When faced with a unique challenge, an equally unique solution often needs to be found. The Manitoba Moose found themselves in that position for the 2021 season.
The challenge? Creating enough space for visiting NHL teams at Bell MTS Place to follow the NHL’s COVID protocols, while also needing a safe space of their own where the Moose could create their own bubble in which to compete against AHL opponents.
The solution? A move to Bell MTS Iceplex for all games and practices of their never-before-seen 17-game homestand.
That homestand that began on March 8 wrapped up on April 29, and though the move created some adjustments for the Moose, it’s something the team has been used to as they’ve navigated a very unusual season.
“It’s been a different season in so many ways,” said Moose Head Coach Pascal Vincent. “First of all, not knowing if we were going to play. Then thinking if we were going to have a season in the AHL and then knowing the schedule. The investment that management and ownership has made in order for us to play. Then the fact we had to move from downtown to here at Iceplex and play our games here. It was a lot of moving pieces to make that happen.”
Both the facility and the staff at the Iceplex had to adjust too, as one of their four rinks was closed off for the Moose full-time. That rink required several upgrades on a tight timeline prior to the first game, but Iceplex General Manager David Sattler notes it was a task the team rose to.
“The operations team here is such a great group of individuals. They’re willing to go above and beyond. You tell them what you’re thinking or what needs to be done and they take it, run with it, and they do it not only in a timely fashion but very effectively as well.”
With the Iceplex typically being a facility that accommodates amateur levels of hockey and practices for the Jets and Moose, creating an ice surface that met the standards of a professional game meant plenty more work.
“While there were obvious adjustments that needed to be made, there were also many smaller daily tasks added to the ice operations crew’s plate that often go unnoticed but are extremely crucial for the ice to be optimal for professional game play,” said Brad Andrews, Senior Director of Hockey & Business Operations for the Moose. “Everything from checking ice temperatures, to edging and checking the boards, to resurfacing the ice sheet multiple times in the lead-up to the game. All of those things were done to the same standard we take for granted at Bell MTS Place.”
Those extra steps in the ice maintenance process gave Iceplex staff plenty of learning opportunities.
“When the season started here, we only had one Zamboni driver who had actually worked a professional hockey game,” said Sattler. “He helped train three other drivers who drove their first professional hockey games this season. The ice reports have been fantastic, so his knowledge that he passed on and what they were able to learn from him about the refrigeration system here, because every place is different, was phenomenal.”
It wasn’t just the ice crew that had to adjust. Administrative staff at the facility found new roles too.
“We’re very grateful for the work of David Sattler and Iceplex Event & Marketing Coordinator Jonathan Bailey,” continued Andrews in gratitude. “They took on the roles of Facility Compliance Officers and made sure the Iceplex was a safe place to play for the Moose and our visiting teams. At least one of them was present at every game and practice to ensure that all of the protocols were being adhered to, and we are very thankful for their dedication and attention to detail this season.”
The efforts put in by Iceplex employees didn’t go unnoticed by other Moose team staff either.
“I think the experience was, all things considered, really good,” said Graham Watt, Head Equipment Manager for the Moose. “I think the Iceplex staff went above and beyond in terms of the condition of the ice and the arena itself, and made it as good as we could have, considering the circumstances.”
More than just the ice surface, Coach Pascal noted how good of a fit the whole facility was for the team.
“We have a beautiful facility here for the players and coaches. They have access to a big gym and everything you would need to run a professional hockey team right here at Iceplex. We had to adjust for the opponents, the referees and the ice crew – all the little things. Even for the people filming the games and for Hockey Communications & Broadcast Manager Daniel Fink to do the play-by-play. It’s been an adjustment for everyone. Everyone had to adapt, and everybody did it right. Our players were grateful for everything that’s been done, and I haven’t heard one single complaint.”
Admittedly, playing games in their practice facility took some getting used to, especially with the absence of that fan energy, but with everything else they needed or wanted available, it allowed them to keep their focus on the game.
“What’s unusual is the breaks – the eight- or nine-day breaks in between games,” noted defenceman Jonathan Kovacevic of the season’s unusual schedule. “But as far as the homestand, if anything it’s better. You’re just comfortable, you’ve been at home for so long. It was a little weird playing in the Iceplex at first, but it’s something we’re embracing as a group.”
