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Quite a climb through coaching ranks for Arniel

by Risto Pakarinen
STOCKHOLM -- Scott Arniel has taken the long way to the NHL. He played over 700 games in the League with the Winnipeg Jets, Buffalo Sabres and Boston Bruins, and then spent the 1990s mostly in the International Hockey League.

He ended as a player where he started -- the 1981 second-round pick of the Jets played his final games with Manitoba Moose, and then became an assistant coach for the team when it moved to the American Hockey League.

Then he went back to his other home, in Buffalo, as an assistant coach before again returning to Winnipeg, this time as head coach of the Moose.

And Friday, 10 years after his first season as coach, he will stand behind the bench as an NHL head coach, when his Columbus Blue Jackets take on the San Jose Sharks (3 p.m. ET, VERSUS, TSN) as part of the 2010 Compuware NHL Premiere Series, and it's just fitting that his debut takes place far away from home.

But Arniel wouldn't want to be anywhere else anyway.

"I'm excited like a kid. First I get to coach my first NHL game in Europe, and we'll be back, our first home game is against the Blackhawks," Arniel said after Wednesday's workout.

He had canceled the team's scheduled practice because the team didn't return from Tuesday's game in Malmo, Sweden, until 2 a.m. Wednesday, and Arniel wanted to give the players some time to rest before they took off for a team-building exercise.

"We had eight games (in North America) in a short period of time since we had four games in five days, then another four in five days, before we got on the plane to Sweden. It's been a whirlwind for the guys," Arniel said.

The game against the Malmo Redhawks was tiring -- in more ways than one. The team was on the road for 14 hours, just as most of the players have adjusted to the new time zone. Also, playing against a second-division Swedish team in a big rink may not be exactly what Arniel had wanted three days before the NHL regular-season opener.

But he takes it all in stride.

"(Tuesday's) game was a chance for us to see another part of Sweden and to play on the big ice," he said. "The guys had fun last night and the game was probably looser than I wanted as a coach, but it's a part of the experience of being here. Some guys have never played in Europe."

"The first five minutes you saw their kids coming after us, but then we got going. Everything about last night was probably the opposite of what we've been working with for the past weeks, systems-wise and tactically, so I told the guys we'd just have to forget everything we did and get ready for Friday," he added.

Arniel took the Blue Jackets coaching job in the summer, and has been hard at work trying to instill his hockey philosophy. To make this smoother, he brought his former Moose assistant, Brad Berry, with him.

"Our style of play is up-tempo, up on our toes, tag team. Working on pressure, my big phrase is 'time and space.' Take time and space away from good players and don't let them do what they want. We've done a good job. We've been very aggressive and that's a good sign," Arniel said. "We've come a long way since the very first exhibition game, but I know that come Friday night that there will be things and moments when the tendency of the players is to step back to what they're comfortable with and some of the things they've done in the past. It's a work in progress."

The Blue Jackets are hoping to bounce back to the playoffs after a disappointing 2009-10 season that saw them finish 14th in the Western Conference.

"Everybody wants to make the playoffs, that's the goal of this business, but for us as a group, it's about the day-to-day," Arniel said. "We have to get better every day. We've got to make the right steps and we feel we have a good group here. The team is very confident of being one of the top eight teams in the Western Conference, but we have to put the work in to get there."

Step one is Arniel's first game as NHL coach.
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