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Saturday, 15 August 2009

O Captain My Captain - The AHL Years

Hockey Blog In Canada continues its look today at the three men who have captained the Manitoba Moose through their AHL days. As we saw yesterday, the groundwork was laid for future captains of the Moose by two hard-working former NHL players and a long-time warrior on blueline. Randy Gilhen, Scott Arniel, and Brian Chapman represented the team as captain, and all of them are still highly respected in Winnipeg for their efforts. As the IHL folded and the AHL absorbed some of the more successful teams into their league, Brian Chapman was the captain at the time. From him, we look at the three men who have guided the team with their leadership since.

In 2003, Brian Chapman moved on to play with the Rochester Americans. This left the captaincy open for someone to step into, and it didn't take long for a former NHL player - a former Winnipeg Jet, no less - and another rugged defenceman to step up to the plate. Dallas Eakins, a veteran of 120 NHL games with Calgary, the New York Islanders, the New York Rangers, Toronto, Florida, Phoenix, St. Louis and Winnipeg, was signed to one-year deal with the Moose after playing against them with the rival Chicago Wolves. The physical defenceman brought with him the experience of playing on two Calder Cup Championship teams in Chicago, so he was a welcomed addition by the Moose.

Eakins' time in Winnipeg saw him play in 64 games, notching a lone goal and adding seven assists. The 2003-04 Moose, under head coach Stan Smyl's tutelage, struggled all season, posting a 32-35-11-2 record and missing the playoffs. At age 36, Eakins' play was one of the bright spots of the season as he finished the campaign with an even plus/minus while logging a lot of ice-time against the opposition's top lines.

Eakins is the only captain thus far in Moose history to change his number mid-season. After Dan Snyder died in an automobile accident in 2004, Eakins changed his number from #6 to #37 in honour of Snyder's memory.

Eakins would play one season with the Moose before retiring from the game. Since that time, Eakins has been busy. He owns and rents out several vacation properties in Scottsdale, Arizona. He married actress Ingrid Kavelaars, best known as "Trish" in the film Dreamcatcher, in 2001. In 2005, he was named as an assistant coach for the Toronto Marlies. 2006 saw him promoted to the same position with the Toronto Maple Leafs. Eakins is currently preparing to lead the Marlies into action this season as their head coach.

After Eakins decided to retire, the Moose needed another man to step up as captain. And another veteran defenceman was selected by the team. Nolan Baumgartner, a standout junior defenceman and first overall selection by Washington in 1994, was named as the fifth captain in Manitoba Moose history. Baumgartner has been a nomad in his career thus far, bouncing around the NHL and AHL on waivers. However, he was claimed by Vancouver on November 1, 2003, and suited up in 55 games for the Moose in 2003-04. After Dallas Eakins decided to retire in 2004, Baumgartner became the captain based on his experience and leadership. It also helps that he has a pretty good resumé when it comes to winning as well.

Baumgartner is a two-time Memorial Cup Champion with the 1994 and 1995 Kamloops Blazers of the WHL. He was named as the airBC Trophy winner as the WHL Playoff MVP after scoring 17 points in 21 games while playing at an extremely high defensive level. At the conclusion of the 1995 season, he was named as the Bill Hunter Trophy winner as the CHL's best defenceman. Due to these accolades, the Washington Capitals selected him 10th overall in 1994.

An early shoulder injury slowed Baumgartner's progress in Washington, and he was shuffled off to Chicago. Chicago buried him in the the AHL with the Norfolk Admirals. Because of this, Baumgartner signed as a free agent with Vancouver in 2002, and he suited up for the Moose for 55 games in his first stint with the club. The Penguins claimed him off waivers in October 2003, and he packed his bags to head east. However, the Canucks re-claimed him off waivers from the Penguins one month later, and he headed back to Vancouver who re-assigned him back to Manitoba for his second stint with the AHL club.