Being so familiar with the space, the team made it their home and really showed their comfort level by the end of their homestand as they took home points in each of their last eight games there while winning seven of those contests.
“Guys just love to be here,” said forward Joona Luoto. “We didn’t have to travel anywhere; we could just focus on playing and working out. That’s a huge thing for us if we can just play our game and work hard.”
Last summer, Jets Hockey Development (JHD) released The Starting Lineup video and content series that featured their team of experienced instructors to allow members of the Winnipeg hockey community to get to know them a little better. As with any team, lineups change over time and JHD is no different. After welcoming then-Manitoba Moose Ticket Sales rep Brett Wur to the team on a temporary basis in summer and fall due to redeployment within True North’s organization amid the pandemic, Brett’s hockey experience made him a great fit to join the team full-time. Find out a little bit more about Brett and what he brings to the ice.
Brett Wur – On-Ice Instructor
Hockey has always been Brett Wur’s main focus when it comes to sports. The sport has taken him many places as he played three years of junior hockey – two in Manitoba and one in Ontario – before playing university hockey for several years, the majority of that at Trinity Western University in Langley, B.C. after he spent a brief period playing in the U.S. Following his university career, he played one year of professional hockey in Germany.
That focus on hockey hasn’t stopped Wur from finding balance in his athletic life. Growing up, he enjoyed playing a variety of sports.
“I played Team Manitoba volleyball for a season,” said Wur. “Being able to play multiple sports growing up really helped shape skills that I incorporate into my hockey game.”
It’s not just volleyball that Wur enjoys off the ice, and his experience in a variety of sports translates well to his new coaching role with JHD.
“You take a look at playing soccer and being able to have foot control can really translate into edge work and picking up bad passes with skates. Baseball is a great example of hand-eye coordination. You see in today’s games that defencemen are knocking down passes, you see guys tipping in goals or batting pucks out of the air into the net.”
Wur finds balance in other areas of life too, countering his passion for being at the rink with an appreciation for outdoor activity.
“Living in B.C. for four years, I really got to experience the outdoors. It was where I really fell in love with doing a lot of outdoor things – going kayaking, going canoeing, and stuff like that. It just gives you that break from the hustle and bustle that you have every day.”
For Wur, finding that balance is key in his on-ice instruction too as he aims to develop hockey players who can find success at every level, as well as off the ice.
“Being able to work defensively, but also be offensive – I really pride myself on being a two-way player. So trying to be able to incorporate that into a lot of kids at a younger age can really help them develop in all aspects of the game, in all three zones, and also in being a great team player.”
For more information on the entire JHD Starting Lineup of coaches, visit BellMTSIceplex.ca/JHDTeam.
Take advantage of the experience Wur and his fellow JHD coaches bring to the ice by signing up for their spring and summer programs at BellMTSIceplex.ca/JHDPrograms.
The Manitoba Moose are no strangers to Bell MTS Iceplex. The team runs their training camp and many of their practices and gameday skates at the facility in a typical season.
This season, however, the Moose will be getting far more comfortable at the Iceplex. After playing their first four games of the season at Bell MTS Place, the team will play the remainder of their home schedule at the Iceplex.
Though the facility is one of the best in the province in terms of minor hockey, the transition to hosting professional hockey has required some upgrades. The Iceplex’s operations team has been busy as of late, working to make improvements that meet new broadcast, technology and player safety requirements.
Among the changes made were replacing the tempered glass that sat atop the rink boards with more flexible acrylic panels, an AHL standard for player safety given the higher pace and heavier hits at the pro level. The operations crew was also tasked with redesigning the penalty box area, installing rounded acrylic corners at the benches for safety, changing the rink board advertisements to materials that won’t scuff players’ equipment, painting trapezoids into the ice behind each net and adding risers behind the benches for the coaches of each team.
“Painting new lines on an existing rink was a new challenge for us, so adding in the trapezoids was a bit of a learning curve,” said Trevor Johnston, Senior Operator at Bell MTS Iceplex. “The change from tempered glass to acrylic was a lot less stressful, however with a small team working on the project, it was far more time consuming. We had a team of two to five staff working over five days to install the new system, learning how to do it as we went. By the time it was done the rink was starting to look like an entirely different rink.”
