It has been a rather interesting start to the 2023-24 NHL season for the Winnipeg Jets.
From two early injuries to Ville Heinola and Gabe Vilardi, to the emotional returns of Pierre-Luc Dubois and Blake Wheeler within the team’s first five home games, to an early snowfall causing mid-October to feel like late-November, things have been rather entertaining as the season kicks into high gear.
Lost in some of the excitement was the news of head coach Rick Bowness’ absence from the team. On October 23, Winnipeg announced that its bench boss would be away from the team for the short-term future as he responded to a personal situation at home. Bowness’ wife Judy had suffered a seizure the night before and was in hospital receiving treatment.
The soon-to-be 69-year-old coach made the immediate decision to take a leave of absence until things stabilized. Associate coach Scott Arniel took the helm and has since led the Jets to a 2-0-2 record. The Bowness family — originally from Canada’s east coast — is not closely tied to Winnipeg, so the decision to stay by his wife’s side was one that put Bowness’ spouse ahead of his profession. Rick and Judy have three adult children — all of whom live out of province, and some out of country.
Two days later, TSN’s Darren Dreger reported that Judy had been released from hospital. Despite the positive news, Rick opted to remain at her side and away from the team. His players were more than accepting of his decision and openly wished the couple well through the media, professing their belief in the hope of a greater power at work.
“First and foremost, they’re amazing human beings and that always comes first,” alternate captain Mark Scheifele said shortly after news broke. “Obviously, this is a hockey game, but they are amazing people, amazing human beings. All you can do is keep praying for them. But they are two amazing people.”
Clearly, Bowness has made a strong impression on the Jets’ top scorer from 2022-23, despite only really having known one another for just over a year.
“Today it’s think about them and pray for them, and hopefully they get some answers and know they’re in good hands,” he added when asked about his response to the situation at hand. “…it’s scary, obviously. All we can do is hope and pray for them until they figure it out and get her healthy again. That’s all we can do is pray for them and their family and wish them the best.”
Scheifele, who has never backed away from putting his faith on the forefront, was joined by teammates Josh Morrissey and Mason Appleton in calling on God for support of both Rick and Judy by way of healing power as the week wore on.
“Just thinking about Judy and Bones and their whole family,” Morrissey — fellow alternate — told the media. “…It’s difficult when a member of our family here goes through something like that. Just praying for Judy and the family and doing our best here at the rink to take care of what we need to do for Bones.”
“That’s the culture I believe we’ve built here,” Morrissey added. “Certainly, we’re all a part of that. When someone goes through something or is going through something, the rest of the group, everyone, feels it. We’re waiting to hear more and praying for them. The biggest thing we can do for Bones is take care of our job here at the rink and allow him to be where he needs to be.”
Winnipeg doubled up the St. Louis Blues 4-2 in its first game under Arniel. Both he and forward Mason Appleton spoke following the Jets’ win, offering the idea of the team’s effort being devoted to coach Bowness.
“This game certainly is dedicated to them,” Appleton said. “Bones knows that we are all here for him and we are all here for Judy as well. We are happy that she is doing better. Obviously, there is a bit of a recovery ahead, but Bones also knows that we are going to do our job here. We are going to play as hard as we can for him and her.
“We are going to keep this thing going and whenever the time is right for Bones to be back and for Judy to be 100 percent healthy, then that day will come. But right now we are just praying for him, thinking about him. We still have a job to do. It’s tough, it’s how the world works sometimes, but you can call this a win for her, for sure.”
For Jets team chaplain Lorne Korol, it wasn’t any surprise hearing some of the team’s most prominent stars professing their faith on the grandest of stages.
“There is no doubt that the guys understand the power of prayer, particularly the three you mentioned in Mark, Josh and Mason,” Korol shared. “Our whole group would understand that. I think it just shows the level of their faith-walk and that they understand that prayer is important. It really is important for us to surround the Bownesses in this situation. It’s the best thing that we can do right now. It just shows their spiritual maturity and it’s really encouraging to see them do that.”
Having worked in his role with the Jets as well as a number of Winnipeg’s other professional sporting teams for the better part of 15 years, Korol just hosted his annual Pro Sports and Faith fundraiser on October 1, to which the self-funded chaplain welcomed a number of Jets and Winnipeg Blue Bombers as special guests.
To no surprise, a contingent of Jets players showed up in support of Korol, and it was Scheifele, Morrissey and Appleton who made speeches on behalf of the team.
“It’s a real blessing,” Korol reflected. “It’s hard to describe how important it is for them to come, not only for me, but to raise up the kingdom. They are there to honour and glorify God. Yeah, it’s a fundraiser for our ministry, but we really look at it as an outreach event, where we want people to hear stories of Jesus and the impact that God has in the lives of the players. It’s really important to my wife Heather and I to have them there to support our ministry. It’s huge for us, but It’s even more important for them to shine their light to raise up the kingdom.”