WINNIPEG - Manitoba Moose head coach Scott Arniel and goalie Cory Schneider had one thing in common after reviewing a challenging American Hockey League season.
Both said Tuesday they hoped their efforts would bring them an opportunity to jump to the NHL ranks next season. The Moose were eliminated by the Hamilton Bulldogs Sunday in Game 6 of the North Division semifinal best-of-seven series.
It closed out a trying season in which the Moose had 54 players hit the ice because of injuries and call-ups to the NHL Vancouver Canucks and barely grabbed a playoff spot with a 40-33-7 record.
"I think that I've gone through some real good experiences that have made me a better coach," Arniel, 47, said after his final team meeting.
"I will say that, yeah, if there's some (NHL) teams that are interested, I'll talk to some teams."
Arniel was last season's AHL coach of the year and led his team to the Calder Cup final, which it lost to the Hershey Bears in six games.
He garnered interest for NHL head-coaching vacancies at that time, but said he didn't feel he was ready to take the next step.
Now he does.
"I know it's a daunting task to be an NHL head coach, but I look at some of the other guys (who have moved up) and you say, 'OK, you know I think I can do what they're doing as well,"' said Arniel, who just finished his fourth year with the Moose.
There are currently four open NHL head-coaching jobs: Atlanta, Columbus, New Jersey and Tampa Bay.
Arniel has two years left on his contract with the Canucks organization and noted any NHL job inquiries would have to go through Vancouver GM Mike Gillis.
While Arniel's coaching skills were tested this season, Schneider consistently performed well.
Considered one of the main reasons the Moose even made it to the playoffs, the third-year pro went 35-23-2 during the regular season with a 2.51 goals against average, beating his old franchise record for wins in a season.
The 24-year-old believes he improved this season and his resume is good enough for a promotion.
"I want a chance to play somewhere in the NHL, just to be given the opportunity to succeed and if I do that go from there," said Schneider, who was last season's AHL goalie of the year.
"I'm hoping to take the next step in my career and prove that I can play at the next level."
Schneider will go to Vancouver on Wednesday to practise with the Canucks. Five or six Moose teammates will follow.
He becomes a restricted free agent on July 1 and the Canucks have the right to match any offer made for him from another team. Vancouver drafted him in the first round (26th overall) in the 2004 NHL entry draft.
When he watches young NHL starting goalies such as Chicago's Antti Niemi and Boston's Tuukka Rask succeed, it makes him more hungry to follow in their footsteps.
"Those are guys, my peers, that I've played against and won games against and competed against, so if they can do it then it makes me think that I can do it as well," said Schneider, who played in a career-high 66 AHL games this season.
"Sometimes all you need is an opportunity and if I get that chance and I drop the ball and I don't do well, it's on me. That's all you want as a player, is a chance."
If Vancouver signs and then trades him he'd see that as an opportunity, but he'd also view backing up Canucks goalie Roberto Luongo next season as a "big step."
He'd like to see Arniel take the next step, too.
"I think he's grown a lot and he's really helped me out in my career and I think a lot of guys can say that as well," Schneider said.
"He's done a lot at this level. He's done it with a full roster, empty rosters, turnover, familiarity, so he's done it all down here."
Moose captain Mike Keane just finished his 22nd pro season and has decided he'd still like to play if it's in Manitoba and Vancouver's plans.
"It's still a great game. We had fun," the 42-year-old forward said.
"Obviously a disappointing way we ended it, but there's so many positives from this year that you can take from it."
One of those positives was Schneider.
"Is he an NHL goalie? I guess we'll have to wait and see, but he's too good for this league," Keane said.
"He's, I think, dominated the last couple of years. Is he going to beat out (Luongo)? Probably not. But is he a No. 1 for a different team? Absolutely."