Winnipeg fans have Moose to thank

The Manitoba Moose played a vital role in the return of the NHL to their city. (Simon Wilson/ QMI...

The Manitoba Moose played a vital role in the return of the NHL to their city. (Simon Wilson/ QMI Agency)

Ken Wiebe, Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 4:18 AM ET

Without the Manitoba Moose, there's no possible way the National Hockey League even thinks of bringing a franchise back to Winnipeg.

Not now and not likely ever.

So with the Atlanta Thrashers relocating to the Manitoba capital, it's time to salute the work the Moose franchise did in this community during the past 15 seasons to help fill the void after the Jets moved to Phoenix and became the Coyotes.

Mark Chipman was among those who went out on a limb and moved the Minnesota Moose to Winnipeg Arena for the 1996-97 season.

In many ways, Chipman and the group he assembled around him were forced to learn on the fly in some regards, but quickly worked their way to becoming a model franchise.

And while the Moose were in the minors, the franchise always prided itself in treating its players like they were in the NHL.

Sure, there were many challenging times.

Hiring a big name in Jean Perron as the first head coach turned out to be an unmitigated disaster and he was canned before the first season was complete.

Perron, who helped coach the Montreal Canadiens win the Stanley Cup in 1986, was replaced by assistant coach Randy Carlyle and he became a fixture for years to come.

For the first five seasons, the Moose were an independent team in the International Hockey League and playoff success was tough to come by.

But in the summer of 2001, Chipman helped bring the surviving IHL teams into the American Hockey League and became the top affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks.

Going from an independent team to a farm team brought some challenges as well, but eventually the Moose and Canucks found a happy medium that fused the sometimes competing interest of winning and development.

Some folks around these parts never embraced the Canucks, but it can't be ignored that many of the same players driving the NHL club to its first Stanley Cup final in 17 years began their pro hockey journey with the Moose -- including the likes of Kevin Bieksa, Alex Edler, Ryan Kesler, Alexandre Burrows, Mason Raymond and Jannik Hansen, to name a few.

The development of players was only part of the equation as Carlyle, Alain Vigneault and Scott Arniel all moved on to the NHL as head coaches after spending some time in antlers.

The franchise made the playoffs in 12 of their 15 seasons and their most memorable run came in the spring of 2009, when they came up two wins short of the elusive Calder Cup, bowing out to the Hershey Bears in a hard-fought six-game series.

Off the ice, the Moose made a major effort to get out and be visible in the community and raised a lot of money for charity.

Over the years, the Moose created more of a buzz than many thought was possible and the MTS Centre has rocked to a full house on many occasions -- whether it was during the NHL lockout or the run to the final in 2009.

While a celebration is in order regarding the return to the NHL, let's not forget we would have never got to this point without the vision of Chipman and True North.

Mighty Moose

Top 10 scorers in Moose franchise history

Position Name GP G A P

D Brett Hauer 322 58 193 251

LW Jason Jaffray 269 96 139 235

LW Jimmy Roy 603 101 111 212

C Stephane Morin 173 63 138 201

C Bill Bowler 187 55 134 189

D Nolan Baumgartner 385 41 144 185

C Brandon Reid 259 70 111 181

RW Lee Goren 193 80 91 171

LW Scott Arniel 222 67 104 171

D Brian Chapman 447 24 135 158 


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