When NHL hockey returned to Winnipeg, North Vancouver’s Ben Maxwell was there to see it all from a front row seat.
As the ceremony before the first game for the new Jets whipped the crowd into a frenzy, Maxwell was mere inches from the ice taking it all in. The only problem was that he wanted to be on the other side of the boards, dressed in Jets blue on the ice rather than a suit and tie on the bench.
“It was loud,” Maxwell told the North Shore News. “Having played in Montreal I’m kind of used to that kind of noise and that kind of support behind a team but there is a general excitement here that is kind of different. They got their team back and they’re genuinely excited to see NHL hockey once again in Winnipeg. It was fun to be a part of, I just wish I could have played.”
Traded from Montreal to Atlanta late last season, Maxwell made the move with the rest of the Thrashers to Winnipeg. A second-round draft choice by the Canadiens in 2006, Maxwell never secured a permanent spot in the Montreal lineup, scoring zero points in 20 games over three seasons while spending the majority of his time starring for the AHL’s Hamilton Bulldogs. But after the trade to Atlanta Maxwell eventually saw more NHL ice, playing in 12 games down the stretch while picking up his first two NHL points — a goal and an assist in a 5-4 win over Ottawa March 27.
Heading into camp with the Jets the 23-year-old player who learned the game at the North Shore Winter Club was hoping to get a regular role, but a back injury sustained during the preseason put him on injured reserve to start the season. He missed the first six games but last Saturday made his Jets debut in a 5-3 win over Carolina.
“It felt good to get into the game and felt even better to get a win,” said Maxwell. “The city is pretty crazy for hockey right now and it was a lot of fun to play in that building in front of loud fans.”
The Jets buzz has even snared some celebrities. Maxwell put a picture of himself on Twitter posed with a young fan named Justin Bieber.
“That was mostly for the fellas back home,” Maxwell said with a chuckle. “Everybody got a good laugh out of it.”
Things in Winnipeg are a lot different than they were during the two months he spent in Atlanta, said Maxwell.
“I think the guys are really enjoying having a good fan base relative to Atlanta where it was kind of quiet,” he said. “People are a lot more excited to have a team and that’s the important thing. We’ve got a home ice advantage now relative to Atlanta (where) if teams like Montreal, Chicago or Pittsburgh came into town, they were generally the home team, if you get my drift.”
Of course the fan support isn’t the only difference between Atlanta and Winnipeg.
“This is the coldest city in the world, literally, so it’s going to be interesting with that,” Maxwell said with a laugh. “I think the excitement around the city and the support for the team will trump the weather any day.”
For the team, however, the novelty of the situation has mostly worn off and they’re focused now on the job off scoring more wins, said Maxwell.
“The season is in full swing so we’ve got to put together wins and try to go into each game with the right intentions.”
For Maxwell that means playing as a smart third- or fourth-line centre and doing little things to help the team win. In his first two games back he averaged more than eight minutes per game while winning nine out of 12 faceoffs he took and seeing time on the penalty kill.
“I think this year I might have to take a more defensive role, which is fine for me. In the past I’ve been more offensive but it’s whatever the team needs. Right now I’m just getting back in the lineup and trying to do whatever I can to stay there,” he said, adding that he’s still getting back up to speed after his time off. “It’s never perfect after a month sitting out. I kind of expected that, I’ve gone through it before. Injuries are part of the game, I think by now I know how to deal with them — I try to keep my game simple and just play a solid game.”
Without a long record of NHL experience Maxwell knows he’ll need to work for every minute of ice time he gets.
“I just want to contribute more than I have in the past,” he said. “Last year when I got down to Atlanta I started playing some real minutes and I’d like to be able to do that again and build off of that.”