Jets have no worries about lead farmhand

Class may no longer be in session for Pascal Vincent, at least not in the usual sense with the hockey season currently on indefinite pause due to COVID-19.

But the man tasked with leading the next generation of Winnipeg Jets prospects is staying busy these days, helping to home-school his nine-year-old daughter while also reflecting on the valuable lessons learned over an eventful season at the helm of the Jets’ AHL team, the Manitoba Moose.

“Their patience is off the charts, way better than mine. And they’re underpaid, big time,” Vincent told me Monday of what he’s learned about teachers during this pandemic while watching their daily Zoom calls.

“They’re really, really good at repeating their message and staying patient and their ability to go into details. I’m learning quite a bit from them, actually.”

That’s high praise, especially coming from someone who knows a thing or two about shaping young minds. Vincent’s area of expertise isn’t math or geography, but the X’s and O’s associated with professional hockey.

Vincent gets more than just a passing grade in that respect. He is the perfect man for the job, a key cog in the organizational pipeline who did some of his finest work this season despite an overall record of 27-33-1, which would be an unfair measuring stick in this case. 

Consider: Jets training camp began with a bang, with Dustin Byfuglien’s retirement bombshell having a trickle-down effect that meant one less blue-liner would be on the Moose roster. Then came the loss of Vincent’s No. 1 netminder, Eric Comrie, to a waiver-wire pickup by the Arizona Coyotes, a move Vincent described as feeling like they’d “lost a leg” given the veteran goalie’s important role on the team, both on and off the ice. 

They eventually got Comrie back, only to have top scorer Jansen Harkins get called up to the big club, never to be seen in the AHL again. Moose captain Peter Stoykewych went down in November with a major injury that would cost him the rest of his season. Top blue-liner Sami Niku seemingly couldn’t stay healthy, either. 

Numerous injuries among the Jets meant a revolving door with the Moose, with Harkins, Niku, Mason Appleton, Logan Shaw, Kristian Vesalainen, Joona Luoto (prior to suffering a season-ending injury), Andrei Chibisov, C.J. Suess, Cam Schilling, Nelson Nogier, David Gustaffson and Ville Heinola (prior to returning to Finland) all coming in and out of the lineup at various points. 

Add it all up and a whopping 40 players (36 skaters, four goaltenders) suited up for at least one Moose game this season. And that was before the coronavirus shutdown, with 15 games left on the Moose regular-season schedule that likely aren’t going to get played. The AHL, like the NHL, hasn’t officially cancelled at this point, with the possibility of summer hockey on the horizon. 

“A weird season in so many ways. One that I hope we never experience again,” is how Vincent described it to me. 

The personable 48-year-old native of Laval, Que., checks off all the boxes an NHL club would want from someone in charge of their top prospects. Vincent has done that for the past four seasons after spending his first five years in Winnipeg as an assistant coach with the big club, first under Claude Noel and then Paul Maurice. 

Vincent is an astute mind who can relate to young players, after spending five years as a player in the QMJHL, then a combined 11 years as a head coach with the Quebec major-junior league’s Cape Breton Screaming Eagles and the Montreal Juniors before getting his first NHL gig the year the Jets returned to Winnipeg. 

He’s a great communicator and is very much on the same page with the Jets in terms of implementing systems and a consistent message of what it takes to get to the next level, and then stick. That’s something Maurice has brought up numerous times this season.

“When there’s player movement, there’s no adjustment other than the speed of the game. But the hockey language is the same, the terms, the way we do things, how we prepare before morning skate, during the morning skates. There’s no adjustment, just a different logo on the front of their jersey,” said Vincent. 

Vincent’s track record is impressive on that front, given the number of former Moose players who have become regulars with the Jets. Forwards Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic and defenceman Tucker Poolman are the three biggest success stories to date, with Appleton, Harkins and Niku all knocking on the door for full-time work at that level.

That’s significant for a draft-and-develop franchise such as Winnipeg, which had 14 homegrown talents on their roster when the NHL season was paused last month. 

Vincent told me he’d love to get back to the NHL but only if it’s as a head coach, which is his ultimate goal. And if that doesn’t come to fruition or takes a long time, he’s more than happy to remain with the Moose for the foreseeable future.

For that reason, you can probably rule him out from returning by Maurice’s side, now that former assistant coach Todd Woodcroft has taken a college head coaching job in Vermont. Vincent is far more valuable to the organization right now mentoring the Moose. 

“The relationship we’ve built over the years and the ways we’ve been treated by everybody, not just the organization but by the community, has been amazing,” said Vincent, whose wife has been working long days recently in the health-care field.

“I don’t just like the people I work with, I love the people I work with. And its not that we always agree, we don’t, but we disagree respectively. Every morning I get up and get to coach hockey and work with amazing people. I feel very, very lucky.”

True North should also feel fortunate to have Vincent in the fold. With him at the helm of the Moose, the Jets’ future appears to be in good hands. 

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
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Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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