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Hanging on for dear life

Embattled Arniel hearing cries for his head in Columbus Deck

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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Scott Arniel said an odd thing Friday, the day before his stumbling Columbus Blue Jackets face off against the Winnipeg Jets.

"Thanks."

For what?

"Hockey questions. I wish I was getting more of those."

One would almost wonder why, given the performance of the NHL's worst team to date.

But of course with a record like 2-12-1, especially given the aggressive moves GM Scott Howson made in the off-season, there are few other words to describe Arniel these days other than "embattled." The calls for his head on a platter, and those of a few others in the Columbus organization, have been growing more frequent by the day.

"Without a doubt, this is the hardest thing I've been through as a coach or a player," Arniel said Friday. "You can find different excuses or reasons why we are where we are but at the end of the day, we put ourselves in this bad spot. It's easy to quit and it's easy to move onto something else, but I've never been that way in my life.

"I want to be here when things turn around the right way."

Arniel, a Kingston, Ont., native who's really an adopted Winnipegger -- still keeps a home there -- has been through some trying times before.

He was an assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres for several up-and-down years. He came back to the AHL's Manitoba Moose as head coach and just two months into that job, openly admitted that all the head-coaching answers he thought he had were well off the mark.

In two years' time, he re-learned plenty and had his team in the league's championship series.

There's no way of knowing if he'll have that much time, or even two more weeks, here.

Arniel, who went 34-35-13 in his rookie NHL season as a head coach a year ago, dislikes that uncertainty, but understands why it's now present.

"It's no different than a player that is underperforming," he said. "Expectations are high for everybody around here. I'm a guy who tells players to control what you can control. So that's what I have to do, every day try to find a solution, some answers."

Arniel has had no control over several major factors, such as an eight-game suspension to open the season to major free-agent signee James Wisniewski, or a broken foot to acquisition Jeff Carter, who may return tonight, or injuries to the organization's next-in-line goalies Curtis Sanford and Mark Dekanich, who were needed desperately when Steve Mason's play did not begin -- again -- in a stellar way.

Neither did Arniel have any control over the chatter sparked by the constant presence around the team of fired (in 2009) coach Ken Hitchcock, who was still under contract.

Arniel refused Friday to discuss the Hitchcock issue, including rumours of the former coach's meddling. That, of course, has now ended since Hitchcock was hired by the St. Louis Blues.

"We're just looking for that spark, something to get us feeling better because we're not feeling that good about ourselves," Arniel said.

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition November 12, 2011 C6

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