Mark Scheifele found himself in an unfamiliar position and responded in the manner one would expect.
The Winnipeg Jets‘ top centre spoke with reporters for the first time since being benched for nearly a full period against the Toronto Maple Leafs on Saturday, and made it abundantly clear that he wasn’t thrilled by what had transpired.
“Yeah, I understand where (coach Paul Maurice) is coming from. I don’t agree with him benching me. But we don’t have to agree on everything,” Scheifele said following Monday’s morning skate.
“He’s the coach, I’m the player. That’s the business of sports. I’ll be ready to play tonight. And that’s about it.”
When it came to the range of emotions he was feeling on the bench while his turn was skipped on multiple occasions, Scheifele didn’t hold back.
“You’re definitely pretty pissed off,” said Scheifele. “I understand where he was coming from, but, like I said before, I didn’t agree with it. I didn’t agree with it at the time it took place and the magnitude of the game. I definitely didn’t agree with it. So we’ll leave it at that.”
Scheifele’s stern words are a breath of fresh air. Supplying an honest and emotional answer is a good thing in this situation.
This wasn’t a questioning of authority, just the simple facts.
And guess what, the next player who says publicly that he’s not upset about being benched is quite simply not going to be telling the truth.
Scheifele also made it clear he used Sunday’s day off to put the situation behind him.
“I came to the rink, I worked on some things, I had a good skate. I focused on some things that I wanted to improve on. Now it’s forgotten about,” said Scheifele.
“We’re focused on the Edmonton Oilers. It’s not about anything else other than our task at hand, for me and for the entire team. That’s my focus. We’re here to play against the Edmonton Oilers and that’s it.”
Scheifele and Maurice spoke at centre ice for several minutes prior to the formal start of the morning skate on Monday, the details of which were not for public consumption.
“I would describe them as private and then necessary, constructive and over,” said Maurice.
“You know, there are different kinds of decisions you make. The ones that you and your players are going to disagree on the most is if you don’t like their play in general. They’re missing checks, they’re not competing hard, it’s more kind of arbitrary I think between a coach and player.
“When it’s something specific to the core of your team, something you’re working on, something you’ve been talking about, they’re still not going to like it. But they will, I would think, understand it better.”
Maurice admits a move like this draws more attention since many coaches (himself included) don’t go to that well very often.
“I think that maybe 20 to 25 years ago, you benched a guy and he knew it was coming,” said Maurice. “A guy would turn the puck over at the offensive blue line and they’d score, he’d just go sit at the end of the bench. He knew he wasn’t going back on the ice. It was clear.
“Now, there just aren’t as many benchings as there used to be. You’ll miss a rotation, you’ll miss a shift, but you don’t see a guy get benched in the first and not see the ice the rest of the game.
“It doesn’t happen quite as much. It’s also noticed more, just TV coverage, camera coverage, those kinds of things. I’ve probably learned not to address it right after it happens. You have to let it sit and cool off a little bit. Then make sure you get to it, that you deal with it. You don’t have to come to an agreement, you don’t have to hug after.
“But they need to know, at least, what you thought and why it was important, then what the next step is. Where are we going from here?”
When it comes to where Scheifele and Maurice go from here, that path is clear.
As important as Scheifele’s words were in his response to the benching, it’s his actions that matter most.
With the Jets already without centre Adam Lowry for at least a few more games and Monday’s news that Nikolaj Ehlers is going to be lost for the remainder of the regular season with a suspected shoulder injury, Scheifele is going to be the most important Jets player not named Connor Hellebuyck during the stretch run.
Losing Ehlers for the final nine games is a massive blow for the Jets.
Not only has he been a consistent point producer, he’s a zone entry machine, draws penalties at a frequent rate and is a big-time play driver.
Sure, the Jets have a great deal of depth throughout the forward group, but no single player can replace the dynamic qualities Ehlers has put on display throughout a season that has seen him record 21 goals and 46 points in 47 games.
Nobody is asking Scheifele to put the team on his shoulders, but he’s going to need to be on top of his game as the Jets try to get things turned around as they work to battle through their most difficult stretch of the season (suffering three consecutive losses for the first time going into Monday’s game with the Edmonton Oilers).
As long as he can do that, the eyebrow-raising decision to sit Scheifele for the final 13:01 of the second period and the opening 3:59 of the third could end up being a galvanizing moment for the Jets.
When a star player is asked to ride the pine for taking a pair of extended shifts, everyone takes notice.
If a benching can happen to a franchise player like Scheifele, it can happen to anyone.
Accountability is a critical component and this was a clear example of Maurice sending a message to both Scheifele and the rest of the Jets.
They’ve worked long and hard at maintaining a manageable shift length during this taxing and condensed season and that’s not something a team can afford to let slip with the Stanley Cup playoffs right around the corner.
By taking action, Maurice is banking on both Scheifele and his teammates responding to this latest test of adversity.
Each and every team in the North Division has battled through a rough patch and now it’s time to see how long it’s going to take for the Jets to try and pull out of theirs.
Scheifele is a proud and motivated individual and isn’t about to let a rare benching be the defining moment of this season.
“Everyone wants to go into the playoffs rolling. No one wants to go to the playoffs unsure about their game, or not feeling it,” said Scheifele.
“That starts here tonight. Obviously the last few haven’t been our best. We have to go into tonight trying to get things back on track. That’s got to be from everyone.”
Ken Wiebe covers the Winnipeg Jets for Sportsnet.ca and is a regular contributor to CJOB.
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