Wednesday, 17 February 2016

Antler Banter: Season 1, Volume 42

After picking up a point against Toronto and giving away two points to Texas last week, the Moose needed a better effort in the second-half of the two-game set against Texas before they welcomed the sliding Chicago Wolves to MTS Centre. Chicago has had Manitoba's number all season, so the Moose would have to try and capitalize on a Chicago team that's been dealing with call-ups and poor play in recent weeks. Following that, the Moose would hit the road against Rockford where they'd have a morning game on February 17 as the IceHogs welcomed children from the area to the rink for School Day! My only hope was that the Moose wouldn't be schooled as there would be a better-than-good chance of seeing AHL All-Star Michael Leighton in this series. Let's take a look at how the Moose fared this week on Antler Banter!

Lone-Point State

This game was straight out of the 1980s with all the goals scored. Scott Kosmachuk opened the scoring just 1:09 in with his 10th of the season. Nic Petan got in on the act at 9:25 with his sixth goal, but Texas would cut the lead to one goal off Derek Hulak's goal for the 2-1 Moose lead through 20 minutes. Brenden Kichton's fifth of the season put the Moose up 3-1 at 5:32 of the second period, but the Stars would rally back. Esa Lindell scored at 8:59 and Jason Dickinson scored at 17:19 to tie the game up at 3-3 through 40 minutes.

Things came unhinged in the final frame. Ludwig Bystrom put Texas up 4-3 at the 2:59 mark. Julius Honka made it 5-3 at 6:04, and Curtis McKenzie appeared to have driven the nail in the coffin at 8:16 as Texas led 6-3. However, Manitoba wasn't done. Josh Morrissey added his third of the season at 9:58, and Nic Petan added his seventh goal at 11:56 to bring the Moose within a goal. The Moose would continue to pressure the Stars, and Julian Melchiori would dent twine to tie the game at 17:58 in what can only be described as an incredible effort from the Moose.

This game would go to overtime, but nothing was solved in the extra period so we'd need a skills competition to find a winner. Austen Brassard scored for the Moose to get things going, and Travis Morin would tie the breakaway challenge in the second round. Nic Petan couldn't beat Maxime Lagace on the third shot, and Texas would find the winner off Jason Dickinson's stick for the 7-6 shootout victory. Wowzers. Lagace picked up the win despite giving up six goals while Eric Comrie took the loss in relief of Jussi Olkinuora. Comrie stopped 11 of 13 shots in his 22:41 of work while Olkinuora stopped 17 of 21 shots he saw in 42:19 of work. With the loss in extra time, the Moose fall to 12-27-3-5 on the campaign.

Same Old Script

The Moose jumped out to a 2-0 lead after one period against the Wolves on the strength of goals by John Albert and Chase De Leo, but the Wolves rallied in the second period to tie things up. If this feels like 1996 all over again, it looked a lot like 1996 as well as the Moose, seen to the right, wore their original jerseys from the first season they arrived in Winnipeg! Man, those are exceptional jerseys! It was nice to see the Moose honouring their roots with the old IHL uniforms back on the ice.

Unfortunately, it felt like 1996 when the Chicago Wolves won this game in overtime. Danny Kristo, who played a few hours south of Winnipeg at the University of North Dakota, scored at 3:13 of the extra period to give the Wolves the 3-2 win. Jordan Binnington stopped 35 of 37 shots sent his way in the win while Eric Comrie took the loss in extra time. The Moose pick up another point, though, as their record moves to 12-27-4-5.

Wolves Get Mauled

There were thoughts that the second game of the two-game set against Chicago could be ugly, but it turned out that the Moose might be showing some signs of life, albeit months too late. Josh Morrissey and Matt Halischuk got Manitoba out to a 2-1 lead through the opening period. After a scoreless second period, Manitoba exploded for three-straight goals in the third period as Austen Brassard, Nic Petan, and Jiri Fronk put the home side up 5-1 in what I'm going to say has been Manitoba's best period of the season. A late Chicago goal couldn't bring the high of a big win down as Manitoba beat the Wolves for the first time this season by a 5-2 score. Connor Hellebuyck was outstanding in stopping 39 of 41 shots in the win while Jordan Binnington was on the losing end in this one. Manitoba improves to 13-27-4-5 with the win!

No Early Morning Blues

The Moose rolled into Rockford for a Wednesday morning game. There are always complaints about these morning games in the AHL in terms of how they disrupt a player's normal routine, but every team seems to have one of these games on their schedules. For Rockford, they were hosting kids from schools in the Rockford area at School Day with the IceHogs, so there were lots of little fans on-hand to cheer on the home side!

Tanner Kero would give them something to be excited about with his shorthanded goal just 3:52 into the game. JC Lipon would tie the game three minutes later to send the two teams into the intermission knotted up at 1-1. Manitoba would add a pair of goals from Patrice Cormier early in the second period to jump out to a 3-1 lead before Mark McNeill would pull the IceHogs within a goal. Unfortunately for those in attendance, the Moose didn't stop. John Albert made it 4-2 and Cormier would finish off the hat trick and, in turn, the IceHogs as Manitoba skated to the 5-2 victory! Kudos go out to Cormier who scored a power-play goal, an even-strength goal, and a shorthanded goal in his hat trick! Connor Hellebuyck picked up his second-straight win since his return from the Jets while Michael Leighton took the loss. The Moose see their record improve to 14-27-4-5 with the win, and move past the Iowa Wild and out of the AHL cellar with the two points!

Connor's Back

With the return of Ondrej Pavelec to the Winnipeg Jets, Connor Hellebuyck's two-way contract meant he was the odd-man out. As a result, he was returned to the Moose, and his addition to the lineup has already paid dividends for the struggling AHL club. Hellebuyck looks every bit the goaltender of the future for the Jets, so I suspect that this move might be the last time we see him in a Moose uniform. I doubt he'll be with the AHL club next season.


Because the Moose were now in a three-goalie situation, Jussi Olkinuora was re-assigned to the ECHL's Tulsa Oilers. Olkinuora has appeared in six games for the Moose with rather amateur stats in a 5.13 GAA and a .864 save percentage. While there's still hope that Olkinuora can be a solid AHL netminder, I'm not sure he's doing anything to prove he deserves another contract with the Moose. A good finish to the ECHL season will help, though.

Over And Out

The Moose also announced that they had outright released Kelly Zajac. Zajac had played in 14 games, recording one assist, but he seemed to be good at the little things the Moose needed - face-offs, penalty-killing, and veteran leadership. Here's hoping the 27 year-old will land on his feet. He's a better player than his Moose stats show.

Moving On

After recording six of eight points in their last four games, the Moose will pick up where they left off in Rockford. The second game of the two-game set goes Friday night, and there's hope that Manitoba can earn their first three-game win streak of the season. They'll drop in on Milwaukee on Saturday where they've had a ton of success, but the Admirals have certainly been playing better as of late. That should be an excellent game to see if Manitoba is indeed on the upswing. They'll close out the road trip by crashing Des Moines, Iowa for a two-game set with the Wild. If there's one team the Moose should beat this season, it's the Wild, but nothing is a given in the AHL.

If the Moose can play as well as they have over the last two games in the next four, I'd say the Moose have an excellent chance at chasing down the Binghamton Senators for 28th-overall in the league. Yes, it sounds worse than it is, but the Moose need to find small victories after their start to the season. Right now, they're playing well, and that has to continue!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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