‘So excited for this honour,’ new Winnipeg Jets head coach Scott Arniel says

Scott Arniel’s four-decade journey in the NHL has put him into the uniforms of three different teams and behind the bench for four others, but it has now come full circle.

He was drafted as an 18-year-old rookie by the first iteration of the Winnipeg Jets, chosen with the first pick in the second round — 22nd overall — in 1981. He immediately started playing for the team, along with a fellow member of that draft class, Dale Hawerchuk, who was chosen first overall. 

“A lot of firsts have happened here,” the 61-year-old from Kingston, Ont., said Monday during his first news conference as the Jets head coach. “I met my wife here, my kids were raised here, and I got to obviously play my first professional games here.

“And I got to retire here at the end at the end of my [playing] career, but it was also the start of my coaching career. I got to cut my teeth here.”

Arniel was named head coach on Friday in a news release, but Monday was the first time he met the media as bench boss.

“This is an extremely special day for me. I’m so excited for this honour,” he said, thanking the ownership and management group “for having the belief that I can get the job done.”

A hockey player in blue and red skates on a rink
Former Jets left-winger Scott Arniel, seen here in a Jan. 1, 1991, game, played his first five NHL seasons with the Jets before heading to Buffalo in 1986. He returned to Winnipeg for the 1990-91 season. (Mike Powell/Getty Images)

He then took a moment to give a shout out to his mom in Kingston, who will soon turn 90 and was watching the event’s livestream back home.

“She just wishes that we’d have more Winnipeg Jet games on in Kingston instead of the Toronto Maple Leafs.”

Arniel served as Jets associate coach for the past two seasons, being mentored by head coach Rick Bowness. His promotion comes almost three weeks after Bowness announced his retirement.

It’s Arniel’s second go as an NHL head coach. He served in that role for the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2010.

Before that, he had a successful stint as head coach for the Manitoba Moose, then part of the International Hockey League and the affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks.

Arniel caught the attention of Columbus after leading the Moose to the IHL’s best regular season record in 2008-09 and a berth in the Calder Cup finals, which earned him coach of the year honours.

But after only 1½ seasons in Columbus, Arniel was fired in January 2012.

He’s learned a lot from many great coaches, management teams and players since then, he said.

“It’s helped me to kind of reshape how I want to coach. It’s all part of that next step.”

He filled in for Bowness three times over the past two seasons in Winnipeg, posting a 15-7-3 record, including 10-5-2 this season.

That has boosted his confidence in what he can do as a coach, Arniel said.

“Two years ago we started to build the foundation of how we wanted to look, how we wanted to play,” he said, referring to when he, Bowness and the other new staff put their stamp on the team, most visibly by stripping Blake Wheeler of the captaincy.

“There was a lot of work to be done. We’ve had to change the culture. We had to work on the leadership. We had to raise the standards here with our hockey club and … what we did this year was special.”

The team finished in fourth place overall in the 32-team NHL and set franchise records for road wins (25), winning streak (eight games, twice), and points streak (14 games). Their 52 wins matched the franchise record set in 2017-18.

But their playoff run was cut short in the first round. The Jets were pushed from the post-season by Colorado in just five games.

“There’s some things that we obviously have to improve on, but at the same time, we’ve made some great strides, and I really believe the best days are ahead of us,” Arniel said. “We want to become an elite team always.”

Ultimately, the goal is to win the Stanley Cup — something Arniel said he’s been chasing his whole life.

He also gave kudos to the fans, not only for how loud they are at the home rink, but also on the road.

“It’s so cool on the road when that national anthem gets played and you hear the ‘true north’ yelled out. You can feel the support all over the country,” he said.

Arniel played his first five NHL seasons with the Jets before heading to Buffalo in 1986. He returned to Winnipeg for the 1990-91 season, then split the next year between the Boston Bruins and their minor league affiliates.

The remainder of his playing career was spent in the minors, including the final three seasons with the Manitoba Moose, serving a time as captain. He retired following the 1998-99 season.