Rough ice ahead

KEN WIEBE -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 10:36 AM ET

Challenges? Alain Vigneault has seen his fair share and might be facing his toughest in his return to the National Hockey League as the new head coach of the Vancouver Canucks.

Vigneault replaced local legend Randy Carlyle last season and promptly led the Manitoba Moose to its second 100-point campaign in franchise history.

This time he's replacing Marc Crawford and begins the new season guiding a club that has been retooled by GM Dave Nonis.

Gone are forwards Todd Bertuzzi and Anson Carter, oft-injured goalie Dan Cloutier and a host of former Moose players, including goalie Alex Auld and defencemen Bryan Allen and Nolan Baumgartner, who were either traded or left via free agency.

Many pundits wonder where the goals are going to come from and are picking the Canucks to miss the playoffs in the Western Conference.

Those predictions don't bother Vigneault one bit.

"As camp has gone by our work ethic has really become a big trademark of our team," Vigneault said in a telephone interview this week. "We work extremely hard at both ends of the rink. We're going to be more of a team-oriented group with that hard work ... we're going to be a hard team to play against."

One of the biggest reasons for Vigneault's optimism is all-world goalie Roberto Luongo, looking to make the playoffs for the first time in his professional career.

"He's such a true professional," said Vigneault. "If our guys are picking up on anything, there's a guy who plays the full 60 minutes on the ice and then after the game he's on the bike for another half an hour working up an unreal sweat. Then the next day, he's the first guy on the ice. He's been really good and he's gotten better as camp went on. Obviously, we're going to need him to be on top of his game to win the games we need to make it to the playoffs."

Moose MVP Wade Flaherty looked like he had sewn up the backup, but the Canucks claimed Dany Sabourin on waivers yesterday.

Former Moose making the team to start the season include forwards Josh Green, Ryan Kesler and Alexandre Burrows and defenceman Kevin Bieksa.

Kesler had an outstanding pre-season and opens the season on a line with Burrows, while Green should benefit from an injury to fourth-line centre Marc Chouinard.

Bieksa, who spent half of last season with the Canucks, should see plenty of ice time among the top- six blue-liners thanks to his combination of skill and grit.

The Canucks start the season with captain Markus Naslund with the Sedin twins, Henrik and Daniel. That leaves Brendan Morrison on a unit with newcomers Jan Bulis and Taylor Pyatt.

The defence has been overhauled but still includes Mattias Ohlund, Sami Salo, free agent signings Willie Mitchell and Rory Fitzpatrick, Lukas Krajicek (Bertuzzi trade), Bieksa and 2005 first round draft pick Luc Bourdon.


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