Scott Arniel's quest for the Stanley Cup
Kingston's Scott Arniel has had an illustrious hockey career, scoring a hat trick in the final game to win the Memorial Cup, capturing a Gold medal at the World Junior Championships, playing in the NHL and coaching with several pro teams.
Just don't ask him to name the highlight of all those achievements.
"I would turn that question around and ask what remains to be accomplished," the Washington Capitals assistant coach says over the phone as he was driving to the Capital One Arena for a game.
"The Stanley Cup is the one last trophy on my list to win. That's why I am so excited to be in Washington - they have an excellent team and great potential to win the Cup this year."
Indeed, the Capitals are currently among the top teams in the NHL standings. Of course, they won the Cup in 2018 for the first time in the club's 44-year history, holding the Las Vegas Golden Knights to a single victory in the finals.
Arniel joined the Capitals just after that Stanley Cup win - in August 2018. He had been an associate coach with the New York Rangers, but was let go when head coach Alain Vigneault was fired. In a sport where connections are vital, Arniel didn't know any of the coaches or managers with the Capitals.
"I got a call out of the blue from Washington. It's not too often you hear from the Stanley Cup champions to ask if you are available. They said they liked the work I had done in New York and wanted me to join." Arniel jumped at the opportunity.
Given Washington's strong play so far this season, he's cautiously optimistic about the chances of winning the Cup this year. However, he's aware that injuries or a suddenly hot team can change the equation. "The Stanley Cup is one of the toughest championships to win in professional sports. That will make it even more exciting when it does happen."
Growing up in Kingston and playing in the Church Athletic League, Arniel didn't dream about winning the Stanley Cup. "My aspiration was to the play for the Kingston Canadians - the NHL just seemed so far away."
His father Doug and some of the other parents, including Doug Gilmour's father Don, put together a team that traveled to games and tournaments across Ontario and even Boston. He had the opportunity to play for legendary coach Doc Wagar. He grew up playing with future NHLer Rik Wilson, who died suddenly in 2016 at the age of 53.
While with the Kingston Voyageurs, Arniel joined the Kingston Canadians briefly during the 1978-79 season, but that summer he was drafted by the Cornwall Royals of the Quebec Major Junior League and his career took off. Kingston scout Gord Wood was building a powerhouse team in Cornwall - Arniel joined future NHL star Dale Hawerchuk and later, Doug Gilmour.
The Royals achieved the rare feat of winning two Memorial Cups in a row, in 1980 and 1981. In the latter year, Arniel scored a hat trick in the final game against the Kitchener Rangers, which Cornwall won 8-2.
For the World Juniors, Arniel was in the right place at the right time. After Cornwall won the Memorial Cup in 1980, the team was dispatched to the junior tournament. However, it was no match for the all-star squads put together by other countries and the Royals finished out of the medals.
The following year in Minnesota, Canada's hockey gurus decided to put together a true national team. This time, Arniel helped Canada win Gold, along with Kingston Canadians goaltender Mike Moffatt.
As the players lined up for O Canada the anthem did not play over the arena's sound system - it seems that there was no recording on hand. Instead, the players sang a cappella, belting out the anthem with glowing hearts.
After a brief stint with the Winnipeg Jets in 1981-82, he joined the team full-time the following year. "Winnipeg was and still is a big part of my life. I met my wife Lia there and our kids were raised there. Those were great years and we still go back there during the off-season."
Arniel played 11 seasons in the NHL and seven more years in the American Hockey League and International Hockey League. In the NHL, he played for Buffalo and Boston, in addition to Winnipeg. He logged 730 NHL games and 555 in the AHL and IHL.
With the Houston Aeros of the International Hockey League, he had the opportunity to serve as a player/coach. After retiring as a player, he went on to coach with the Manitoba Moose. He became head coach of the Columbus Blue Jackets in 2010, but was fired after one and a half seasons. Arniel later joined the New York Rangers and then moved to his current role as an assistant coach with the Capitals.
"Being a coach is the next best thing to being a player. You get to help young players looking to stay in the league and assist experienced players in upping their game."
Arniel is loving his time coaching with the Capitals. And he still has that ultimate goal in mind - the Stanley Cup.
Arniel and his late grandfather Jimmy are both members of the Kingston District Sports Hall of Fame.