Moose assistant moves up to bigs

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:03 AM ET

Not only is Alain Vigneault making the jump back to the National Hockey League, he's bringing Manitoba Moose assistant coach Mike Kelly along for the ride.

Vigneault, who replaced Marc Crawford as the bench boss of the parent Vancouver Canucks after guiding the Moose to a 100-point season last year, unveiled his coaching staff yesterday and it includes Kelly, former Moose assistant Barry Smith and former Winnipeg Jets forward and coach Rick Bowness.

"Obviously, I'm very honoured and grateful for the opportunity and now you've got to show people that you're ready," Kelly said in a telephone interview. "It's been 20 years since I started coaching and a lot of sacrifices have been made, most of them not by me."

Vigneault and Kelly were in the Ottawa Senators system at the same time but never worked together until last season.

"Much like players, we had great chemistry," said Kelly.

Vigneault praised the work of Kelly, whose background included coaching with Hockey Canada, in the Western Hockey League (with the Brandon Wheat Kings), in the Ontario Hockey League and in the CIS.

"He's like a lot of great coaches, he needed someone to give him a chance to make his mark in the NHL," Vigneault said during a conference call. "Mike is one of the best young technical guys coming up today."

Moose general manager Craig Heisinger said the team hopes to have its coaching staff in place "sooner rather than later" but wasn't sure that would be possible.

"We were hoping Mike would be back to give us some continuity but this is about providing opportunities," said Heisinger. "Mike and Alain were only here for one year but both of them had a tremendous impact on our team. They worked well together."

HIGH HOPES: During the conference call, Vigneault was asked which players he had in Manitoba were closest to making an impact at the NHL level.

The first two that stood out were defenceman Kevin Bieksa and energetic forward Alexandre Burrows, each of whom spent nearly half the season with the Canucks in 2005-06. But with a couple of holes at right wing, Vigneault spoke highly of Jesse Schultz, Jason King and Jozef Balej.

"These guys have the talent and potential and in today's NHL, they also fit into the budget plan," said Vigneault. "I would expect one or two of them could come in and contribute in an NHL capacity."

SALMON ON MENU: The Canucks and Moose jointly announced yesterday that they'd signed a one-year deal with the Victoria Salmon Kings to become their new ECHL affiliate.

During the past five seasons, the Columbia Inferno filled that role.


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