Wednesday, 17 March 2010

Antler Banter: Volume 20

I hope everyone is enjoying St. Patrick's Day today whether you're Irish or simply looking for the luck of the Irish! Speaking of looking for luck, Antler Banter is back today with the win-lose Moose. Manitoba welcomed the Rockford IceHogs to MTS Centre for a couple of games this past weekend before getting themselves ready for a big week as the stretch run begins in the march towards the Calder Cup Playoffs. As always, you can get all of your Manitoba Moose news and information on the Moose website. If you're interested in attending a Manitoba Moose game, please click here for seating information, ticket pricing, and availability. Let's look at Rockford versus Manitoba's Hardcore Hockey!

Pope And Schenider Rock Rockford

I had suggested that the Moose might want to start grabbing points from where ever they could to help them catch both Abbotsford and Rochester as they look to avoid Hamilton in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs. While Rockford was no pushover, the Moose would need at least a split against this tough opponent on Friday night. Cory Schneider got the start for the Moose while Hannu Toivonen earned the start for Rockford.

Rockford came out of the gates strong, peppering Schneider with shots through the first six minutes before the Moose got a shot on Toivonen. Sitting in my seat, it just felt like this might be one of those games where the Moose's opposition puts on a clinic.

However, the Moose earned a turnover just past the 13:00 mark, and turned it into a goal. Hannu Toivonen coughed up the puck behind the net to Marco Rosa in the right corner, and Rosa gained possession against Brian Connelly. He eventually shoveled the puck out to Pope on the left side of the net, and Pope's shot somehow got underneath Toivonen and into the net. A relatively harmeless shot by Pope turns into a goal - a clear sign that Manitoba can generate goals if they shoot the puck. With Pope's second goal of the season, the Moose had the 1-0 lead at 13:16 of the first period.

10 seconds later, Rockford's Jake Dowell was sent off for tripping, and the Moose sent out their powerplay unit. It took almost the full two minutes, but the transition game for Manitoba netted them another goal. Marco Rosa picked up a loose puck at the blueline and made an outstanding move, undressing former Moose defenceman Nick Boynton to create some space. From just inside the blueline, Rosa fed a streaking Matt Pope in the slot, and Pope went upstairs glove-side as Toivonen went down. With the powerplay goal, Pope had three on the season, and the Moose were out to a 2-0 lead at the 15:23 mark.

This game could have been much different at the first intermission if not for Cory Schneider and Matt Pope. Rockford outshot Manitoba 12-6, but Pope scored two goals on two shots, and the Moose had the advantage at the first break.

Early into the second period, Nathan McIver was given two minutes to think about the high-sticking infraction for which he was whistled, but the Moose were the team to capitalize. Matt Pettinger was able to get around David Phillips before going outside and gaining a step on Brian Connelly. From the left face-off dot, Pettinger ripped a wrist shot to the far post that Toivonen couldn't stop, giving Pettinger his 14th goal of the season, shorthanded. With just 3:56 gone in the period, the Moose were out to a 3-0 lead. That spelled the end of Toivonen's night as he only stopped six of nine shots. Corey Crawford took over in net for the IceHogs.

2:02 later, Crawford was victimized by the Moose. Newcomer Peter Olvecky skated the puck into the left face-off circle before dropping a pass back. Marco Rosa teed up the drop pass which was stopped, but he followed up on his own rebound and deposited the puck into the net as Crawford couldn't recover from the first shot. With no chance to stop the shot, the Moose jumped out to a 4-0 lead on Rosa's 20th goal of the season.

At the 13:37 mark, the Moose struck again. Some good cycle work on the half-boards and in the corner by Lawrence Nycholat and Guillaume Desbiens resulted in Desbiens feeding the puck out to Yan Stastny in the high slot area. Stastny's low wrist shot found its way through Crawford's five-hole on a goal that Crawford appeared to want a do-over on. However, the goal was good, and Stastny had his 11th of the season, and first as member of the Herd, to give the Moose a 5-0 lead.

Rockford got one back before the end of the period, though. Matt Keith was pokechecked by Travis Ramsey at the top of the crease, but the puck went straight to Pete MacArthur on the left side. Apparently, everyone forgot about Keith, who had just cut across the top of the crease, as three Moose defenders got caught watching MacArthur. MacArthur made a slick pass past the Moose defenders to the wide-open Keith, and he buried an easy goal. Keith's 19th goal of the season at 19:06 made it 5-1 in favour of the Moose.

Credit Manitoba for peppering Rockford in that period as they outshot the IceHogs 15-7 to take a 21-19 lead in the game. Schneider did make a number of incredible stops in that period, though, including one on Jack Skille from point-blank range that had "goal" written all over it. Again, Schneider was stellar, and the Moose led with confidence going into the third period.

