love playing with guys who are competitive. I think that's the spirit of our team. We're competitive in every practice. Sometimes those things are going to boil over a little bit. But pretty much after it happened we hugged it out in the room. The boys have been laughing about it for the last 24 hours or so though."
Although the Jets' captain avoided media following Saturday's incident, he took full responsibility for his actions on Sunday, and offered sincere words about his teammate, Chiarot.
"Like i said, we hugged it out in the room pretty much right after it happened," Wheeler said. "I think people made him out to be the villain, but it was all me. It was over with pretty quick."
Ben Chiarot was also very quick to push aside Saturday's scrum.
“It was two guys battling in practice - that’s going to happen,” said Chiarot. “I don’t even remember how it started. It’s just boys being boys. A scuffle in practice? They happen all the time. Tempers get up. Intensity in practice is always a good thing and that’s something we’re trying to bring here before the playoffs. I look at it as a good thing.”
“I’m around these guys more than I’m around my own wife and kids," Wheeler added. "At a certain point of time, even if it’s things you guys don’t see. Maybe a joke goes too far, a chirp goes too far... those things happen. At the end of the day, we’re all boys. The roughhousing happens sometimes. Unfortunately, it happens around media cameras, but that’s life.”
Following Saturday's skirmish, popular Instagram page NHL.Discussion posted a poll asking if fights in practice are beneficial or detrimental to team success. Interestingly enough, the vote (featuring over 19,000 followers) was split almost exactly 50/50, with 9,724 participants suggesting that a dust up in practice can be good, while 9,729 voted that rifts between teammates are not helpful.
Of the voters, nearly 92 percent of NHL, AHL, CHL and NCAA players voted that fights in practice were beneficial.
"It’s a fine line," the Jets' captain said. "You don’t get that in practice very often, once in a while it happens. We have a really competitive group; it’s what’s made our team good this year. That’s why after a loss or two, you’ll see us play our best hockey. Practice is the same way, we try to use every practice to get better. Sometimes that’s going to spill over a little bit."
If Sunday's tilt with the visiting Nashville Predators goes the way that Winnipeg wants it, the Jets could clinch their spot in the Stanley Cup Playoffs as early as Sunday evening. Two playoff scenarios present themselves. The Jets are in if they win Sunday night against Nashville, or if they collect one point against the Predators and the Edmonton Oilers beat the Anaheim Ducks in their game.
Winnipeg also has the chance narrow the gap between themselves and Nashville to four points with a victory in regulation time Sunday. Patrik Laine trails Alex Ovechkin by one goal for the league lead, and should be firing on all cylinders again Sunday.
The National Champion University of Manitoba Bisons women's hockey team will be on the ice prior to the national anthems and recognized for winning the national title in U-Sports women's hockey.
Puckdrop from Bell MTS Place is set for 6:15 P.M. local time.
By Carter Brooks
Photo by Will Borys