WINNIPEG – It’s a new season for the Manitoba Moose, with an emphasis on the word new.
While changes are common in the American Hockey League, the Moose will have new faces in three crucial roles.
It begins with head coach Claude Noel, who took over in June when Scott Arniel left after four seasons to take over behind the bench for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
There will also be a new starting goaltender since Cory Schneider is expected to back up Roberto Luongo with the parent Vancouver Canucks after three seasons in Manitoba.
And with veteran forward Mike Keane not offered a contract by the Moose, the squad needs a new captain for the first time since 2005-06.
“There’s always changes, always fluctuations,”Moose general manager Craig Heisinger said as the team prepared to open its season on the road Friday against the Peoria Rivermen.
“We’ve been through the new coach situation for quite some time, for all the right reasons, so it’s not something we’re losing any sleep over. We’ve been able to bring in good people.”
Noel spent the past three seasons in Columbus as an assistant and was named interim head coach after Ken Hitchcock was fired last February.
He began his head coaching career in 1990 with the now defunct Roanoke of what was then known as the East Coast Hockey League, and was the AHL’s coach of the year in 2003-04 after guiding Milwaukee to its first-ever Calder Cup title.
Even though he’s in new surroundings with plenty of players he’s not familiar with, Noel doesn’t view it as an excuse for failure.
“My expectations are pretty lofty,”said the Kirkland, Ont., native, who’s known for his teaching skills.
“I want to be playing in June. It’s that simple. I think we might have the capabilities.”
That would be a major turnaround from last season, when the Moose were forced to use 54 players because of injuries and call-ups, and barely earned a playoff spot with a 40-33-7 record.
Their post-season appearance was brief, as Hamilton eliminated them in six games in the North Division semifinal.
It was a steep drop from the previous season, when Manitoba made it to the Calder Cup championship for the first time in its 14-year history and fell to Hershey in six games.
Schneider’s solid play often kept Manitoba in games last season and he was the AHL goalie of the year in 2008-09.
The battle to take his spot is expected to be between Tyler Weiman of Saskatoon and Eddie Lack from Sweden. Lack, who’s never played in North America, is still up with Vancouver.
Weiman, a six-year pro, spent the past three seasons with Lake Erie of the AHL. Last year, he went 21-18-3 with a 2.48 goals against average and .912 save percentage.
“I’m not sure that we have one guy as good as Cory Schneider, but I think collectively we are improved,”Heisinger said of his netminders.
Veteran defenceman Nolan Baumgartner said adjusting to Noel’s system is the biggest change, but he doesn’t anticipate any problems.
“We adapt to change very quickly,”said Baumgartner, 34, who was Moose captain in 2004-05 and would like to repeat that role.
“You have to, to have success, and I think we’re going to do that. This organization prides itself on bringing in character people and smart players and I think that’s the group we have this year.”
Manitoba will have to boost its offensive output this season and one player pegged to do that joined the team on Tuesday.
Vancouver sent down centre Joel Perrault, who spent his first Moose practice on the top line with Sergei Shirokov and Kevin Clark.
The 27-year-old Montreal native played in 47 AHL games last season with San Antonio, notching 17 goals and 19 assists. He also got into a pair of games with the Phoenix Coyotes, two of 89 NHL games on his resume between Phoenix and St. Louis.
“I like to be the guy,”Perrault said.“I like to have the responsibilities and I like the coach to expect a lot of things out of me.”
Noel described Perrault as a“thinker”and leader.
“He’s got to be one of the better minor-league players that’s not in the National Hockey League, in my opinion,”Noel said.
One of Perrault’s linemates could also be veteran winger Jeff Tambellini, who may be assigned to Manitoba if he clears waivers on Wednesday.
Manitoba also returns centre Marco Rosa, who led the team in scoring last season with 22 goals and 55 points in 80 games.
Jordan Schroeder, Vancouver’s first-round draft pick (22nd overall) in 2009, will continue his grooming in Winnipeg and the Canucks may send down Cody Hodgson, their 2008 first-round draft pick (10th overall).
As for the team’s blue-liners, a lot are in their early 20s, but Baumgartner and veteran Travis Ramsey should be good mentors.
Ryan Parent, who played 48 games with the Philadelphia Flyers last year, is expected to join Manitoba if he clears waivers on Wednesday.
“We’ve got a good crop of young guys and it’s going to be up to us older guys to lead them,”said Baumgartner, who played 37 games with Manitoba last season and a dozen for Vancouver.