February 24, 2018

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A positive spin on losing

Moose players say huge strides made despite dreadful record

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>First-year centre Chase Del Leo (left) is second in Moose scoring with 39 points in 71 games.</p></p>

JOE BRYKSA / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

First-year centre Chase Del Leo (left) is second in Moose scoring with 39 points in 71 games.

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/4/2016 (681 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Jets had a losing record and failed to qualify for the NHL playoffs.

Same for the Manitoba Moose, who won’t be in the AHL post-season after their final two regular-season games this weekend in San Antonio and Austin, Texas.

How’s that a sign of progress and development? Isn’t the exposure of all these young players and prospects to all this losing somehow risky?

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff gave a passionate (not to mention lengthy) answer on that matter Monday, highlighting the opportunity the organization has given its prospects with the young Moose and the fruits of the overall development labours who are already playing with the Jets in players like Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/4/2016 (681 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

The Winnipeg Jets had a losing record and failed to qualify for the NHL playoffs.

Same for the Manitoba Moose, who won’t be in the AHL post-season after their final two regular-season games this weekend in San Antonio and Austin, Texas.

How’s that a sign of progress and development? Isn’t the exposure of all these young players and prospects to all this losing somehow risky?

Jets GM Kevin Cheveldayoff gave a passionate (not to mention lengthy) answer on that matter Monday, highlighting the opportunity the organization has given its prospects with the young Moose and the fruits of the overall development labours who are already playing with the Jets in players like Mark Scheifele and Nikolaj Ehlers.

On Wednesday, the Moose conducted their last full practice of the season at the MTS Iceplex and when it was done, nobody had to think about their answers to the development process that has gone 25-40-9 so far.

"If I look at Game 1, our game against Ontario, and our last game against Rockford (a playoff team), just (see) the improvements, not only on the individual skill level but on the execution and the structure," said Moose coach Keith McCambridge. "And in playing the game the right way, there have been some really good strides there.

"And when we see all the players that went up to the Winnipeg Jets, just seeing them play well and step on the ice and not look out of place in the best league in the world, that, to us, from top to bottom, puts smiles on our faces."

Those internal successes included a wide range of players who were noticed with the NHL’s Jets, including goalie Connor Hellebuyck and defenceman Julian Melchiori and forwards Nic Petan and Joel Armia, who finished the season with the big club.

There were other important signs of progress, too, with how skaters such as J.C. Lipon, Scott Kosmachuk, Chase De Leo and Josh Morrissey acquitted themselves in NHL games.

And the NHL can’t be the only measuring stick on progress.

The Moose have seen other young players take serious strides forward, among them goalie Eric Comrie and right-winger Austen Brassard.

Comrie, a rookie pro, has faced the third-most shots among all AHL goalies this season and has emerged from that still an unfailingly positive individual despite his 13-24-7 record.

"For myself, it’s not about worrying about those results," Comrie said. "It’s about every single game, every single practice and just focusing on what I can do that day to be my best, and about preparing the best I can or working out or getting on the ice and working as hard as I can with (goalie coach) Rick St. Croix."

On facing so many shots, Comrie refused to budge on the idea it might be too much.

"I don’t think there’s any bad to that," he said. "None. There are only good things with that, facing a lot of rubber. Everything in life is about experience. The more experience you get at anything, the better you’re going to become at it. It’s that Outlier rule, 10,000 hours. The more you do, the better you’ll become. The more shots I face, the better I’ll become. I’ll see more situations in the AHL this year than most goalies have. That’s a huge plus for me."

Brassard, who bumped his goal total to 15 and his intangible contributions considerably in his third pro year, endorsed the patience he’s been shown and the opportunity he still has.

"They allow you to be comfortable and figure things out," the 23-year-old from Windsor, Ont., said. "I think I’ve had a great year developing and I think a lot of other guys have. A big part of that is the way you’re treated in this organization."

The Jets’ fifth-round pick of 2011 is like many of his peers in that their development didn’t surge right out of the draft gate.

"It can be very easy to get down and focus on the smaller picture," Brassard said. "But it’s something that I’ve learned and it’s important to learn to focus on the big picture and to stay positive. You try to get better every day. Don’t push too much too fast. Just be confident in yourself and know your time will come if you put in the work."

Moose rookie De Leo, just 20, is second in scoring on the Moose, with 39 points in 71 games. The fourth-round pick of 2014 has been used to success on the ice, playing junior with the WHL’s Portland Winterhawks, so this season has thrust big change on him.

"Coming in, I didn’t know what to expect," De Leo said. "Being a key guy in Portland, this was kind of like starting all over when you’re 16. I remember Travis Green (then coach in Portland) pulled me aside and said, ‘Don’t expect anything to be given to you. You have to earn everything.’ That has stuck with me. It’s kind of my motto.

"I think this year it was nice because it was a younger group. I was able to jump right into things and take on a role. That helped me be more confident. Every game this year I got more confident and got better. Overall it’s been a pretty good year."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

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