DOWN IN WINNIPEG: MICHEL OUELLET

We have written articles on Michel Ouellet in the past – when he was with Tampa Bay, Winnipeg, Vancouver, and back with the Moose.

The following is a Winnipeg Sun update on his career:

LONG WAY AROUND

Past struggles keep Ouellet’s feet on ground

“Michel Ouellet is used to doing things the hard way.

Much has been made about the fact the right-winger is one of several players on the Manitoba Moose roster with a big ticket, one-way NHL contract.

Don’t worry, the money hasn’t gone to his head and his work ethic hasn’t suffered.

When you begin your professional hockey career riding the buses as a 20-year-old playing for the Wheeling Nailers of the ECHL, it’s hard to forget where you came from.

“At my first AHL training camp, there were 15 or 16 forwards and there was no room for me,” said Ouellet, who has seven goals and 26 points in 26 AHL games following a 2-1 loss to the Quad City Flames before a crowd of 6,928 at the MTS Centre last night that snapped Manitoba’s four-game winning streak. The loss leaves the Moose with a record of 21-8 heading into their five-day holiday break.

NEXT STEP

“So I went to the coast and took it as the next step. It was the long way to do it,” he said. “At the time, there weren’t many players going from the ECHL to the NHL after. But I didn’t hang my head.

“I worked hard down there. I could have gone back to junior, but it was good to play against older players who were stronger physically. In junior it was all about offence for me, but in Wheeling I learned to play on both sides of the ice and that helped me.”

After putting up 20 goals and 46 points for the Nailers in 2002-03, Ouellet got a promotion to the AHL’s Wilkes-Barre Penguins the following season, where the head coach was current Pittsburgh Penguins bench boss Michel Therrien.

Therrien would prove to be influential in Ouellet’s career as he made his way up the organizational food chain.

“He gave me the opportunity,” said Ouellet. “Every night he would get the best out of every player.”

OPENING DOORS

That would be the first of two doors Therrien helped open for Ouellet. The second came when Therrien took over from Ed Olczyk in Pittsburgh.

Shortly after that promotion, Ouellet received his own.

“He believed in what I could bring to the team and that helped me,” said Ouellet, who has 52 goals and 116 points in 190 NHL games. “It was an easier step to the NHL.”

After two productive NHL seasons with the Penguins, Ouellet became an unrestricted free agent in the summer of 2007 and signed a two-year deal with the Lightning.

The right-winger from Rimouski, Que., had 17 goals and 36 points in 64 games with the Lightning last season before being traded to the Vancouver Canucks on Oct. 6 with Shane O’Brien in a deal for Lukas Krajicek and Juraj Simek.

Ouellet has proven to be a nice fit with the Moose, spending much of the campaign on the top line.

Moose head coach Scott Arniel said Ouellet has been more physical of late and that’s helped him get back on track offensively after enduring an 11-game scoring drought.

“It’s his battle on pucks and his determination,” said Arniel. “He’s a big man and he’s hard to knock off the puck when he has it. Also, he does a good job when he moves his feet and gets in and knocks people around.

“It creates room for him and his linemates. More than anything, I think it gets him in the game. Instead of just being one of those snipers who just coasts around, it gets him involved and it gets him fired up for the games themselves.”

Moose centre Jason Krog has played alongside Ouellet for a good chunk of the season and is impressed with all-around his play.

“He’s good at both ends of the ice, he’s just a complete player,” said Krog. “He sees the ice well and on top of that he’s got that goal-scoring ability, a good shot and natural touch around the net.”

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