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Wednesday, 1 December 2010

Antler Banter: Volume 8

Antler Banter returns today to find the Moose criss-crossing the continent as they go from west to east on their road trip. First, they played two games in Abbotsford against their division rivals in the Heat before trekking to the Windy City to battle the Chicago Wolves. Points against division rivals are always important, so this road trip would go a long way in helping the Moose move up the standings. We'll check out how the Moose are doing on this road trip. If you're looking for additional news or information on the Manitoba Moose, 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. We're off for some Hardcore Hockey!

Home Games Away From Home

The Moose have a pretty good situation whenever they find themselves traveling to Abbotsford, British Columbia. The Moose always seem to have a large crowd on-hand to support them thanks to their affiliation with the NHL's Vancouver Canucks. The crowds in Abbotsford flock to the arena to support the Canucks' up-and-coming kids, and nearly 6000 people made it down to the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre for this one.

The Moose got great goaltending once again from Eddie Lack as he stopped 25 of 26 shots on the night. Only a second-period goal by Abbotsford's Lance Bouma found its way past the Swedish netminder during regulation time. While Lack's record isn't outstanding, he does need more support in terms of goals from the team when he puts on a display like he did on Friday.

While Manitoba's lone goal on Friday came from Kevin Connauton on the powerplay, no other player looked as dangerous as Cody Hodgson. The rookie has really come on strong for the Herd during the month of November, and his seven shots-on-goal were a team-high tonight. He didn't find the back of the net, though, so that's a little disappointing, but Hodgson is showing the effort that will carry him to the Canucks' line-up in the near future.

Not much to be said in this one for the Moose as they battled the Heat to a 1-1 draw through regulation time. Abbotsford goaltender Leland Irving stole the show as he stopped 40 of 41 Moose shots through 65 minutes, and stopped three more in the shootout. Lack went 1-for-4 in the shootout, and it was all Abbotsford needed to secure the 2-1 shootout win over the Moose. With the shootout loss, the Moose drop to 10-6-2 on the season.

Cheering For The Visitors

Saturday saw an even larger crowd pack the Abbotsford Entertainment and Sports Centre as over 7000 fans showed up for a sell-out. There was a very large contingent on-hand that were pro-Moose, so the crowd was split between those who cheered for the hometown Heat and the visiting Manitoba Moose. After peppering the Heat for 41 shots the night before and coming away with a shootout loss, the Moose needed to bounce back with an identical effort, but better result.

Head coach Claude Noel went with Eddie Lack in net for the second straight night, something we've rarely seen this season thus far. However, after Lack's effort the night before, you'd hope that he could continue that magic. The good news is that Lack reproduced the same effort as he stopped 28 of 29 Heat shots on the night. Lack is showing that he is completely capable of being a top-flight goaltender in the AHL, and I'm guessing he'll get a long look at the Canucks camp next season if his play continues as well as it has.

Cody Hodgson had a strong game one night earlier, and he continued his strong play on Saturday as he had five shots in the game, and recorded the empty-net goal late in the game. Hodgson has nine goals on the season, so he has cooled off slightly, but his level of play is high and his effort is definitely showing. Hodgson is turning into a very good professional player, and it is encouraging to see his level of learning and effort being carried forward from his junior days.

Kevin Clark, Mr. "Charlie Hustle" for the Moose, had himself a great night as he worked his butt off. Clark nearly had a goal early in the game as he missed on a breakaway, but he chipped in his fourth goal of the season late in the second period with a great burst of speed down the wing and some soft hands to guide the backhander between Leland Irving's pads. Clark is the kind of energy guy that every team wants - he's quick, he scores, and he works his tail off every shift.

The Moose and Heat were tied at 1-1 after 40 minutes, and it looked like neither goalie were going to give any breaks. However, the Moose found the net twice in the third period as Bill Sweatt's fifth of the season broke the deadlock midway through the third, and Hodgson iced it with his empty-netter. The Moose recorded 35 shots in their 3-1 win as they outshot the Heat for the second straight night, and this time they came away with the victory. With the win, the Moose push their record to 11-6-2.

Old Rivalries Die Hard

The Moose traveled to Chicago to play their former IHL rivals in the Chicago Wolves on Tuesday night. There's no love lost between these former rivals, and the two teams battled hard once again at Allstate Arena. Former Moose sniper Jason Krog faced off against his former team for the first time this season as the Moose battled the youngsters in the Atlanta Thrashers' system. Unlike their IHL days, the Wolves only saw 2000 fans make it down to the arena. Yikes!

For the third straight game, Eddie Lack was sent out to the nets by head coach Claude Noel, and he looked to continue his strong play from the weekend in Abbotsford. Lack did exactly what he had done all weekend - allow one goal during regulation time. Only Jason Krog's fifth goal of the season dented the twine, and Lack's strong play earns him his third consecutive one-goal game, and third consecutive mention here on Antler Banter.

Defenceman Kevin Connauton kept up his strong play as he added fifth goal of the season on the powerplay in the second period. Connauton also tied for the team-lead with four shots on the night, and there's a lot to be excited about when watching this young man play. Much like Alex Edler and Kevin Bieksa before him, it looks like Connauton should be able to earn a spot on Vancouver's blueline if his strong play continues. His development seems to be coming along nicely, though, as evidenced by his strong play with the Moose.

Just like Friday night, the Moose outshot their opponents only to see the game go into the shootout. The Herd outshot Chicago by a 26-18 margin, but goaltender Peter Mannino played extremely well in keeping the Manitoba snipers at bay. In the shootout, Lack stopped the first four Wolves shooters, including Nigel Dawes and Akim Aliu, before Darren Haydar scored. Mannino, however, stonewalled all five shooters the Moose sent out on the ice to record the 2-1 shootout victory. If there's any consolation, the Moose are showing some great effort in these last three games, despite their record falling to 11-6-3 with this shootout loss.

The Week Ahead

The Moose visit the Milwaukee Admirals tonight for another meeting of former IHL rivals. The Moose return home to face the Oklahoma City Barons in their first-ever meeting with the newest AHL franchise on Friday and Saturday. And before the week is out, the Moose will travel to Texas to play the Stars on Tuesday night. It's a busy week for the Herd, so there has to be a concerted effort to record as many points as possible.

The Moose currently sit in fifth-place in the AHL's North Division - a place they certainly don't want to remain. While that spot in the standings sounds discouraging, there is some good news in that the Moose have played the least amount of games in the North Division thus far. Because of this, they sit just two points behind the Toronto Marlies and Abbotsford Heat for second-place in the division, and trail the Hamilton Bulldogs by seven points for top-spot while having games in-hand on all of these teams.

Because of this "games in-hand" situation, the Moose need to continue recording points whenever and where ever they can. It starts in Milwaukee, a place where the Moose haven't fared very well in their history, so any opportunity to turn that around would be ideal. Realistically, the Moose must look at the games against the Barons and Stars as two-point games so they can really vault up the standings and put some space between them and the other North Division teams.

I'm hoping the Moose will have six of eight points by the time Antler Banter rolls around next week, so there's only one thing to say: DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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