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Photo Credit: Jonathan Kozub - MooseHockey.com

Moose Remain Focused On Team While In First Place

There’s something about these Manitoba Moose.

As the Jets affiliate has gone the past 16 games without a regulation loss and sit atop the AHL standings, a big part of the team’s success isn’t solely a product of X’s and O’s, but rather, what binds this group of players together;

Chemistry.

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“Right now we’re in a good place and we’re playing extremely well and one part of it is because of our team chemistry,” said Moose head coach Pascal Vincent last Wednesday ahead of the team’s series against the San Antonio Rampage.

To some, citing chemistry as a main reason that the Moose are playing as well as they are, could be viewed as a bunch of baloney. But the camaraderie that this group has developed with one another is special and something that is hard to build at the AHL level. With the league shifting to a developmental-focus, teams can often times devolve into a carousel of prospects and free agents that are with the team for a pit-stop, not for the long-haul.

But these Moose, they’ve stuck together as they share the same mindset for the future. Every player’s ultimate goal is to play in the NHL, but these Moose know that cracking the big leagues is a process. When their time comes, they’ll be ready, but until then–it’s all about getting better and playing for each other.

With that in mind, it’s made this group closer.

“I think this whole dressing room here is looking to win,” said the team’s leading scorer, Jack Roslovic. “When your in one place, you [want to] think about one place, and one place only.”

Photo courtesy: MooseTV

“We just worry about winning games,” said forward Brendan Lemieux. “I don’t really put too much time into the development side of things.”

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While the players are aiming to win (and rightfully-so), the coaching staff are working towards a different goal.

“The final results of the games are important to us [because] it tells us where we are compared to the other team’s in the league–but at the end of the day, we’re here to develop individuals.”

Somehow, even with such a developmental-approach (one in which sees an emphasis on the younger players, not necessarily the team’s best players) there is a tight-bond amongst this group, and Vincent credits that closeness to the team’s leaders.

“(Chemistry) starts with your captain–Patrice Cormier is doing an amazing job as a captain,” said Vincent. “People (that) we never talk about, Darren Kramer, is doing an amazing job–people have no idea how good he’s doing around the team.”

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And the culture that has been created is palpable, even to those that aren’t with the team on a full-time basis.

“We have a great core group of guys here,” said goaltender Jamie Phillips, who was summoned from the ECHL in wake of Eric Comrie’s injury. “For everyone that gets called up, everyone feels welcome, we have a great organization, everyone feels included–the Moose make it really easy for [players] that are in the organization and [free agents].”

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While Vincent’s humbling nature restricts him from flat-out saying it–the coaching staff and the front office deserve some credit for this seasons success.

For starters, the organization’s front-office deserves a stick-tap. After the Moose missed the playoffs by a country-mile the previous two seasons, the Jets entered the offseason with a focus of providing their affiliate with better veteran players.

In the AHL, player development is a top priority. The American Hockey League and the Professional Hockey Players’ Association have the following development rule in place:

Of the 18 skaters (not counting two goaltenders) that teams may dress for a game, at least 13 must be qualified as “development players.” Of those 13, 12 must have played in 260 or fewer professional games (including AHL, NHL and European elite leagues), and one must have played in 320 or fewer professional games. All calculations for development status are based on regular-season totals as of the start of the season.

Courtesy of TheAHL.com 

The team welcomed in Buddy Robinson, Mike Sgarbossa and  Cameron Schilling to round out a quality group of veterans, all of whom have been big contributors to the Moose thus far into the season.

It wasn’t a slam dunk that the team’s youngsters would contribute in a big way, nor was it foreseen that Michael Hutchinson and Nic Petan would be loaned from the Jets. And with all things considered, the team did a great job bringing in the necessary veterans to compliment their young-brass.

And the organization seems to have found the right coach in Vincent, who has proved to be a quality teacher, or rather, as he’d deem it, a navigator.

“I think a coach is like a GPS in your car,” said Vincent. “We know where they want to go and we’re their to help them achieve their goals.”

And part of navigating young players to an NHL career is putting them in situations that they aren’t necessarily the most comfortable in, such as playing a different wing, getting reps at centre, or playing on either the penalty kill or power play. With a skilled Jets team doing their fair share of damage at the NHL level, limited spots are up for grabs and with that, versatility becomes that much more important.

The purpose of the Moose is to develop the Jets of the future–hence an increase in focus on the big club’s operations. “At times, we do talk about the Jets,” said Vincent. “At times we will use video clips of how [the Jets] do things–because we reinforce what they’re doing.”

Shortening the gap from the Jets and the Moose is in large part thanks to Vincent, who spent five years as an assistant coach for the Jets–something that he says has helped him become the coach he is today.

“I remember multiple conversations I had with some veterans of the–Chris Thorburn, Andrew Ladd, Blake Wheeler and Bryan Little–[that was] huge for me.”

It almost feels as if the Moose and Jets are one big organization, which isn’t a surprise when you take into account how familiar the bulk of the organization is with one another.

“A lot of guys on the Moose are at [Jets] training camp and development camps–we all know each other, and there’s a lot of close friends going both ways,” said Lemieux.

The familiarity of the organization has benefited the Jets prospects significantly. Not only have they had the opportunities to be well-acquainted with the other team’s prospects at development camps and training camps, but with both team’s in the same city, the bond gets that much tighter.

And that bond has seen a collective focus on getting better every day, winning hockey games and most importantly– to do it as a team.

“I can’t say I’ve had a group that’s, that tight,” concluded Vincent.