WINNIPEG – The Manitoba Moose can’t wait to erase the sting from losing the Calder Cup championship last spring.
The Moose lost to the Hershey Bears in a hard-fought six-game final and then had to watch the visitors hoist the championship trophy on the MTS Centre ice.
While Scott Arniel was named American Hockey League coach of the year and Cory Schneider took the nod for top goalie, both still have a feeling that they came up short.
“Its nice to get some personal accolades, but I think we’d all trade them in for a team trophy and that championship,” Schneider said Friday.
“Like coach said today, we had a good year last year but we didn’t finish what we set out to do, so I think there is some unfinished business.”
The Moose will begin their quest to return to the Calder Cup final this Friday when they open the regular season at home against the Houston Aeros.
“I’d be lying if I said it didn’t hurt last year, watching the opposition out on our home ice celebrating and getting a trophy,” said Arniel, who’s entering his fourth season behind the bench.
“That’s a feeling you don’t want to have. We want to work to get back (to the final).”
The Moose are coming off a record-setting season. Manitoba led the AHL with 107 points and also took the Western Conference title for the first time.
Schneider was a big reason why Manitoba allowed the fewest goals (188) in the league last season. In his second pro season, the Boston College product went 28-10-1 and led the league with a 2.04 goals-against average and .928 save percentage.
Arniel is counting on Schneider being his team’s backbone this season.
The 23-year-old netminder admitted being disappointed when the Vancouver Canucks sent him down this week, but he said he’s motivated to work hard to get another chance. The Canucks chose to keep veteran goalie Andrew Raycroft as Roberto Luongo’s backup.
Arniel would like to see another consistent season from his netminder.
“They often say first time lucky, second time skills,” Arniel said. “So he’s got to prove to everyone in the hockey world . . . that last year wasn’t lucky, that he is a skilled, top-end goaltender in this level.”
Manitoba has about a dozen new faces in the dressing room, including Schneider’s backup, Daren Machesney. The Hamilton, Ont., native was Hershey’s starting goalie last year, but injuries and the hot play of rookie Michal Neuvirth kept the third-year pro on the bench down the stretch.
Manitoba’s defence is solid with the likes of veteran Nolan Baumgartner, Nathan McIver and newcomer Brian Salcido, plus the Canucks are expected to ship veteran Lawrence Nycholat and Michael Funk to the Moose if they clear waivers Wednesday.
The team will be counting on its blue-line depth, since the biggest question mark is the offence after the departures of high-scoring forwards Jason Krog and Jason Jaffray.
Krog, recently assigned to the AHL Chicago Wolves from the Atlanta Thrashers, finished third last season in the regular-season scoring race with 30 goals and 86 points in 74 games. Jaffray, who has a two-way deal with the Calgary Flames, was second in Moose scoring with 49 points in 56 games.
Arniel hopes to fill their void with a top line of new centre Marty Murray and returnees Michael Grabner and Matt Pope.
Murray, a native of Winnipeg with 261 NHL and 346 AHL games under his belt, was with Manchester last season. He notched 15 goals and 54 points in 76 games.
“At this level, Ive always kind of been a play-making centreman,” Murray said. “I think I can provide, hopefully, a good two-way game and some leadership.”
The 21-year-old Grabner had 30 goals and 48 points in 66 games and Arniel thinks a 40-goal season could be a possibility. Pope skated in 12 Moose games and had eight points. He also spent time with the AHL’s Binghamton squad and Bakersfield of the East Coast Hockey League.
The 25-year-old Pope will wear Krog’s old No. 10 jersey.
“Big shoes to fill,” Arniel said. “He’s a confident kid, we’ll see how it goes.”
Manitoba also signed centre Marco Rosa, who had 40 points with the Houston Aeros last season. Three-time Stanley Cup winner Mike Keane is back for his fifth season with the Moose. The 42-year-old forward will be the team’s captain and locker-room mentor.
Baumgartner, 33, is excited by the challenges that lay ahead in his sixth stint with the team.
“It always hurts when you go that far (to the Calder Cup final), but we had the whole summer to get over it and I think a lot of us are,” he said.
“We’re ready to go here this year. It’s going to be fun. It’s fun to see new guys in the room. It’s going to be interesting to see how it plays out here in the first month.”