AHL benefits from NHL lockout

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 11:34 AM ET

Leave it to Steve Tambellini to put a positive spin on things. As the Vancouver Canucks assistant general manager, Tambellini has dealt with the aspects of the NHL so much this season he perks up when he gets to attend games.

"There's been a lot of issues that have exhausted people in any position in the hockey business, whether you're covering it, operating it or playing it," said Tambellini, who was at the MTS Centre to watch the Manitoba Moose take on the Rochester Americans. "It's been very difficult on people. Some of the positives though are what's happened to the American Hockey League. That's why I enjoy coming to watch the Moose play. The league is definitely step up from what it was the past couple of years."

The Moose, who are in the fourth year of a five-year affiliation agreement with the Canucks, have been one of the benefactors of the lockout.

And there's no question the Canucks could feel the long-term benefits of seeing their prospects having the opportunity to continue their development.

"The right people are getting a chance to play and it's very competitive," said Tambellini. "The total focus is on this level, they're not having one foot in and one foot out. It's telling us a lot about people. Who can carry a load and who actually wants to play, which is maybe more important."

Another important factor is that NHL teams aren't forced to bring players up too soon.

"We're all guilty of the push to rush people into situations they're not ready for," said Tambellini. "People always ask, 'how do you know when someone's ready?' I always respond that they tell me if they're ready to play."

For the record, Tambellini wasn't sure if he'd be part of the management group of Canada's entry at the upcoming IIHF World Hockey Championship in Austria.

"I don't really have an answer for you at this point," said Tambellini, who noted that Hockey Canada executive director Bob Nicholson is working through various issues at this point. "We'll let (Nicholson) take care of that."

Although Tambellini was guarded with his response, there's a good chance he'll be among the brain trust led by Wayne Gretzky.

FRANCHISE FIRST: When Wade Flaherty was pulled at 11:59 of the first period of yesterday's game against the Americans, it marked the first time in franchise history the Moose pulled the goalie in three consecutive games.

Alex Auld was pulled last Thursday and Saturday in losses to the Syracuse Crunch and Hamilton Bulldogs.

Goaltending has been one of the biggest strengths for the Moose this season, but both Auld and Flaherty have endured their struggles of late.

Moose head coach Randy Carlyle has hooked his goaltender in four of the last 11 games.


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