WINNIPEG — “That was me.”
There wasn’t a single camera rolling at Winnipeg Jets practice Saturday when Jets captain Blake Wheeler got into a scrap with defenceman Ben Chiarot, but anyone in the stands who saw the tiff would back up Wheeler’s admission.
Wheeler started the altercation, pursued it, and if they were handing out instigators he would have gotten the extra penalty minutes.
“I had a little bit of a bad day yesterday,” Wheeler said to the assembled media Sunday morning, with a key game against Nashville scheduled for tonight at 6 p.m. local. “(I) sent one a little bit high and tight at (Chiarot). If it were me in his position, I’d go after whoever did it too.
“You love playing with guys that are competitive and that’s the spirit of our team — we’re competitive in every game, competitive in every practice. Sometimes those things are going to boil over a little bit. Pretty much after it happened, (we) hugged it out in the room and boys have been laughing about it for the past 24 hours.”
The fans, however, have dwelled on the practice fight a tad longer.
“Keep the tweets coming,” Wheeler joked, “because they’ve been pretty entertaining for everyone.”
It’s difficult for people who aren’t immersed daily in hockey culture to understand how two teammates can duke it out one day, and hug it out the next. Let Wheeler explain:
“I’m around these guys more than I’m around my own wife and kids,” he said. “At a certain point in time, even if it’s things you guys don’t see — 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.”
Head coach Paul Maurice put some closure to this episode, pleased that his captain stood up and took the blame.
“He could have blamed Ben, right?” Maurice said, half-joking. “When you talk to him (Wheeler) after a game, win or loss, you’re going to get a real honest answer. That’s the way he practises, the way he lives. It’s part of the reason why he’s an elite player in the game. He drives every day. Gets a little boiled over? He accepts responsibility for his piece to that.
“He’s an incredibly honest player, the way he plays. He’s also an equally honest man.”
Maurice also revealed Sunday that defenceman Tobias Enstrom (lower-body injury) will sit out the rest of the regular season. The plan is for him to be ready for Game 1 of the playoffs.
“Very, very hopeful (for Game 1),” Maurice said. “If he heals at the normal rate, we’re in pretty good shape. If he doesn’t …
“Based on his history, it’s a good idea today but in a week he’ll be saying, ‘Hey, I want to play.’ We’re looking at giving him a little bit more of a structured game plan.”