Additionally, the team installed new shelving in several dressing rooms for visiting teams and ran extra electrical lines to those dressing rooms in order to heat and dry equipment for the players.
The transition to hosting AHL hockey has truly provided a seemingly never-ending list of to-dos for the operations team.
“The week prior to puck drop consisted of constant walk-abouts, looking for things we thought needed to be moved, changed, cleaned, or repaired. All the while, we were getting update after update from others on additional set-up, as they thought of more things they would need.”
True North’s A/V and IT teams were busy in the preparation for Moose games at the Iceplex as well, making sure that the rink met the technology and broadcast requirements of the team and league. Two new cameras, a video switcher, and many auxiliary pieces such as cables and microphones were installed to ensure the production, communications, and marketing teams were able to do their work at the facility during games.
The A/V installments have created a new versatility for the Iceplex and the A/V team that may be useful for any streaming or smaller-scale production down the road, while many of the other changes will add to the experience of future facility users – improved dressing rooms and redesigned penalty box and benches, to name a few.
Bell MTS Iceplex General Manager David Sattler stresses that the most important steps for the facility in hosting the Moose are to provide the team a safe place to play hockey.
“We of course have to meet the league’s standards and the needs of both the Moose and the visiting teams, and a big part of that is the on-ice experience for those players,” said Sattler. “Ultimately, though, the success of hosting the Moose will be measured in safety. It’s our top priority to ensure our COVID protocols provide the players and staff with a safe place to play and do their jobs.”
It’s that commitment to safety and a superior experience and the team’s ability to pivot that makes Bell MTS Iceplex one of Manitoba’s premier hockey facilities. Whether the facility’s staff are preparing to host the Manitoba Moose, one of Manitoba’s many minor hockey teams, or a one-on-one training session, their top priority is always safety and to ensure that their guests leave having received superior service.
“Our whole Iceplex team put a tremendous amount of time and effort into readying the facility to host AHL hockey,” added Sattler. “It’s a level of commitment that is just the norm around here. It might get highlighted in instances like this when we’re preparing for professional hockey games, but everybody from our housecleaning staff, to our operations staff, to our office staff put this level of effort in every day for the kids playing Timbits hockey to the youth playing AAA hockey too.”
Fans can catch all the Manitoba Moose action at Bell MTS Iceplex live with a subscription to AHLTV by visiting ahltv.com or by listening live on the Moose website at MooseHockey.com/LISTENLIVE
In the words of Bell MTS Iceplex’s Press Box Restaurant Head Chef Leonard Church, “Good company makes the food taste better.”
If that’s the case, one lucky Winnipeg family had a fantastic meal on the evening of Feb. 23. Not only were they able to cook and dine on a first-class meal alongside Church, but their company also included Winnipeg Jets centre Adam Lowry.
The evening was all courtesy of the True North Youth Foundation (TNYF). When the foundation hosted its Winnipeg Jets Gala…At Home virtual fundraising event back in December, the evening of cooking with Lowry was one of several one-of-a-kind experiences available for attendees to bid on.
In normal times, such an event would have brought the group together to cook and share the meal in-person but being in the midst of a pandemic meant the family, Lowry, and Church all had to congregate virtually via videocall. That created the need for a little more advance preparation for Church, who assembled the ingredients and prepared the meals that the group would be cooking together.
“Earlier in the day, I cut everything up, got everything portioned, and pre-cooked,” said Church. “Then we had the food delivered to their houses. They had two boxes of food each, which they could keep in the fridge until we started cooking together.”
Church found a way to ensure the same gourmet experience would deliciously translate to the virtual soiree. The main course consisted of AAA beef tenderloin steaks, pan-fried baby potatoes and honey dill carrots, while the meal started with an artisan lettuce salad featuring dried cranberries, sunflower seeds, red peppers, pickled carrots, feta cheese, and a cranberry-mango olive oil vinaigrette. A warm apple pie for dessert finished off the meal just right.
