WINNIPEG — Mark Scheifele isn’t asking for your sympathy.
But as the Winnipeg Jets centre spoke for the first time since delivering a devastating hit on Jake Evans that resulted in a charging major, game misconduct and subsequent four-game suspension, Scheifele did make one important request during a 16-minute zoom interview with reporters.
Please leave his family members alone.
Scheifele showed contrition and gave his side of the story when it comes to the play in question, but also revealed the dark side of social media — the one that has no place in this sport or in society in general.
When the attacks get personal, that’s clearly offside and Scheifele got emotional discussing the online bullying and calls that have been made.
“I could care less about people saying things about me. I’m a big boy, I can handle it. I signed up for this. That’s what you put yourself in this situation for. The media scrutiny, whatever that is, I can handle that,” said Scheifele. “In a society where you can hide behind a keyboard, that is the problem. I can handle the criticism. I got suspended four games. I got held accountable. But there’s no right to go after my parents, to go after my loved ones. That’s completely unacceptable. It’s bad to say but that’s our society.
“My parents are the salt of the Earth. For my parents to get hate like that, and my brother and sister, it’s awful. It’s pretty gross to see. I can handle it, I’m a grown man But for my family to get that, it hurts me a lot.”
Scheifele started off the discussion by expressing sympathy and mentioning he’s hopeful for a speedy recovery for Evans, noting he's reached out to several players on the Canadiens, including Brendan Gallagher.
As the discussion shifted to his perspective on the play, Scheifele leaned on his track record and shared his thoughts on how things unfolded for him in real time.
“My intention on that play is to try to negate a goal. There's no intent, there's no malice there,” said Scheifele. “I don't go in with a frame of mind of injuring a hockey player. My record precedes itself. I think I've had not one charging penalty in 600 games. My thought process there is to cut him off at that post.”
As for belief expressed by many — including this writer — that letting up or taking his bottom hand off his stick was a sign he made a conscious decision to focus on the hit and abandon the race to that post, Scheifele offered another theory.
“When he gets behind the net I don't know if he's going to cut back, so I stop moving my feet in case he does a cut-back behind the net and I can re-route, go to the other side and cut him off at the other post,” said Scheifele. “He might shallow out in the corner and then I have to gear down and try to angle him off into the corner. My thought process there is cutting him off at the post, and I'm back-checking and my thought process the entire way is there's a minute left in the game, we just scored, it's a one-goal game. My only thought in my mind is to negate a goal and prevent a goal.”
Scheifele has had time to decompress after the play, but he’s clearly given the matter a great deal of thought. This didn’t seem like a player going on a disingenuous public relations crusade.
“Having a guy hurt is what no one wants in this league, no one wants in this world. Obviously the league made their decision, I don’t agree with it, but that’s my opinion, what was going through my mind. No one knows what was going through my mind except for myself and I tried to portray that to the league,” said Scheifele. “I keep on going back to my record. I think I’ve had 12 penalty minutes this year. I’ve had one boarding penalty in my entire 600-game career, I haven’t had a charging penalty. I don’t think I’ve had more than 20 frickin' hits a year. So my intention is not to injure or to make a hit, but to prevent a goal.
"That’s what my entire life is, that’s my job to keep pucks out of the net and score. That’s why I’m out there on six-on-five: to prevent a goal and go back the other way and score."
Scheifele said he doesn’t plan to file an appeal and he will live with the stiff consequences.
“I think it was pretty excessive. I wasn’t expecting that. I was pretty shocked,” said Scheifele. “But that’s their decision. Another point I want to make is I can handle the punishment, I can accept the accountability. I don’t want to be a distraction to this team. It’s Game 2 of the playoffs (round) tonight, I’m going to accept the punishment.
“It really wouldn’t have done anything anyway, with the way that the rules kind of work with a suspension under six games. I don’t have much faith in that. I don’t want to be a distraction anymore. This has lingered on long enough. It’s Game 2 of the playoffs (round), the stakes are so high at this point. From this point on, it’s all about the Winnipeg Jets. It’s not about me, it’s not about anything like that.”
Jets head coach Paul Maurice agreed with Scheifele that the four games were higher than he anticipated, but understood there were larger issues at play, since there were not many previous examples to draw on when coming up with a ruling.
“I was probably resigned to the fact, whether I liked it or not, that he was going to get two games. I’d mentally got myself to that. I think four is excessive,” said Maurice. “The Department of Player Safety has every right, and they’re needed in their role, to set precedent for hits, especially when there’s an injury involved. So they have that right. I don’t agree with it, but it’s set now and that’s where the National Hockey League game goes going forward. And we’ll learn from it and move on.”
Maurice also took another opportunity to defend Scheifele publicly, knowing the intense amount of scrutiny he’s been under the past several days.
“He loves this game so much,” said Maurice. “Mark’s got an entire career at the opposite end of that spectrum. I think they had him for three hits in the Edmonton series and it was a hard-fought series.
“So it’s the opposite of who he is as a player. But I also think he’s an aware guy. He’s not a guy that runs around the ice and bad things happen. He’s aware. It’s unfortunate that we’re going to lose our arguably best forward for four critical playoff games, so we’re paying a huge price, he’s paying a huge price, so that part hurts. I understand. I don’t know what he said. I wasn’t listening but I can tell you it was probably from the heart, just in terms of dealing with him.
As the series continues on Friday with Game 2, the Jets are without a first-line centre, a top-pairing defenceman in Dylan DeMelo (who is more than day-to-day with a soft tissue injury), while veteran forward Paul Stastny remains a game-time decision with an undisclosed injury.
That’s a large mountain to climb, but the Jets have been quick to embrace the underdog role previously and you can expect they’ll do the same now that many folks are likely to be counting them out once again.
Scheifele remains confident in his group and he’ll openly adopt a cheerleading role while staying ready for Game 6, provided his teammates can extend the series that long.
“We have tons of depth on our team. We have so many guys on this team that can step up. We have tremendous character, we have tremendous everything on this team,” said Scheifele. “It’s a pretty special team and I have full faith in my team that I will be able to play a game again this year. I’ll be cheering loud and proud every single night. Obviously just want to play a game again here this year.”