Moose launching pad

PAUL FRIESEN, QMI Agency

, Last Updated: 10:18 AM ET

It was a phone call he'd been working towards for 10 years, and when it came Scott Arniel jumped in his truck and went straight to his wife's business to share the news.

"I gotta get a new suit for tomorrow," Arniel told his better half, Lia, who was there with their son, Brendan.

After some blank stares, the new head coach of the NHL's Columbus Blue Jackets spilled the beans.

"I said, 'I gotta go to a press conference in Columbus,' " Arniel said. "And the two of them came out of their shoes jumping up at me. It was a nice family moment. It was special to celebrate with them."

And with that, yet another Manitoba Moose head coach has made the jump to the big leagues.

If you're scoring at home, that's three in a row: Randy Carlyle with the Ducks, Alain Vigneault to the Canucks, now Arniel to the Blue Jackets.

That's got to be some sort of AHL record.

And it's not likely a coincidence.

Speaking to reporters on a conference call from Columbus, Tuesday, Arniel pointed to the commitment from people like Moose GM Craig Heisinger and owner Mark Chipman, two hard-core hockey guys who don't just want to ice a development team for the Vancouver Canucks.

"It's a great organization to work for, and people are drawn there because they know that," Arniel said. "You know development is a big part of it. But you know that winning is also a big part of it. They want to have success on the ice, night in and night out. That's what a coach wants."

Some 1,500 kilometres from Columbus, on a fishing boat on Lake of the Woods, Heisinger was busy pulling in walleye -- not lamenting the one that got away.

"That's the way it goes," Heisinger said. "That's what's supposed to happen. I was happy to hear. That's what he came back here for, to gain head coaching experience because he coveted a job in the NHL, and he succeeded in getting one.

"It's no different than the players or the trainers, or whoever. Most of them are trying to get to the next level."

After four years as an assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres, Arniel had come to the Moose to learn how to run the show, with one goal in mind.

Four years, one trip to the Calder Cup Final and an AHL coach-of-the-year award later, he finds himself on the ultimate stage.

"I'm so excited to be a head coach in the NHL. They're tough jobs to come by," Arniel said.

Somehow, though, Manitoba coaches keep getting them.

"That's the coaches taking advantage of the opportunity that's provided for them here," Heisinger said. "Same as the players that have success. It's an environment, but it's up to them to take advantage of it."

Ask Heisinger how big a hole Arniel's departure leaves, and you can almost hear him shrugging.

"No bigger than the hole when Randy left or Alain left," he said.

So Heisinger will just go find the next Arniel, much like he's had to find the next Rick Rypien, or Alex Burrows, free agent signings who graduated to the Canucks.

"I have a few names," he said. "I've worked on it."

Arniel joked that his old boss shouldn't have to work too hard.

"He's already got probably about 15, 20 messages with somebody wanting to coach there next year," he said.

And why not?

They used to say Winnipeg was one of the worst places to come if you're in the NHL.

But if you want to get there, there's no better place to pass through.

paul.friesen@sunmedia.ca


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