WINNIPEG — Mark Scheifele is opting to forgive, even if it will be impossible for him to forget the play that knocked him out of the Stanley Cup qualifying round.
Speaking to reporters for the first time since suffering a suspected ankle injury in the series opener with the Calgary Flames after he was checked by Matthew Tkachuk, Scheifele was calm and composed when asked about the incident.
In a somewhat surprising development, Scheifele insisted there were no hard feelings.
“I’m a guy that forgives pretty easily. I can definitely hold a grudge once in a while if something bad happens, but the way my parents raised me you forgive everyone, and that’s all you can do,” Scheifele said during a Zoom call. “You wish the best on every person. For me, it’s not going to affect my day to day lifestyle. Matt’s a great hockey player and has a ton of work ethic.
“I have no hard feelings. Obviously, I wish it never happened and I played in the rest of that series, but there’s nothing you can do about that now. All you can do is wish everyone the best and hope that everyone stays safe and healthy. That’s kind of the only thoughts on my mind. In my mind I’m just trying to get better, trying to get my body back to 100 per cent and that’s all I can worry about.”
Scheifele had the puck in the neutral zone and turned quickly towards the boards and with Tkachuk making sure to finish his check, his left leg caught the left foot/ankle of Scheifele, who went sprawling to the ice and was writhing in pain.
Tkachuk reached out to Scheifele and the pair worked through it.
“In terms of the hit, I think the first thing is that he was a little out of control,” said Scheifele. “He was out of control and he tried to get a piece of me. Obviously, I wish that didn’t happen and I would have been playing in the rest of that series, but that’s the way hockey is.”
“The way I look at it, at the last second, I turned up and it was kind of like a knee-on-knee scenario. The one thing I know — and he talked about being out of control and skating too fast. He took ownership of that. I know for me as a hockey player, I work every single day at being in control, at being in control of where I’m at on the ice and the space around me. It’s one of those things that’s a learning curve for everyone. You try to be in control all the time. It’s a fast-moving game.”
Jets forward Andrew Copp shared some context of the play as well.
“In the first five or 10 minutes of any playoff game, guys are going to be running around trying to cement themselves physically in a series. It was no different with Calgary,” said Copp, who was available for a Zoom call of his own. “Especially with all of the time off, guys were a little loose and not as sharp as they usually are. I don’t know if it was a body control thing or what. It ended up being a reckless play, with the end result of losing our best player. That’s really tough any time you see it.
“I don’t think Tkachuk went in with the intention of trying to break Mark’s ankle or anything like that. I don’t think he’s that type of person. Mark’s doing well, feeling a lot better. I know he’s having a hard time not doing a whole lot, so I hope he’s able to heal up quickly and get active and kind of being himself again.”
Given how hard Scheifele worked to stay ready during the pause, you couldn’t blame him for being disappointed about being limited to only three shifts in the series.
But whatever frustrating thoughts he had have since been flushed out and replaced by focusing on what he needs to do to get back to full health. His entire tone was about seeing the silver linings.
“There’s definitely some times when I was pretty down on myself,” said Scheifele. “But it’s kind of the person I am. I tried to look at it positively. I didn’t go through the training and skating because I had to. It’s because I want to and I want to play hockey. That’s what I enjoy doing. Whether it was doing the workouts at home or going for a roller blade or skating with (Adam Oates) or whatever it was. I did that out of the enjoyment of the game.
“It didn’t take away from all of the work that I put in because I know that work is only going to benefit me in the future and in the rest of my career. Obviously, it sucked not being able to be on the ice and help my teammates. Not having that control was really tough on me and that’s what hit me the most. But in terms of all the training that went into it, that’s all enjoyment for me.”
Scheifele’s optimistic nature is sure to be a benefit for him as he works his way back from this latest injury.
He’s dealt with significant knee and shoulder issues in the past and while he’ll need to be patient for the next six-to-eight weeks, that’s a whole lot different than the six-month rehab that would have been in store had the injury been to his Achilles.
“I’m lucky it wasn’t worse than it was,” said Scheifele. “Initially, I thought that I tore my Achilles and I was done for six months. So I definitely was in a dark place. It was probably only five minutes before I found out it wasn’t anything to do with my Achilles. I was lucky to be able to get some answers, I got a second opinion and I got some more answers.
“I’m not really able to do much right now. Because of the nature of the injury, I probably won’t be on the ice for a little bit but in terms of getting back to a little bit of normalcy and my regular life and being able to get in the gym and stuff like that, it’s kind of one of those things, you just have to take it day by day. You wake up and see how you feel and getting all the stability and mobility back in my body and being able to be back to 100 per cent.”
One of the few answers Scheifele wasn’t willing to share was the nature of the injury, though there were enough clues during his availability (and Copp’s) to determine it was most likely an ankle issue.
As for the timeline for Scheifele to return to hockey activity, he is confident he’ll be good to go by the time training camps are set to open.
What can’t be disputed is the impact that losing Scheifele, Patrik Laine (sprained left hand) and Mason Appleton (shoulder) had on the Jets in their four-game series loss to the Flames.
With only six goals scored (and four at even strength) in four games, the lack of offence put the Jets in a very difficult position.
“It’s tough when you lose three guys, no matter their stature, that are in your lineup,” said Scheifele. “A lot of guys stepped up and worked hard and that was kind of the resiliency of our team all season. We had guys step up over and over and over and it just shows the character we had in our room this year. Guys that kept working on their game that when they got put in the lineup, were ready to succeed. A lot of guys played really hard and that’s all you can ask. When you leave it all on the ice, that’s all you can do. The guys battled hard right to the end.”
And in the end, it left them with another early exit, the second since advancing to the Western Conference Final in 2018.
As impressed as he was by the players on the roster who took on a larger role, Scheifele conceded the personnel changes presented a challenge for this group to overcome.
“It’s a pretty drastic change, a lot of game breakers. It’s a totally different back end,” said Scheifele. “That’s where guys need to step up, You saw Neal Pionk stepped in and played amazing all year. You need the young guys, the Ville Heinola’s of the world, the Dylan Samberg’s of the world, you need guys in the minors to step up into those key roles. That doesn’t come easily.
“I think back to when I was younger and the amount of work you had to put in. The next step is a big step, and that’s where you just hope those guys take this weird off-season and continue to work on their games, continue to get stronger, get in the gym and work on their games every day to be able to make that step to the NHL and make the Jets a better team.”
For the record, Scheifele doesn’t feel the Jets are far off from being back to contender status.
“We have a lot of great players on our team and we have a great foundation, but you never know what’s going to happen until free agency time hits,” said Scheifele. “Obviously, like what I said before, we are a totally different team from the team we were when we went to the Conference Finals, but it doesn’t mean we are still far off.
“As you can see, any team can win in this league, Hopefully, in free agency we can get some good pieces. If I was the GM I could give you some more answers, but I’m not, so, we’ll see what happens.”
Asked to try and some up the entirety of the season, Scheifele took a reflective approach.
“It’s one of those things where it’s a new experience for all of us. The biggest thing for me is you went through something not a lot of people have gone through,” said Scheifele. “To get through something like this takes a lot of will power, a lot of strength, and anytime you go through adversity like that you’re only going to be stronger on the back end of it. That’s kind of the way I’ve taken it, right from day one of the pandemic when our season went down. Always think about it positively, try to do what you can do to enjoy life, enjoy the ones around you. Try to be stronger after it’s all done. That’s kind of been my mentality through it all.
“It’s going to be a year that everyone’s going to remember for a long, long time. Sadly, the hockey season is the one thing that’s going to be put to the backburner because it ended so abruptly.”