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This article was published 4/11/2021 (204 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
Paul Maurice had an unusual visitor to his office Thursday morning — the parent of one of his young players. Uh-oh. But rather than get an earful about why little Nikky wasn't getting more ice time, the topic for was a bit broader in nature.
Heinz Ehlers, the head coach of the Danish men's national hockey team, was there to pick the brain of Winnipeg's bench boss.
"It’s nice talking to another coach that’s not trying to steal your job. Yet." Maurice cracked following his club's practice at Canada Life Centre.
Ehlers is the father of Winnipeg's flashy winger, Nikolaj. He also happens to be his coach at the international level, which will include the nation's first Winter Olympics appearance next February in Beijing. Games will be played on a smaller, North American-style ice surface, which is what had the elder Ehlers and Maurice shooting the breeze.
"We spent probably an hour talking about what we’re trying to do," said Maurice. "The things that he’s looking at going to a smaller ice surface, problems that they face in terms of breaking the puck out, that smaller ice stuff, so we spent some time with it, went through some video, talked about what we’re trying to do."
Maurice, who spent the 2012-13 season coaching in the KHL prior to landing the gig with Winnipeg, says it was a mutually beneficial meeting, as he came away with some new insight as well.
"That professional development of coaches is very difficult. We’re not sharing a whole lot with each other," Maurice said of the typical attitude around the NHL. "He made the comment about how he thinks over in Europe the coaches are a bit more open than they are over here in North America. Which is probably really true. The things that I think we try to get better from last year to this year are similar to the things that he’s going to want to do. That’s all I want to tell you. It’s working right now for us pretty well. Showed him how and why we came to it, places we thought we could be better in those areas."
The Ehlers family is in town for an extended visit with the Jets now playing seven straight games on home ice. For Nikolaj, that means he's suddenly going to be eating a lot better than usual.
"My freezer is filled up right now. Let’s just put it that way. And I didn’t make it," he said. "My cooking skills are not great. I can make simple things, I get by, let’s put it that way. That’s why the last year and a half over here were tough for me, I didn’t have my mom to come over and cook. My mom and dad do the cooking."
In addition to filling his belly, Ehlers hopes he can start filling the net with greater frequency. He has just two goals this year, scored 19 seconds apart in a single game in Los Angeles last week. Perhaps some home cooking — both literally and figuratively in this case — will get him going.
"My dad hasn’t been over here that much because he was coaching in Switzerland at the time. Now he’s only got the national team, so he has a lot more free time," said Ehlers. "My sister and my mom have been over here about twice every season. My brother has been kind of once a year, maybe, because he plays at home as well. They try to come every single time they can. I appreciate that. It’s nice. It’s really nice having them here especially since they haven’t been able to the last year and a half. We’re enjoying our time right now. It’s a lot of fun."
Hoping for Helly: It's been an eventful week for Winnipeg's No. 1 netminder. After flying back with the club on Saturday night following their 2-1 overtime loss, Hellebuyck joined his wife, Andrea, as she prepared to give birth to their first child. He missed Monday's practice, with the delivery of a healthy baby boy coming early Tuesday morning. Hellebuyck missed his team's game that night, a 4-3 shootout victory over Dallas, but was expected to be back on the ice Thursday following Wednesday's day off.
"He wasn’t feeling good this morning," Maurice said of his missing masked man following the skate. "So (Wednesday) he was trying to convince (goalie coach) Wade Flaherty that he should play both (games this weekend), based on the time off. And then he wasn’t feeling good this morning. So we left him at home and, like the rest of these guys, the sniffles means you can’t come to the rink basically. So test him out over the next period of time and fingers crossed. We’re hopeful."
Hellebuyck got COVID-19 in late August, telling media a month later in training camp how it hit him hard. He also had side effects from getting vaccinated weeks later. The hope now is that he doesn't test positive yet again, especially with centre Mark Scheifele and captain Blake Wheeler already getting the virus early in this season.
Winnipeg hosts Chicago on Friday night, followed by a visit on Saturday evening from the New York Islanders. Hellebuyck was likely to split those games with backup Eric Comrie, but now his availability for both is in question. The Jets recalled Manitoba Moose started Mikhail Berdin on Thursday as insurance, just as they'd done for Tuesday night's game against the Stars.
"It felt good to get another start and get back in the net," Comrie said of his second appearance of the season earlier this week. "It’s more what I’ve been used to over my career. I guess the last little bit it’s been a little bit longer waits. Over the first bit of my career it’s been playing almost every single day. So that’s what I’m used to and what I like doing."
So far, so good, with a 2.40 goals-against-average and .915 save-percentage to go along with his 2-0-0 record. Hellebuyck is 3-2-2 so far with a 3.42 GAA and .899 save percentage.
"Bucky is a great goalie, obviously, and you know, when you've got a guy like Coms coming in and he can play and he does what he does, it's pretty incredible to have goalies like that," said Ehlers. "Our game plan doesn't change. We've got some really good goalies."
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Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.