The Manitoba Moose are a minor league professional hockey franchise that plays in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada. The Moose compete in the North Division of the American Hockey League (AHL)'s Western Conference.
The franchise traces its origin to a completely different city and league, beginning play at the International Hockey League (IHL)'s Minnesota Moose. After playing two seasons, the team left St. Paul for Winnipeg, mostly due to low attendance. You can't blame fans for not showing up -- the team failed to break .500 or win a playoff game. The second and final season in St. Paul was miserable, as the team finished with the second-worst record in the league and was outscored 332-254.
The franchise's arrival in Winnipeg was lukewarm at first, as the team could hardly be expected to fill the void left by the recently-departed Winnipeg Jets (since moved south to become the Phoenix Coyotes). The Moose helped to ease the transition by signing former Jets Scott Arniel and Randy Gilhen as players and Randy Carlyle as a coach.
The club started their first season in Manitoba by repeating past failures, which led the the firing of head coach Jean Perron and the promotion of Carlyle. By the end of that season, the Moose began showing life. The club made the playoffs the next year, due in part to the addition of goalie Fred Braithwaite, bowing out to rival Chicago Wolves in the first round.
The 1998-99 campaign was the best-ever to the club. The team put together stellar years from unlikely heroes Bill Bowler, Scott Thomas, defenseman Brett Hauer and goalie Richard Shulmistra (all career minor-leaguers) to post a team-record 108 points. After defeating the Milwaukee Admirals in the opening round of the playoffs, the Moose fell to the Wolves once again.
The Moose finished the 1999-2000 season seven games over .500, but completed the largely lacklustre season by being swept by the Long Beach Ice Dogs in a best-of-three playoff season. The team improved for the 2000-01 season, coaxing decent seasons out of forwards Steve Brule and Dan Kesa. The standout player, however, was goaltender Johan Hedberg. The unfortunate reality of minor league sports is that successful players are quickly promoted to higher levels; thus it was no surprise that Hedberg was traded to the Pittsburgh Penguins organization. It was more of a suprise that Hedberg (nicknamed "Moose" by Pittsburgh fans because his facemask still bore the Moose's name and logo) sparked the Penguins to an improbable playoff run that year. Robbed of their #1 goalie, the Moose still made it to the Western Conference finals, where they lost to the Wolves one final time.
At the end of the 2000-01 season, the IHL folded. In a twist reminescent of the Jets' move after the demise of the World Hockey Association in 1979, the Moose were absorbed into the AHL along with the Admirals, the Utah Grizzlies, the Houston Aeros, the Grand Rapids Griffins and the hated Wolves. The Moose entered a format agreement to be the farm team for the National Hockey League (NHL)'s Vancouver Canucks. The Moose were unofficially merged with the now-defunct Kansas City Blades (previously the Canucks' farm club), with much of the roster for the 2001-02 season being composed of Canucks prospects and Blades holdovers. Randy Carlyle was given a front office job, and the reins of the team were handed to former-Canuck Stan Smyl (perhaps as compensation for having to wear the old black, red and yellow Canucks 'V' jerseys in the 1970s).
The Moose salvaged a playoff spot in their inaugural AHL season, advancing to the second round before submitting to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. THe club regressed in the next two seasons, bowing to Hamilton in the first round in 2002-03 and missing out on the postseason in 2003-04. In 2004-05, the team made it deepest advance into the payoffs, advancing to the league semifinals before being swept by Chicago. And in 2005-06, the club was bounced in the second round by Grand Rapids.
For their first seven seasons, the Moose played their home games at the Winnipeg Arena, but the club moved to the new MTS Centre (located in downtown Winnipeg) in 2004. The Moose arguably have the team mascot with the second most regretable name ever: Mick E. Moose.
Manitoba Moose - http://www.moosehockey.com/
moosefans.com - http://www.curtiswalker.com/moose/history.asp
The Internet Hockey Database - http://www.hockeydb.com