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Finding the Right Words

TAMPA. Fla. — Winnipeg Jets President Mark Chipman will admit that he hasn’t found a word to describe how he feels while watching a hockey game this season.

Photo by Jordy Grossman

Finding the Right Words

It’s somewhere between Anxiety and Fun or Fear and Excitement or Scary and Interesting. Whatever it is, his stomach feels it every night his Jets play.

When it was suggested to him on Saturday, as he took in the Jets win over the Tampa Bay Lightning at Amalie Arena in downtown Tampa, that perhaps, “this is kind of fun,” he frowned.

“Well, I wouldn’t call it fun,” he said. “We’ve played well. It’s more enjoyable to watch when we play well. But I wouldn’t say it’s fun.”

On Saturday, Mathieu Perreault (5), Jack Roslovic (4), Nikolaj Ehlers (9) and Kyle Connor (7) scored as the Jets beat Tampa 4-3. It was quite an impressive victory considering the Lightning were 9-5-2 heading in, were playing at home (4-1-1), had won three in a row and were coming off a 9-3 victory over the New York Rangers.

It was Winnipeg’s second straight 4-3 win in Florida and left the Jets with a record of 12-8-1, solidly in the midst of the early playoff conversation in the West.

However, not even that could appease Chipman.

“This team is important to a lot of people,” he said. “So, every game I watch, I feel the weight of what it means to people. We’ve played well. I think everyone is pleased, but it’s early yet. There is still a long way to go.”

On Saturday, the Jets played an almost perfect road game. They scored early, added two goals in 21 seconds in the second period to take a 3-1 lead, added an empty netter to make it 4-2 and then held off the strong dying seconds-attack of a very good Lightning team.

Once again, Connor Hellebuyck was outstanding, making 31 saves, many of them of the highlight-reel caliber. And while he did allow Steven Stamkos to score his 400thcareer goal, Hellebuyck didn’t break when it mattered.

Blake Wheeler and Josh Morrissey each had two assists while Connor finished with a goal and an assist. The Jets are now 6-1-1 in their last eight and while you can still see the weaknesses on defence, you can’t argue with how hard the forwards are working to help the blueliners.

“We’ve been really pleased with the play of our forwards and really happy with both goaltenders – Connor and Laurent,” said Chipman. “We’ve also been thrilled with the trade we made with the Rangers. Neal Pionk competes every night and while he’s already a good player, he’s only going to get better and Ville Heinola is going to be a really good player. We did well in that trade.

“We lost some people in the off0-season to free agency we didn’t want to lose and maybe, had we known about (Dustin Byfuglien) Buff’s situation a little earlier, we might have been able to keep Tyler Myers and Ben Chiarot. But we have our team and we’ve played well. We love our coaching staff and we’re thrilled with what they’ve done despite the off-season losses and the injuries.

“Still, there is a lot of hockey left to be played.”

And that’s why Mark Chipman is going to have a long winter trying to come up with the right word. Of course, if the team continues to play as well as it has in November, that word might indeed become, “fun.”

Covered his first junior hockey game for the Sarnia Observer in 1968. Covered his first Jets game for the Winnipeg Free Press in 1980. Still thinks hockey is the bees knees.

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