With the 2004-05 lockout, the Moose had a fairly solid team, and Baumgartner captained them to a 44-26-7-3 record for a third-place finish in the AHL's North Division. In 78 games, he posted nine goals and 30 assists, and tied for first in defensive scoring for the Moose with Kevin Bieksa. It was in the playoffs that the Moose caught fire. They dispatched the St. John's Maple Leafs in five games and the Rochester Americans in five games in the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs before running into - who else? - the Chicago Wolves who swept them in four straight games. He was named as the Moose's top defenceman after the season.

Baumgartner would bounce around some more after signing with the Philadelphia Flyers in 2005-06. He was loaned to the Moose in 2007-08 by the Dallas Stars for their AHL playoff run. After the season, he signed a one-year, two-way deal which was extended this season by the Canucks. He will suit up for the Moose in 2009-10.

And finally, we get to the man who embodies everything that the Moose have wanted in a captain and more. After Baumgartner signed his free agent deal with the Flyers, the captaincy was open again. Mike Keane, who had been signed by the Canucks in 2003-04 and shuffled between the NHL club and the AHL Moose, signed a pro tryout contract with the Moose at the age of 38 in 2005. Keane, who still looked like he could play in the NHL, took the opportunity to play in his hometown and made the team out of training camp. Because of his long history of success combined with his extensive experience and leadership, Mike Keane was named as the sixth captain in Manitoba Moose history at the start of the 2005-06 season.

Where do you start with Keane's history? He was involved in the Punch-Up In Piestany in 1987 at the World Junior Championships. He is only one of eight players to have won three Stanley Cups in his career while playing for three different teams - 1993 with Montreal, 1996 with Colorado, and 1999 with Dallas. He was also part of the infamous Patrick Roy trade that sent the goaltender to the Colorado Avalanche.

Needless to say, Keane's experience and leadership alone make him the most decorated captain in Moose history thus far. However, Keane immediately embraced a defensive role with the Moose, letting the younger players assume the scoring roles. Keane's willingness to do anything - hit, fight, check, score - made him an instant fan favorite, and the fact that he was a hometown boy only endeared him to fans even more.

In his first season with the Moose, he scored three goals and added 11 assists in 69 games. The Moose posted a 44-24-7-5 record under Alain Vigneault, and finished third in the AHL North Division. The Moose knocked off the Syracuse Crunch in six games before losing in the second round in seven games to another former IHL foe in the Grand Rapids Griffins.

In 2006-07, Keane upped his goal-scoring to eight goals while adding 17 assists in 74 games. The Moose finished first in the AHL North Division with a 45-23-7-5 record, their best showing in the AHL up to that point. The Moose exacted revenge in the playoffs from a year previous by eliminating the Griffins in seven games in the first round. However, the second round curse followed them, and they were bounced by the Hamilton Bulldogs in six games.

In 2007-08, Mike Keane equaled his goal production. He posted eight goals and eight assists in 73 games, leading the Moose to a third-place finish in the AHL North with a 46-27-3-4 record. The Syracuse Crunch exacted revenge this season, dispatching the Moose in six games in the first round. Five of those six game went to overtime, showing how closely matched these two teams were.

In 2008-09, Keane upped his production once again. He still only netted eight goals, but added 20 assists in 74 games for his best season statistically thus far with the Moose. The Moose ended the season with a record of 50-23-1-6, good for first in the AHL North Division and first overall in the AHL. In the playoffs, the Moose continued their dominance. They eliminated the Toronto Marlies in six games, the Grand Rapids Griffins in a four-game sweep, and the Houston Aeros in six games to advance to their first AHL Calder Cup Championship ever. The Moose didn't fair as well against the Hershey Bears, losing in six games, but the 2008-09 season would go down as the most successful season in Moose history to date.

Mike Keane is back for a fifth season as the Moose captain this season. Under Keane's leadership, the Moose have increased their win total each season, and have sported a record of 185-97-18-20 since he was named as captain.

So there is your history on the six men who have led the Moose thus far. Honestly, they have a pretty impressive set of accolades between them: four Stanley Cups, two Memorial Cups, two Calder Cups, two World Junior Championship gold medals, AHL Coach of the Year, and the CHL Defenceman of the Year. I'd say that the Moose have done a pretty good job in finding leaders for their team, and helping those leaders become icons in the city of Winnipeg and in the AHL.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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