Having Lowry and his girlfriend as guest chefs/hosts for the night was a perfect fit in the eyes of Church. Their easy-going demeanour and humour made the evening enjoyable for the whole group, whether the conversation revolved around having his dad as a coach or asking him what he said to a certain ref after a missed hooking call on a breakaway.
“All of the Jets players are just regular human beings,” noted Church, who has the pleasure of cooking for and interacting with both Jets and Manitoba Moose players whenever they practice at the Iceplex. “Anytime we see the players, we say hi and they’ll share a story and things like that. Lowry in particular is a pretty funny guy – he’s always got something interesting to say.”
Church was certainly happy to facilitate the cooking and give of his time to create a fun evening and support the TNYF.
“It was just good to see other people and interact. They weren’t my family members and I could talk to them,” joked Church.
As tasty as the meal was, that interaction was clearly at the heart of the evening, especially in a time when nobody is taking social interaction for granted.
“It’s not so much just the cooking that makes it a good experience – it’s when you sit down and enjoy the meal together,” said Church. “When you’re sitting down with family or friends and you’re having that social interaction and enjoying the meal with people, the meal always tastes better.”
There’s something special about playing hockey on an outdoor rink. It’s a way of taking the game back to its roots where it all began on frozen ponds and lakes.
With public health restrictions in Manitoba continuing to prevent group training sessions at indoor facilities, the Jets Hockey Development (JHD) team that operates out of Bell MTS Iceplex will be pivoting their group sessions to an outdoor setting and utilizing a safe space for teaching and development on the NHL-sized rink at Camp Manitou.
Over the next three weekends from Feb. 20 through March 7, JHD coaches will run the Outdoor Skills Program with sessions on Saturday and Sunday each week. Though hockey skills programs are the name of the game for JHD coaches, they’re particularly looking forward to this program.
“These hockey skills sessions are going to be really significant,” said Dave Cameron, Head On-Ice Instructor and Program Manager for JHD. “First off, it’s not everyday you get to run high-level hockey training on an outdoor rink, which will be a lot of fun for us and the players. On top of that, it’s been a long time since we’ve been able to work with players in person and in groups. Coaching groups of players and seeing the improvement that happens is what fuels us to do what we do.”
Cameron and the JHD team will get to see plenty of development each weekend of the program, as four hour-long age-divided sessions will be available to hockey players born in 2004/05 through to 2010/11, with 16 spots available in each group. Each age group will get a total of six sessions throughout the program.
Having faced a long break in being able to play organized hockey, the primary goal of the camp will be to get players’ development back on track.
“There’s always a period of shaking off the rust when players have had a break from the game,” noted Cameron. “In a typical off-season, we try to eliminate that by offering plenty of programs in the summer. It’s been a totally different situation in this pandemic with public health restrictions. We’ve been able to offer online training videos along with webinars. Players and teams seem to have enjoyed the sessions and really bought into that ‘do what we can’ mentality, but at the end of the day it’s just not the same as being out on the ice together. The goal of this camp is to get players back to where they were prior to the league and facility closures.”
To get the players back to the levels they were at prior to the latest pause, the JHD coaches will be focusing on individual skill development in the camp – a hallmark of the JHD program – centered on puck control, shooting, skating, passing, and reading the play.
An individual skill development focus will prove to be important beyond just a player development aspect – it will create a safe environment for players to practice their skills as Manitoba continues to manage the COVID-19 virus. Strict health protocols will be in place for the program to ensure the safety of coaches and players alike, first and foremost through coaches and players wearing face masks at all times, whether on or off the ice. Players will also not have access to dressing room facilities at the outdoor rink and will need to arrive at the camp fully dressed aside from their skates, which they can put on at the outdoor team benches.
“We’re obviously thrilled to get back to what we love doing, but by no means can we do that at the cost of anyone’s health,” stressed Cameron. “We’ve always taken the health and safety of our players and guests seriously, and this camp will be no different. Like on a hockey team, we all have a role to play and we all need to do our part to keep each other safe.”
For more details on the Outdoor Skills Program and to sign up for the program, visit BellMTSIceplex.ca/JDHPrograms/2021OutdoorSkillsProgram.
If you have any questions about the program, please reach out to Dave Cameron at email@example.com.