AUSTIN, Texas -- The captain of the St. John's IceCaps sees the future of the Winnipeg Jets a little clearer than many of the NHL team's fans.
He's got a front-row seat as the Jets' top affiliate takes a run at the AHL championship, starting the Calder Cup final Sunday night in Cedar Park, Texas against the Texas Stars. The IceCaps arrived Friday.
Jason Jaffray, the former Manitoba Moose star, says the kind of team the IceCaps are this season definitely signifies a culture shift within the Jets organization.
"You see that with Tampa Bay," Jaffray said, his team readying for the final after knocking out Albany, Norfolk and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. "That Norfolk team that won the Calder Cup two years ago, that's the Tampa team now. Tyler Johnston and Ondrej Palat and those guys, that team is now built from Norfolk.
"You breed winners and that's what they're doing with the Jets right now. Look at a guy like Josh Morrissey. He's been incredible for us. He's 19 years old, stepped in and fit in and was one of our best players in Game 6 of the Eastern Conference final.
"To contribute as quickly as he has, and the other young guys, too, I personally haven't seen it over other years in this organization. This year, (Adam) Lowry, (Brenden) Kichton, (J.C.) Lipon, (Eric) O'Dell, I'd say we have the studs to win this. It's a different look than what we're used to and they have changed the culture and the direction they're going in is definitely the right direction. It's just a matter of being patient and guys are coming up through the ranks."
Jaffray said it's a special ability Morrissey has, to be able to not only fit in but contribute in the AHL playoffs at such a young age.
"Josh is a such a great person off the ice, too," Jaffray said. "He's very smart. He thinks the game well. He's a great person in the dressing room. When you have new guys coming in when a team's playing well, personally I'm worried about that, not knowing what kind of person he is and how he'll adapt to the dressing room. But the guys brought into this team, well, Josh was the captain of his team, played in the world junior, he's a guy who's been around and understands what he needs to do.
"I can't imagine how I would have adapted coming into a team like this if I was 18. I wouldn't have done nearly as good as this guy's doing. I don't know what next season will bring him but he's jumped a lot of people in the ranks here in the last month."
Jaffray, 32, continues to be a productive left-winger, as he was when he was a member of the Moose. He had 18 goals and 59 points to lead the IceCaps this season.
This is his second run at an AHL title. He was a key figure in the 2008-09 season in Winnipeg, which ended with a six-game defeat in the final against Hershey. In those playoffs, he had 19 points in 22 games.
"Personally, it's much different," he said. "I'm four years older than the next-oldest guy on our team. I remember five years ago giving Nolan Baumgartner and Mike Keane such a hard time about how old they were.
"It's nice to still be contributing, putting up points."
The road back to the championship series has been difficult.
"A long journey," he said. "Last year we went through a bit of a struggle. We lost a lot of close games. We couldn't pull it together. It was the first year my entire pro career I've never made the playoffs.
"We went in a little different direction this year, carrying only three veterans this year (Andrew Gordon and Jerome Samson are the others). We went with more of a young core.
"In previous years, not only in Manitoba, we really had a veteran core that pushed the team. This team was energized by the young group. That's the difference between five years ago and this year. We really have the young, energetic kids playing huge roles on our power play, penalty kill, logging huge minutes."