It’s said that a change is as good as a rest, and Mark Scheifele is getting to find out if that’s true. Without much of a pause to reflect on the end of his junior season, the 19-year-old top prospect for the Winnipeg Jets was assigned to the St. John’s IceCaps late last week. Not that Scheifele’s complaining over the extension to his hockey year, which he learned about in a wake-up call from Jets’ general manager Kevin Cheveldayoff a day-and-a-half after he and the Barrie Colts had been eliminated by the Ottawa 67s in Game 7 of the second-round OHL playoff series.
“We had just got back (from Ottawa) the night before and I was pretty tired from everything and the call actually woke me right out of my sleep,” said Scheifele Tuesday after participating in his first workout with the IceCaps, an optional skate at Mile One Centre.
“I think Chevy could tell I was dazed, but after I talked to him for a bit and I found out what it was about, I got my energy back pretty quickly.”
Because Scheifele wasn’t ready to stop playing this spring.
“I really wanted to come here. After we got beat out (by Ottawa), the next day I definitely was thinking there might be a chance I could come to St. John’s and I was excited about it. So when I got that call from Chevy, I was all smiles.”
For Scheifele’s stay with the IceCaps to extend beyond a week, the IceCaps must get past the Syracuse Crunch, their opponents in a first-round American Hockey League playoff matchup which continues with Game 3 at Mile One Wednesday night. The best-of-series is tied 1-1 after the teams split the first two games in Syracuse over the weekend. Game 4, and, if necessary, Game 5 will go Friday and Saturday at Mile One.
St. John’s head coach Keith McCambridge isn’t saying whether Scheifele will be inserted in the lineup Friday, but admits he’s been thinking about it.
“Ever since we learned he was coming here, I’ve had some scenarios in my head,” said McCambridge, indicating things should be clearer after the team participates in a full practice this morning.
McCambridge has talked to Winnipeg coach Claude Noel about Scheifele, a right-shooting centre who made the Jets out of training camp and played seven NHL games before being sent back to the OHL
“(Noel) had him on the wing and he had him in the middle. That’s one of the reasons he was a first-round pick. He’s flexible, you can put him in all situations,” said McCambridge.
Noel’s observations on Scheifele’s versatility was really a confirmation about what McCambridge already knew from when he and IceCaps assistant coach Mark Morrison ran the Jets’ pre-season rookie camp in Penticton, B.C.
“We had him in Penticton, me and Moe, and he’s a real good kid who doesn’t take himself too seriously. Sometimes guys who are picked where he was picked, sometimes they take themselves too seriously,” said McCambridge. “He doesn’t. He has a professional attitude towards his game and he works really hard at it, but he’s got a real good way about him on and off the ice.”
That could have contributed to Scheifele being able to avoid the pitfalls of a yo-yo effect that often come with the of season he’s experienced: making the Jets, only to get back to junior; earning a spot on the Canadian world junior team, but sharing the disappointment of settling for a bronze medal; leading a Colts team ravaged by injury into overtime of Game 7 against Ottawa only to find heartbreak (Scheifele scored with nine seconds left in the third to tie the game 3-3, but the 67s got the winning and series-ending goal two minutes into the extra frame).
“I don’t think my emotions changed too much during the year,” said Scheifele. “Maybe for a day, you’re excited or drained, depending on the situation. But it’s just a matter of knowing how to deal with it.”
Scheifele, who had a goal in his stay with the Jets, had 23 goals and 63 points in 47 games as the Colt’s No. 1 centre, so there is no question about his maintaining the offensive upside that contributed to Winnipeg making him the seventh overall pick in last June’s NHL draft. In self-assessment, he says his game at the other end of the ice is what’s improved dramatically.
“My defence has definitely got a lot better and I’m stronger on my feet and those are things I need to keep working on to get to the next level.”
That won’t be the AHL, at least next season. Since Scheifele doesn’t turn 20 until next March, he can’t start 2012-13 with the IceCaps.
He can play in the NHL however.
“And that’s my goal. I want to be there all year, but I just don’t want to be there. I want to be an integral part of that team,” said Scheifele, who wants to add some weight to his six-foot-three, 185-pound frame in the off-season.
But that’s summer and autumn stuff. Right now, it’s spring and he’s happy to be a part of the IceCaps.
“I have my energy back. I feel great and it’s fun to see all the guys I saw at the beginning of the year,” said Scheifele, who roomed with IceCaps defenceman Zach Redmond at Jets training camp and saw quite a bit of time as Ben Maxwell’s linemate during exhibition play.
“It’s good to re-connect. And it’s good to still be on the ice.”