by Paul Friesen, Winnipeg Sun
WINNIPEG, Man. … Never mind that the Manitoba Moose found a head coach.
The big news yesterday was that Brendan and Stephanie Arniel got their dad back. Not to mention Lia Arniel will have somebody around to do the shovelling this winter.
The announcement that Scott Arniel has become the fifth head coach in Moose history could be summed up by the last three words of the man’s acceptance speech at the downtown arena.
"I’m back home," Arniel said, and you got the impression nobody has ever been happier to have landed a job in Winnipeg.
No, he wasn’t born here. But, like former Moose boss Randy Carlyle before him, Arniel has become an adopted Winnipegger.
Sometime after being drafted by the Jets 25-odd years ago, he fell in love with the place.
"Originally I used to go home every summer, back to Kingston [Ont.]," Arniel said. "Off and on, all the places I’ve played over the years, I always ended up back here. My wife’s from here, my kids know Winnipeg … this is home to them, as well. I love the city, I love the area, I love the friends I have here away from the game. It’s just perfect."
So’s the fit between Arniel and the Moose job.
He captained the team when it was still in the IHL. His first coaching job was here, too, as an assistant to Carlyle six years ago.
Then the Moose joined the AHL and teamed up with the Vancouver Canucks, who already had a coach for their farm team in Stan Smyl.
So Arniel shuffled off to Buffalo, leaving his wife and kids to keep the home fires burning, so to speak.
After taking three cracks at landing this job, he finally got it.
"It’s awesome," son Brendan said. "We’ve been crossing our fingers for some time, now. This has been his dream."
You wouldn’t have predicted that back during Arniel’s first visit to the city.
Then a junior player with Cornwall, Arniel was passing through on his way to the Memorial Cup in Regina.
"I couldn’t believe how flat it was," Arniel recalled. "That was my first thought of Winnipeg, flying in and looking out the window, going, ‘How can a place be so flat?’ "
A couple years later, he was drafted by the Jets and began to experience the hills and valleys of pro hockey.
Two trades later, he’d been to Buffalo and back again, this time putting down some roots in Lindenwoods, where the family still lives in the same house today.
Of course, pro sports is a real estate agent’s best friend, which raises the question: how long can Arniel expect to stay? This isn’t a job that exudes stability, you know.
If you’re real bad, you don’t last long (where are you, Jean Perron?)
If you’re real good, you could wind up in the NHL (see Randy Carlyle and Alain Vigneault).
The latter option, of course, is Arniel’s ultimate goal.
So his homecoming is, in fact, designed to carry him away again.
"But I don’t have a time frame," Arniel said. "My goal is to become a head coach in the NHL. But right now my goal is to succeed as a head coach. It could be five years, it could be 10 years."
And that’s what distinguishes Arniel from most people who’d take this job.
It may be a stepping stone, but he’s going to stop, look around and enjoy the view for a while.
"Sometimes you can get caught on the wheel, get over-anxious about going places and trying to get somewhere, and get thrown back off that wheel pretty quick, never to surface again," Arniel said. "It’s about growing as a coach, here."
One more thing. Arniel looks at Winnipeg now and sees something he didn’t notice that first time through.
"There’s something missing in this team, in this province … a championship," he said. Who’d have thought it? In the middle of this flat place — a hill.
Start climbing, coach.
Paul Friesen is a columnist for the Winnipeg Sun and SLAM! Sports