Excitement fills the rink

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 9:20 AM ET

Scott Arniel can feel the excitement and is expecting to see the passion in others.

As Arniel prepares for his first season as head coach of the Manitoba Moose, the adopted Winnipegger is eagerly awaiting the Vancouver Canucks prospects camp -- which gets underway tomorrow morning with medicals and fitness testing. On-ice sessions begin Saturday in Burnaby, B.C.

"Every year, the players grow up," said Arniel, who will run the first four days of on-ice sessions with new Moose assistant coach Brad Berry. "Not just in the sense of their bodies, but more their abilities, their mind and how they approach the game. Sometimes it takes an off season for a player to come back with a little more hunger and determination. Maybe they're not a rookie anymore or it's a veteran guy who wants to show that he can still play.

"Those are kind of the intangibles that jump out at you. It's a great time to watch for the growth and to see who's eager to show they're ready to take the next step."

What will Arniel be looking for as he re-acquaints himself with some members of the organization and gets a first-hand look at many others?

"With the guys that I know or have seen before, I look for an improvement or if I'm seeing a change in their game. That growth you hope to see over a few years, especially with young players," said Arniel. "With the new guys, you try to get the feel of what kind of player they are. I'll keep notes and ideas of what I see in camp. Think of where you might use him, that kind of thing."

Veterans report for medicals and physicals next Wednesday and the main camp shifts to Vernon, B.C., on Thursday for four days.

Moose general manager Craig Heisinger believes the entire organization -- from the NHL level right down to the new ECHL affiliation with the Victoria Salmon Kings -- will be well-stocked.

"There's probably the most depth throughout the organization that there's been in some time," said Heisinger, noting there are several players not in Vancouver who will compete for a spot at Moose camp. "All three teams are going to be good."

An interesting player to watch at prospects camp is Russian centre Alexei Smirnov, the first round (12th overall) pick of the Anaheim Ducks in 2000.

Smirnov, who is attending camp as an unsigned free agent, spent last season with Omsk Avangard in the Russian Superleague and has three goals and six points in 52 NHL games during his career.

There's a chance Smirnov could begin the season with the Moose.

"He's obviously typical of a first rounder, where people keep giving him a chance," said Heisinger. "By doing some homework, he's a guy who has matured and realizes he's running out of chances. He's got to prove to somebody that he can do it. The fact he's willing to come and re-earn his opportunity is certainly a positive."

One of the biggest questions surrounding the Canucks is who will serve as the backup goalie to new starter Roberto Luongo.

Reigning Moose MVP Wade Flaherty has the inside track, but GM Dave Nonis told members of the Vancouver media this week to expect another couple of netminders with experience to be in camp.

Steve Shields, Brian Boucher and Mike Dunham are said to be among those being considered to compete for the job.

Is Heisinger worried about the apparent lack of net between the pipes at the AHL level if Flaherty makes the big club?

"It's going to play out the way it plays out," said Heisinger. "That part of it is out of my control."

Moose camp is slated to open with physicals and testing on Sept. 24.


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