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This article was published 9/5/2015 (2353 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Manitoba Moose return to Winnipeg a completely changed team since they were last seen playing at the MTS Centre.
After four years spent as the St. John's IceCaps, the AHL development team of the Winnipeg Jets, the Moose will almost certainly begin the 2015-16 season without a single player left from the 2010-11 season.
The only hockey holdovers will be GM Craig Heisinger and head coach Keith McCambridge, who was once briefly a Moose defenceman, and was a Moose assistant coach from 2009-2011. The Thompson native was promoted to the head coaching job when the Moose became the IceCaps in 2011.
McCambridge's in-charge experience in St. John's will be an important element of the Moose going forward, especially given the likelihood the 2015-16 Moose could find that as much as 90 per cent of their team will be made up of first- or second-year pros.
Here's a quick synopsis of the Jets' farm team over four years in St. John's, and the revelations that went into McCambridge's coaching vault:
RECORD: 43-25-8, 94 points.
PLAYOFFS: Series victories over Syracuse and Wilkes-Barre put the IceCaps in the Eastern Conference final against Norfolk, where they were eliminated.
SUMMARY: The combining of parts of the Moose and Chicago Wolves (farm team of the Atlanta Thrashers) into a city that had been without pro hockey for six years was fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants in many ways, but it worked.
WISDOM GAINED: Change is not always to be feared. It was a season of upheaval for all, including the Jets' NHL relocation issues and the AHL relocation for everyone involved. "The first year, that was a lot of getting to know the city and the people involved there," McCambridge said. "And probably just as importantly in Newfoundland, having the people getting to know us. The IceCaps were demons on the road that season, not losing a game outright until after Christmas.
"We got to the conference finals against Norfolk and unfortunately for us, they were one of the best teams to come along in many years," McCambridge said. "It was a special experience, bringing playoff hockey to St. John's for the first time in a long time."
McCambridge was chosen the head coach of the Eastern Conference for the league's all-star game in Atlantic City.
RECORD: 32-26-8, 72 points
SUMMARY: The IceCaps had a more experienced team during the NHL lockout season and important players didn't have banner years. The team also played an inordinate number of non-conference games, especially against Toronto and Hamilton that were prized in the St. John's market, but it left the club at a competitive disadvantage within the Atlantic Division. All of that combined with nearly 500 man-games worth of injuries conspired to leave the team out of the post-season.
WISDOM GAINED: "No playoffs, which was real disappointing, but I have learned over the years that you learn more from adversity than you do from success," McCambridge said. "We had a chance to dig in after that season, look at what we had coming prospect-wise and what would give those prospects the best chance to accelerate development."
The coach also made some discoveries in terms of player motivation.
"Us and 29 other teams were dealing with (the lockout)," he said. "The players who didn't really want to be in the AHL and were kind of biding their time until the NHL got started back up -- that was a challenge. We had an older team, just really didn't get as much traction as we'd have liked. We had personnel that we hoped would find the back of the net more, but for whatever reason didn't."
RECORD: 46-23-4, 99 points
PLAYOFFS: Series wins over Albany, Norfolk and Wilkes-Barre put the IceCaps in the league championship series against Texas. St. John's lost the final three games in overtime, dropping the series 4-1.
SUMMARY: A group with quality veteran leadership from Jason Jaffray, Andrew Gordon and Jerome Samson established a hard-working, never-quit identity and willed its way to a great season and the Calder Cup final, which turned out to be very close against a heavy favourite.
WISDOM GAINED: How to foster leadership and then let it lead. "It was one of those special groups," McCambridge said. "I listened to Paul Maurice's comments about the team this year, the group they had, well, our third year, that Calder Cup final team, that was one of those teams, that was us.
"The group, you could see it during the season, and once we started getting our identity where it needed to be... we also had the addition of (goalie) Michael Hutchinson and it really stapled everything together for us."
RECORD: 32-33-11, 75 points.
SUMMARY: Going younger with the Jets' development needs becoming more of a priority, the IceCaps were not untypical of AHL teams. They struggled early and some players started to find their way as the season moved along.
WISDOM GAINED: A new and younger reality. "We knew we'd be young and there would be guys added in that needed to play," McCambridge said. "The league is about the development side of things and balancing things. The coaching side of me, I always want to make the playoffs, so not making it is kind of coming up short. I've learned over the years when you might not have one of those teams like we had in Year 3 and one of those things you look for in the season is the steps the young players make. There were some this year, where I saw players start to turn the corner, that puts a bright side to it."
The coach gave one specific example in 2012 late-round draft pick Ryan Olsen.
"He came in from Kelowna with a swagger to him, an entitlement that wasn't earned by anything in the way he was playing and him understanding the amount of work and how serious this is and the opportunity you are given as a player to learn your craft and hopefully get your foot in the door," McCambridge said. "We started to see him in the back half of the season really show signs of playing a solid pro game, and that brought a smile to my face."