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Scheifele’s return will boost teammates: GM

By Gene Pereira, Special to Postmedia Network

Forward Mark Scheifele is back with the Barrie Colts after being sent down to junior by the NHL's Winnipeg Jets. Scheifele is expected to be back with the Colts on Thursday, just in time for their Michigan road trip this weekend. TERRY WILSON PHOTO

Forward Mark Scheifele is back with the Barrie Colts after being sent down to junior by the NHL's Winnipeg Jets. Scheifele is expected to be back with the Colts on Thursday, just in time for their Michigan road trip this weekend. TERRY WILSON PHOTO

This can’t be an easy day for Mark Scheifele.

It’s never easy when you are so close to realizing your dream only to have it put on hold.

News of the Winnipeg Jets deciding to send their top prospect back to junior hockey Wednesday is clearly met with excitement here back in Barrie.

Scheifele is a world-class junior player and the Barrie Colts hopes of winning an Ontario Hockey League title just received a huge boost with his return to their lineup.

Still, Scheifele wants to be in Winnipeg. What young hockey player doesn’t dream of playing in the National Hockey League.

His mindset when he left Barrie back in mid-January was that his days here were over. The talented 19-year-old centre was confident he had learned a great deal after his brief trial with the Jets last season, enough to stick this time around.

Yet, the truth is that the cards were stacked too high against Scheifele this time around.

The NHL lockout changed everything.

Camps were just a week long and although NHL clubs would never admit it, most of them knew exactly what their plans were for their young stars.

Scheifele never really got a good chance to stick with the Jets. He was scratched for five of the team’s first nine games; even when he was used on the fourth line and played, his ice time was limited to about 10 minutes.

Young players need to play every day and Scheifele’s development was being helped by sitting on the sidelines.

Like most top prospects his age, Scheifele’s game is a work in process. He needs to get stronger, improve his balance, his defensive game and consistency to become the point producer the Jets believe he was when they used their seventh overall pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft to select him.

Any talk of Scheifele being a bust is just downright ridiculous.

Colts general manager Jason Ford has watched Scheifele blossom into a dominate junior player over his three years in Barrie. He feels for his young star, knowing how bad he wanted to play in the NHL.

Yet Ford knows it’s in Scheifele’s character to pick himself right back up.

“He’s a hungry, determined kid and he’s always been that way,” Ford said. “The thing with him he was up with the Jets, but he was scratched for four straight games and that was probably getting at him a little bit. It’s great to practice and be with the club, but at the end of the day, you want to play.”

Scheifele will be back on the ice Thursday practising with the Colts and will be in the lineup Friday night when they kick off a three-games-in-three nights weekend in Plymouth.

“It’ll just take him a little time to settle down emotionally and he’s going to be fine,” Ford said of his young star, who was dominate in his 30 games this season with Barrie, scoring 22 goals and adding 27 assists in just 30 games to lead the team.

“He’s the type of kid that is going to come back. Yeah, he’d liked to have stayed with the Jets, but it’s not like he’s going to come back and look down on junior and just put in time and count the days,” Ford added.

“He’s a kid that loves to play hockey. He loves the guys here and they all love him. He’s going to come back here and help the team win, and ultimately, from a Jets management prospective, they want to see him help a junior team win.”

Scheifele’s return will be a huge boost for his teammates, perhaps especially for his linemate and national junior team teammate Anthony Camara.

Camara, no doubt, wanted to see his buddy stick with the Jets, but the two have become more than just linemates in Barrie.

Both live with the same billet with the Colts and it was Scheifele who called and texted Camara over the summer, motivating him to work hard and building his confidence, convincing the Boston Bruins power-forward prospect that he could take his game to the next level and earn a spot on Canada’s world junior team.

Camara has responded, playing the best hockey of his junior career and leading the Colts with 28 goals this season.

“The two come from different backgrounds, but the two of them have really hit it off since Camara came here from Saginaw in a trade last season,” Ford said. “Scheif’s a likeable kid, he’s a good kid and he works hard. He’s an honest kid and he’s a happy-go-lucky-type, so it’s hard not to like him.

“It’s a boost having him back in the room here, not only for guys like Camara, but for the younger guys. Everyone. All the players here are pretty excited about it,” the GM added.

The Colts lead the OHL’s Eastern Conference standings and the truth is, even though they’re armed with a pretty good load of firepower, with Scheifele back they become a legit championship contender.

“Without him we’re still a very good team, but add a player of his calibre and that speaks for itself,” Ford said.

For now, there’s little doubt that Scheifele is feeling disappointed. His dream of playing in the NHL has been put on hold again and that’s never easy on a talented player like Scheifele, who has had a taste and wants nothing more than being a Winnipeg Jet right now.

He’ll have to dig deep inside him, find a way to not only put this aside, but show the Jets that he will work on whatever it is needed to get him to that next level.

If Scheifele wants to send a clear message that he’ll be in the Winnipeg lineup at the start of next season, there’d be no better way right now than playing the dominate game he can and leading the Colts to a long, successful playoff run.

“The best thing is being in Winnipeg and contributing,” Ford said. “The next best thing would be showing he’s going to become a leader and helping the team win, elevate his game and play the best junior hockey of his life.”

So, go ahead Mark. Send the Jets that message. Today may be a tough day, but get right back up and show them the best has yet to come.

Gene Pereira covers the Barrie Colts for the Barrie Examiner.

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