Mark Scheifele took a big run at the NHL and the media on Wednesday, suggesting both have treated him and his hockey team unfairly.
The Winnipeg Jets top centre was suspended four games for a hit on Montreal's Jake Evans after an empty-net goal in the final minute of Game 1 of the North Division final.
Scheifele watched as the Jets lost the next three games without him, meaning the final game of his suspension won't be served until the 2021-22 regular-season opener.
"They knocked me out of the series," Scheifele said, as he spoke via Zoom following year-end exit interviews with coaches and management at Bell MTS Place. "I don’t even get a chance to play with my teammates and battle with my teammates in the series. For a guy with a clean record… I’m just going to stop talking before I get fined or something like that, so I’ll leave it as it is."
Turns out he was just getting started.
"It’s crushing that my season was ended and I wasn’t able to play in this series," he continued. "I thought I was going to be tried to be shut down by Phillip Danault, and it was the department of player safety that shut me down. That definitely sucks."
The 28-year-old Scheifele, who led the Jets with 21 goals and 42 assists in 56 regular-season games, maintains he was trying to prevent Evans from scoring the goal by taking the body, even if the puck was already in the net by the time Scheifele arrived at full-speed.
"Obviously I had my chance to speak my piece in the hearing. I don't know how much was actually absorbed by them. It’s a hard one. I think at the end of the day, you regret the outcome of it. I said that over and over. You never want to see a guy hurt. And I’m a guy that respects this game and respects players. I never want to see a guy hurt no matter what it is," he said.
"I would have loved an answer from them of what would have been a better thing to do. I’ve replayed the thing over and over again in my mind, and the only real thing is if I gave up on my teammates on that play and just didn’t backcheck. It’s over and done with it. I’m not going to continue to cry over it, but it’s the decision they made. I still believe it was excessive."
Scheifele was forced to watch his team's season end last summer in the Edmonton bubble after he suffered a knee injury in Game 1 against the Calgary Flames which knocked him out for the duration of the preliminary round series.
"It’s not fun. It’s definitely not a great feeling," he said. "You feel pretty helpless when your team is out there battling and you’re watching from the stands. It’s not a great feeling, but the way you handle setbacks, I saw (pro golfer) Jon Rahm say that the other day, the way you handle setbacks is what defines us. That’s the mentality I’m taking.
"I can’t let one bad thing knock me down, but that’s life. That is what we all deal with. We’ve dealt with that all year as a society in general. You know, lockdowns, COVID, bad things are going to happen in our lives. but it’s what we do to get over them. That makes us stronger, that makes us better people and more well-rounded human beings."
At that point, Scheifele turned his anger towards the scribes and broadcasters who cover the team when asked if a second-round sweep at the hands of the Habs will be viewed as a disappointing result.
"Well, first of all, you guys wrote us off from the beginning. The media had us not making the playoffs, being a bottom-feeder in the league. You guys get caught contradicting yourselves all the time. You guys didn’t have any hope for this team from day one, and I think we proved you guys wrong all season long," he said.
"We were written off from day one and we proved people wrong all season long. We go through that slide towards the end of the year and we were written off. Everyone wanted a Calgary Flames-Edmonton Oilers series and we proved people wrong. We made the playoffs and we won our first round. I think that’s where my head’s at. We proved people wrong and we want to continue to prove people wrong."
That perceived doubt will be used as motivation going forward, Scheifele said.
"We don’t get a lot of respect in the grand scheme of things. Everyone wants the Toronto Maple Leafs and Edmonton Oilers and the Montreal Canadiens to be going on. Nobody wants the Winnipeg Jets to be doing anything," he said.
"But that’s what Winnipeg is made of. Our community is made up of hard-working people that grind for every inch. We’re that team that wants to grind for every inch and prove people wrong on a day to day basis. That’s who the Winnipeg Jets are."
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.