The first week of the AHL season is in the books, and the Manitoba Moose are back on the ice doing what they do best. It was a long off-season where players left, players arrived, two coaches traded spots, and the team looked to return to Calder Cup Final form for the 2010-11 season. The week saw the Moose traveling through Illinois as they made stops in Peoria to play the Rivermen, and in Rockford to play the IceHogs. For all of your Manitoba Moose news and information, don't forget to check out the Moose website. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. On to the first week of Hardcore Hockey!
You'll notice something new this season. I'm not going to break games down on a goal-by-goal basis this season. Instead, I will stick to strictly what I saw that contributed to the outcome with regards to the Moose. It will seem a little odd at first, but I feel that you can get the info on who scored at what time in which period in a number of places. What you can't get everywhere is my view on what may have caused the win or loss. But you will find that right here. Let's get it started with the Rivermen.
Mark it down: defenceman Evan Oberg scored the first goal of the season for the Moose. That might not be a historic goal or anything, but it is the first goal of the season for the Moose in their fifteenth season in the AHL.
Let's start with Tyler Weiman. The former Lake Erie Monster goaltender looked sharp in his Moose debut, but he was victimized by one deflection and one goal-mouth scramble that put the Moose behind 3-1 early into the third period. Weiman played very well, though, as he stopped 30 of 33 shots on the night. He didn't have to be spectacular, but he provided what every team needs: solid goaltending. If the Moose get that in every game this season, they won't be out of many games.
Victor Oreskovich, a player who I profiled last week, was a force on the ice. He was an assist short of the Gordie How Hat Trick, but he showed exactly what head coach Claude Noel expects: energy, tenacity, and scoring. Oreskovich is certainly a streak of energy out there, and the Moose should benefit from his presence in the lineup all season long.
Jordan Schroeder looked very confident as he begins his first full season with the Moose. Last season, we saw Schroeder play very effectively, and he continued that in his first game this season as he racked up three helpers on the night. Schroeder still seems to wander in the Moose zone at times, so he'll have to be a little better in the defensive zone. However, the Moose forward was clicking with his teammates, and he should be a leader for the Moose all season long.
Overall, the Moose played a little loose in their first game. It took a third-period rally, but goals from Oreskovich, Evan Oberg, and rookie defenceman Kevin Connauton paced the Moose to a 4-3 come-from-behind win against the Peoria Riverman. The Moose start the season with a 1-0-0 record.
The Moose visited the Rockford IceHogs on Saturday afternoon, and they looked to improve upon their winning ways. The Moose can certainly use all of the points they can get from non-divisional opponents as it appears that there might be some good competition in the AHL North Division this season. Let's check out what happened in Rockford, and who stood out on the Moose roster in this game.
I got my first good look at 6'5" Swedish goaltender Eddie Lack, and he certainly comes as advertised. The Moose goaltender is quick and big, and he certainly knows the fundamentals of goaltending as he turned away 23 of 25 shots in this contest. Again, like Weiman in the Peoria game, the Moose don't need spectacular goaltending to win games. Solid goaltending will keep Manitoba in games thanks to their offensive talent. Lack provided that on Saturday with his excellent performance.
I have to hand it to several of the new guys for their performances in this game. Lee Sweatt made a big impact as he notched a pair of goals and added an assist. Jonas Andersson, the man coming back to Manitoba in Vancouver's trade that sent Darcy Hordichuk to Nashville, made an immediate impact with his first goal of the season for the Moose early in the first period, and then added an assist later in the game. Victor Oreskovich added his second of the season in this game, and Kevin Connauton notched his second goal as well. If the Moose can continue to get these kinds of contributions, scoring should be way up compared to last season.
Sergei Shirokov looked very good in his second game of his second season. Shirokov had a goal and an assist in the game, and showed real speed up and down the boards in winning races to pucks. Shirokov will be an important player for the Moose this season if he can turn in this kind of effort on a nightly basis, and this kind of performance will go a long way in having Vancouver notice him as well. Shirokov looks far more interested in playing both ends of the ice this season, and that should score him more points for a potential call-up if he can continue with this progress.
Overall, the Moose controlled the game early as they got out to a 4-0 lead through two periods. Two quick goals by the IceHogs in the third period cut the lead to 4-2, but Oreskovich's second goal of the season iced the game at 5-2. The Moose increase their record to 2-0-0 after carving up the IceHogs in Rockford.
The Moose will welcome the Grand Rapids Griffins to MTS Centre this weekend for their home-opener. The Griffins opened their season with an 0-1-1 record, having fallen to the Abbotsford Heat in a shootout and to the Rockford IceHogs in regulation time. It will be a bit of a homecoming for Winnipegger Derek Meech as well, but I'm quite certain the Moose want to squash that party. It's a divisional matchup, and we all know how important those points are over the course of an AHL season. There are only two words I have for the Moose in terms of battling for two more wins this weekend: DO IT!
I'm sure it seems like the new guys are making an immediate impact on Moose scoring. But that leaves a few guys from last season still looking for their first points. Marco Rosa has four shots on goal, but not much else to speak of at this point. Nolan Baumgartner has one assist. Cody Hodgson hasn't recorded a point, but has three shots and two PIMs. Mario Bliznak also has three shots on goal, but he has zeroes in all the other columns.
If the Moose can get these guys going, they could be an incredible scoring unit. They are already getting great contributions from the blueline, so getting the players listed above into the scoring act will certainly make the Moose a much more potent team in the offensive zone.
It is a long season, though, so there's no need to worry just yet.
The Moose and Griffins tangle on Friday and Saturday, so get down to the box office and get your tickets! While this might be jumping the gun in a big way, the Moose seem like they could be forging a path to hockey in June this season with their performances in the first two games. There's a lot of hockey to be played, so let's get out there and cheer them on this weekend as they battle their former IHL rivals!
Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!