If there is one thing the 2012-13 Winnipeg Jets have taught me, it is that they can confound me one night and then bring me utter joy the next.
As my sister-in-law put it, "This team just frustrates me." And to boot, she can only stand watching the Jets for a certain amount of time before she will flip it to the nearest Vancouver, Pittsburgh, or Chicago game to see a team that has it going already.
That's something interesting, I thought. That a hometown fan would rather watch another, more mature team that knows the difference between playing with consistency and just playing in the NHL than watching her own Jets play despite the mesmerizing eggs they lay on occassion.
Fair enough – is the conclusion I have come to, for I, myself, have felt the exact same feeling. Turning off game after game that the Jets laid an egg.
For instance, the past weekday back-to-back home series with the Washington Capitals. Outscored 10-1 in two games and now 13-1 at MTS Centre against a divisional opponent this season – I had no other choice that to turn the game off (with authority on my TV remote).
It hurt even more when you add the fact that I had to personally experience the first 3-0 loss back in early March. Painful, yet it was a learning experience – for both the fans and the players.
Claude Noel is a very honest, upright, and forward man. That's what it takes to be a coach in the NHL these days it seems. He is never willing to back down from any challenger from the press (which makes him tied for the most amusing post-game comments and interviews) or from making his team better.
Better in being prepared for the game and better by taking the heat and carrying the load on his shoulders rather than resting it on Jets players who, for the majority, are under the green, young age of 26 or so.
Unlike the philosophy of Atlanta, where the likes of Bryan Little, Evander Kane, Zach Bogosian, and Alexander Burmistrov had to face the throws of the NHL from Day 1 in their professional careers (together they make up 61 AHL games with Bogosian and Kane having never played in the AHL after juniors), Noel preaches patience and lets these players know they won't simply be given ice time any longer.
It has to be refreshing for these players after being sold the same old garbage down in Atlanta where they were given the keys to the house and expected to clean it up all the time without being told how.
No longer are they getting first line ice time for the sake of being the star draft pick – they are earning it and responding.
That is where Noel's challenge to his players comes into full swing. They understand their challenge, they accept it, and then they go out and prove what they need to do.
It also comes in full circle when captain Andrew Ladd and defenseman Dustin Byfuglien have Stanley Cup experience to impart on many of these younger players.
And to quote one of the most widely quoted movies (and not to the exact quote either), if you preach consistency, it will happen.
If you give them something to strive for, they will respond.