Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Missing playoffs a rarity for True North group

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In their previous 16 years operating an IHL or AHL team, Mark Chipman, Craig Heisinger and the team at True North Sports & Entertainment went through seasons without playoffs only twice, in their first try in 1997 and in 2004.

Nine years after that sorry spring that saw Stan Smyl depart and Randy Carlyle arrive -- again -- to coach the Manitoba Moose, the organization has once again missed the mark, failing to reach this spring's AHL Calder Cup playoffs.

The St. John's IceCaps finished 14th out of 15 teams just one season after finishing second.

What went wrong?

"We had a lot of young players on the back end that played significant minutes," IceCaps GM Heisinger, also the assistant GM of the Jets, said Thursday. "And you never want to use injuries as an excuse, but at some point, 475 man-games lost, with key guys, that's a big number."

Certainly, important players like Patrice Cormier, Jason King, Hunter Tremblay, Kevin Clarke and Ivan Telegin all played less than half the season.

Compounding that, "I think we had some veteran guys that didn't play very well the first half of the year that picked up their games somewhat in the second half, but it was too late, to a certain degree," Heisinger said.

It was a strange year in many respects, and the NHL's four-month lockout caused many AHL things to be unsettled.

"You can find some silver linings," Heisinger said. "During the lockout, (Zach) Redmond and (Paul) Postma got significant playing time and after they left, Ben Chiarot and Julian Melchiori got ice time and improved.

"But the effect of the lockout itself? That's hard to say because that rests with individual players. Did it affect guys mentally? Probably. But I don't know which way those things are mentally. You ask those questions in exit meetings but I don't know if they articulate exactly how they felt. Maybe sometimes, and sometimes not."

As for Heisinger, he's always paying attention.

"You're always learning," he said after the IceCaps posted a 32-36-8 record. "You learn lots about yourself and people. Experience is what you get when things don't go the way you want them to.

"We're not used to, in the AHL, things not going the way we want them to."

And that provided another lesson, he said.

"I can only speak for myself in this situation, but I can tell you that I have learned how to handle some things differently when you're in the playoffs versus not being in the playoffs," he said. "This is the first time we've been the team that teams were calling (at the trade deadline) to pick their bones because we were out of the playoffs.

"I didn't like being that guy. But I've been one to make those calls in the past and I probably rubbed some people the wrong way and didn't know it, but now I know I'd handle it differently."

Change is inevitable in the AHL, and though Heisinger said many decisions haven't been made on different players, the IceCaps will have to make room for some of the Jets' prospects that are in the pipe. A player such as WHL MVP Adam Lowry, who finished the season with nine games for the IceCaps, is one example.

"In the big picture, we have to develop players for the Winnipeg Jets," Heisinger said. "And in our case, you may see many things differently than before. We have more of the NHL perspective now."

For years, the Moose had some input but only limited decisions on players when they were the affiliate of the NHL's Vancouver Canucks.

"I guess the line in the sand changes a little bit and we're still trying to figure where it does," Heisinger said. "There are some things we might not have anticipated, but we have learned a lot about this now that we're making the decisions on the NHL side, too."

Heisinger said it's certain that IceCaps head coach Keith McCambridge will be in charge of the team again this fall.

"Those guys got a lot of mileage out of that group," he said. "They did an excellent job."


Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 17, 2013 C6

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