By Rick Gethin
The search for a new man behind the Blue Jackets bench is entering it’s final phase. Manitoba Moose head coach Scott Arniel was the first of five to interview for the vacant coaching position in Columbus. He’s had a second meeting with the management team and is waiting for the word from Blue Jackets GM Scott Howson on whether he’s “The Man”.
As both sides are issuing “no comment” regarding the interview process, as well they should, I contacted a man who has known Arniel since 2000 as an assistant coach with the Moose. Ken Wiebe is a Sports Reporter for the Winnipeg Sun and was kind enough to help shed some light on a prominent contender and quite possibly the front-runner for the Head Coach position.
Scott Arniel has been around and paid his dues, both as a player and as a coach. He played junior hockey with the Cornwall Royals, skating alongside Dale Hawerchuk, Marc Crawford and Doug Gilmour. The team won consecutive Memorial Cups in 1980 and 1981.
Ken said that like many hockey players “He can be a fiery guy and he hates to lose, but he’s grown a great deal over the last four seasons. He’s a real student of the game and has a good hockey IQ”.
THW’s Derek Jung has more info and player quotes about Arniel here.
While an assistant coach with the Buffalo Sabres, Arniel worked under the aptly named Lindy Ruff. The good news for Blue Jackets fans is that he played a big role with the successful Buffalo power play, which had the likes of Daniel Briere and Brian Campbell on it. He returned to the Manitoba Moose after four years with Buffalo in 2006.
Ken made the point that with all of the roster turnover/call-ups in the AHL, a coach has to be flexible with his system. He also said “Arniel’s preference is to play an up-tempo, attacking game. Obviously, there is a defensive structure but he’s not a guy that likes his team to sit back and clog up the neutral zone. I would call him more of an offensive-minded coach but his teams always pay attention to detail in the defensive zone”. This would seem to be an indication that his style fits with the way that Scott Howson is building this Blue Jackets team. Columbus started playing a more up-tempo game towards the tail-end of the 2009-2010 season.
Ken goes on to say “The most talented team he coached (and most experienced) was the one that went to the Calder Cup final in 2009. That team had plenty of offense and also did a nice job keeping the puck out of their net.” In just his third year as a Head Coach, he was named the AHL’s Coach of the Year in 2009.
This year was a bit different, but he still managed to get the most out his players. “This season was filled with changes, constant insertion of new (often ECHL-calibre) players and the team still managed to make the playoffs”, said Wiebe, “and nearly pulled off a big upset of the first-place Hamilton Bulldogs in Round 1.” This shows the kind of character that is inherent in Arniel. He added this gem, “I can honestly say that without Cory Schneider in goal and Scott Arniel behind the bench, the Moose probably would have missed the playoffs this season. Most players agree Arniel had to do a lot more teaching in 2009-10“.
“He’s a good motivator and he also does a great job reading the pulse of a team. Admittedly, he’s not a big motivational speech giver”, said Ken. “But he’s not afraid to voice his concerns and he certainly knows when to tear the paint off the wall and when a player needs a pat on the back.” But what about his leadership abilities, you ask? Ken left me with this. “Regarding leadership, this is a guy who has been a captain often during his playing career and was also a player/assistant at various points, so he’s a pretty stable leader.”
There you have the definitive answer to Scott Arniel from someone who knows the man. He has the drive and the vision to take the next step into the NHL coaching ranks. His style and system would seem to fit nicely with the young team that resides in Columbus. Kevin Dineen has a bit of a temper, going so far as to get suspended by the AHL. To have that fire is not altogether a bad thing, but it needs to be tempered when coaching at this level. Guy Boucher has yet to have a first interview with Scott Howson, but it’s coming soon. He’s also only had one year as a Head Coach in the AHL. With it being no secret that he’s in line for the Montreal Canadiens coaching position eventually, he might decide to stay within the Montreal organization and get some seasoning. And lastly, I believe if Claude Noel were to be the new Columbus head coach, it would’ve already been announced.
My grateful thanks must go to Ken Wiebe (Winnipeg Sun) for the invaluable insight he provided.
Rick Gethin was an Associate Editor of TheHockeyWriters.com.