There are two ways the Salt Lake City Moose can look at their inaugural season in the Western States Hockey League.
One perspective sees only a record of 5-37-3, which was better than only one of the 16 teams in the league and very few bright spots to speak of.
The other view takes solace in the simple fact that there is nowhere to go but up and very little pressure on the players coming in, making it far easier to exceed expectations and prove the doubters wrong.
The latter is exactly what General Manager/Head Coach Aaron Kinslow and the Moose will attempt to do while creating a new identity this season.
Part of that identity change has already taken place, as the Moose made the move from the resort town of Park City to the capital of Utah over the summer. By relocating to Salt Lake City, the team will have more access to state of the art training equipment and two top-notch hockey facilities, making it easier to leave the season in Park City in the rearview mirror.
Kinslow chalked year one up to inexperience, not only that of his players but also of his own, as he enters the 2012-2013 season knowing what to expect and owning a better understanding of the ebbs and flows of the junior game.
One trend Kinslow wants to see his team carry over from the 2011-2012 season, is their hard work and tenacity from the start until the finish, often times without a full lineup available.
Even while getting blown out of games, the Moose were known for never giving up and playing until the final buzzer. With nothing left to play for late in the season, they had their best showing of the year in a 12-1 shellacking of the Dallas Snipers. It may be a small token but it speaks volumes about the players that stuck with Kinslow and left everything they had on the ice, regardless of their place in the standings.
Feeding off the lack of respect they're certain to face from opposing teams will be a key piece of their motivation throughout the year and don't be surprised if the Moose jump up and bite a few of the big dogs.
Players Moving Up:
When reviewing a team's season, people are very quick to look at just wins and losses but what they often fail to take into account, is that the WSHL is a developmental league and moving players on is the name of the game.
Kinslow understands this concept fully and although he would have loved to win a few more games, he is more concerned with developing his players and eventually helping place them into college hockey.
From last season's squad, Conor Matsen has heeded east to play at Worcester State University, while Danny Hosmer returns home and will play at the Dakota College at Bottineau, a perennial power at the junior college level.
Three players have returned to bolster a forward group that Kinslow is rebuilding with an emphasis on speed, as the Moose will play their home games on an Olympic size ice sheet.
Anthony Mancini and Zach Jewby, a converted defenseman, are both returners who skate well and like to get in on the fore-check and make some noise.
Hulking winger Igor Nomokonov returns as well and although he isn't a burner, his big frame blocks out light in front of the net.
Cole Corson is a kid out of Seattle that Kinslow brought in and he's expected to play top-six minutes immediately.
He's also dipped into the new eight-import rule and has acquired a couple of highly skilled Czech forwards, who should benefit from playing on the big ice surface.
Kinslow is still putting his puzzle together up front but the group should be much improved, with a solid blend of veterans and rookies.
Kinslow got a big boost on the backend with the return of captain Nolan Matsen.
He's known as a solid leader, whose rugged play will help set the tone for the new players.
Also returning is Austin Teel, who collected 13 points in 43 games last season and is not a liability in his own end.
Eli Bowman played just three games for the Moose last season but will see an expanded role this year, as he continues to grow.
Kinslow has also nabbed another smooth skater in Russian-born defenseman Artem Savelyev, who will use his skill to make use of the extra room.
Lastly, David Barnes is a local kid who Kinslow hopes will develop into a steady two-way defenseman.
Don't bother looking at Alex Burdekin's statistics from last season; they won't do the kid any justice.
The Minnesota native had very little help last season and saw over 1,200 shots while starting 30 of the Moose' 46 games.He is generously listed at 5'9" 165 pounds but the kid does not give up on the play and makes huge saves look routine. If he can get some help this season, he'll be able to steal some games for the Moose.
Kinslow has plenty of faith in Burdekin but he has also acquired two solid backups in Daniel Winner and Talon Miller, who can step in and give Burdekin some much-deserved rest.
There are plenty of new teams in the league that the Moose would love to play but unfortunately for them, their competition has only gotten tougher, as they made the move to the new Northwest Division.
They join three of the most dominant teams in Tier III junior hockey over the last few years in the Seattle Totems and Southern Oregon Spartans, who moved over from the NORPAC and the Thorne Cup Champion Idaho Jr. Steelheads.
Making the jump with the Moose is the nearby Ogden Mustangs, who the Moose have created a nice little rivalry with.
Kinslow and Co. also have a few tough non-divisional series, including three to open the season in Fresno against the powerful Monsters.
Kinslow isn't concerned with the schedule or what happened last year however, as he's more interested in building his team into a contender.
He vows we'll see a much improved, better structured team, that will continue to do what they did last season and put forth their best effort every night.
Brent Maranto is the Director of Communications for the Western States Hockey League