As any business traveler knows, the comforts of home are impossible to replicate. Like the executives who hop from hotel to meeting to restaurant and back again, professional hockey players eagerly anticipate the end of each wearisome road-trip and the return to the home dressing room, hometown fans, and home-cooked meals.
Yes, the advantages of home-ice advantage are numerous – even more so when birthplace and workplace are intertwined.
Such is the case for two Manitoba Moose players. Born and raised in the keystone province, Captain Mike Keane and forward Colby Genoway spent many a minor hockey season trudging their gear in and out of southern Manitoba’s chilly community rinks. A Winnipeg native, 40-year-old Keane would eventually exchange his tiny Sir John Franklin Explorers jersey for three Stanley Cup rings before heading back to the AHL to play for the Moose. While Keane was earning his keep with the Montreal Canadiens in the early 90’s, Genoway was learning the basics – and braving the cold – in the farming town of Morden, MB.
Although the offensive forward is a local boy to local hockey fans, it took five years for Genoway to complete the trip from Morden to Winnipeg. After graduating from high school in 2002, three seasons with the University of North Dakota Fighting Sioux culminated in a contract with the New York Rangers in the spring of 2005 and four games with the club’s AHL affiliate, the Hartford Wolfpack. 26 goals and 35 assists highlighted an explosive rookie season with Harford in 05-06, after which Genoway packed his bags for Portland to join the Anaheim Ducks organization in 06-07.
The Moose, meanwhile, always kept an eye on the man from Morden. “I thought we were going to get him out of college, but at the last minute, the Rangers got involved. They were an NHL team, so they got their foot in the door instead of us,” Manitoba GM Craig “Zinger” Heisinger remembers. “Last year, when it was evident that Anaheim was going to move him, I think it was inevitable that he was going to end up here.”
In late January of this year, the Vancouver Canucks acquired Genoway and assigned him to Manitoba. Though friends, family, and fans extended a warm Winnipeg welcome to the 23-year-old, Moose management wanted to see scoring – and Genoway failed to deliver. In 32 games with the Moose in 06-07, the Morden native scored only one goal and 11 assists in the regular season and two points in 13 playoff games – a far cry from the numbers he posted as a rookie with Hartford.
“Since his last few years in North Dakota, he’s been going in the right direction in our minds,” Zinger says. “But there was a time last year when I thought we were wrong.”
That time has passed. After last year’s ‘off’ season and a committed off-season, Genoway is unquestionably ‘on’ in 07-08. A strong showing in Canucks training camp and a dominant pre-season with the Moose ushered in a red-hot start for Manitoba’s #29. Buoyed by a four-game goal-scoring streak and three multi-point games, Genoway has posted eight points in nine games for Manitoba – only four points shy of his entire offensive contribution with the Moose last season, and good for second spot on the Moose leaderboard.
What’s different this time around? For Genoway, it’s obvious: “It’s just been a better start for me,” he says. But Zinger offers insight into how the playmaker has picked up his game.
“Last year he didn’t bring a whole lot, but this year he brings versatility,” the Moose GM says. “That’s what we expected when we got him. He scored 30 goals in his first year in Hartford, and we expect him to provide offensive production and to be a good guy in our room. He can play the wing, he can play center, and he gives you another element in that he can play the point in the powerplay. He did that in college, and although he hasn’t done it that much here, I would suggest that with the injury to Ryan Shannon, he’s going to get that opportunity now.”
Opportunities and ice time are all Genoway needs to make his mark. As a kid in Morden, he remembers “You always made the team because there was only one team. You got to play a lot more and got a lot of ice time because you only had 12 kids on the team.”
Though it’s impossible to compare the pressures of pro hockey with Morden’s minor-hockey program, Genoway appreciates how lucky he is to play so close to home. “It just worked out nicely that way,” the soft-spoken small-town boys says. “It’s always nice to play close to home and around friends and family.”
According to Zinger, it’s also nice to have a few Manitoba-born players on the Moose roster. “If a player is from here, it’s a factor in our decision to sign them. I wouldn’t say it’s a huge factor, but I mean, if they’re from Manitoba, it’s a checkmark rather than an X.”