There wasn't a lot of action in the third, but Schneider kept the goaltender highlights rolling with several additional key saves. The Moose added one more when newcomer Peter Olvecky picked David Phillips' pocket as Phillips was rounding his own net, and Olvecky had an easy wrap-around goal. Olvecky's 12th goal of the season, and first with the Moose, made it a 6-1 game at 14:13 of the third period.

Schneider was outstanding in this game, and really made it easier on his team with his play. Of course, it's nice to get one of your scoring lines going, and Pope, Rosa, and Olvecky combined for four goals and eight points in this game. Better yet, the Moose and IceHogs tied in shots with 29 apiece, showing that the Moose can win if they hold their opponents to a reasonable amount of shots while getting pucks of their own on net. With the win, Manitoba pushes its record to 33-28-5-1.

I Sense A Pattern Here

Manitoba held their Military Tribute Night on Saturday, and wore special jerseys to mark the occasion. Honestly, these jerseys might be their best promotional jersey in their history, and they looked fantastic on the ice. I really like the Canadian Military crest in place of the logo as a tribute to the men and women of the Armed Forces. The back of the jerseys featured the Canadian Navy's 100th Anniversary patch and the yellow ribbon for all of the troops serving abroad right now. A very classy uniform, and one that all Moose fans should take pride in.

Back to the game as Cory Schneider started for the Moose while Corey Crawford got the start for Rockford.

Just past the halfway point of the first period, we had our first goal. With Manitoba's Evan Oberg sitting in the box for holding, the IceHogs' powerplay went to work. Bryan Bickell's fanned on his shot from the slot, but got enough of it to slide it forward. Matt Keith redirected it to the left side of the crease where a pinching Richard Petiot wasn't picked up by a defender, and he buried it behind Schneider. Petiot's seventh goal of the season came on the powerplay at 10:05, giving Rockford the 1-0 lead.

The Moose were handed a powerplay at 11:53 when Danny Bois was sent off for interference. Jassen Cullimore couldn't clear the puck past Matt Pettinger in the slot, and the puck bounced to Michael Grabner at the right side of the net. Grabner couldn't put the puck under a sprawled Crawford, but the puck squirted loose to Guillaume Desbiens at the top of the crease. Desbiens had a couple of whacks at the puck before it wound up in the back of the net. Desbiens' 14th of the season came on the powerplay at 12:16, and the Moose pulled even at 1-1.

The Moose jumped out in front with 2:48 to go. After a Mike Keane face-off win in the offensive zone, Nathan McIver's point shot appeared to have been deflected by Desbiens with his skate across the crease to Mario Bliznak. Bliznak looked like he swept the puck into the yawning cage, but it was Desbiens who was credited with the goal. Either way, the Moose has the 2-1 lead going into the locker room, but it was Desbiens with his 15th of the season.

The second period saw Rockford start the period with a flurry of shots on Schneider. Mike Keane took an interference penalty at 2:52 as Rockford was buzzing the Moose zone, so it was back to the powerplay for the IceHogs. It became a two-man advantage when Guillaume Desbiens was sent off slashing, so the Moose were in tough.

The IceHogs showed some great passing as Kyle Greentree fed Bryan Bickell in the corner. Bickell one-timed the pass to Bracken Kearns in the slot, who one-timed a shot on Schneider. Schneider got enough of it to keep it out, but the rebound landed right in front of Kyle Greentree who has nothing but net to shoot at. Count it, and give Greentree 23 goals on the season. Rockford was even at 2-2 with that powerplay goal.

At 6:50, the IceHogs caught the Moose in a line change, and made them pay. Evan Brophy and Matt Keith broke in on Nathan McIver on a two-on-one. Brophy fed the pass across to Keith who immediately returned it to Brophy as McIver keyed in on Keith. Brophy made no mistake as he ripped a low wrist shot from the left hash marks just over Schneider's pad to dent to the twine. Brophy's 13th of the season gave the IceHogs a 3-2 lead.

Mike Brennan and Dusty Collins went toe-to-toe at 7:35 after Collins stuck out a knee. Brennan got the instigator, so he was done for the game, but Collins received two for kneeing and a ten-minute misconduct for his actions. Honestly, the fight wasn't very good, and both players received exactly what they should have received. Collins made a dumb play on the kneeing call, and Brennan deserved the instigator.

The IceHogs absolutely dominated the second period, outshooting Manitoba by a 14-3 advantage to lead 24-16 overall. Again, had it not been for Cory Schneider, this game could have been a blowout.

Another two-man advantage cost the Moose early in the third period. With Keane off for high-sticking at 2:31 and McIver off for holding at 3:15, the IceHogs increased their lead. With the extra room, Bickell fed Jack Skille along the goal line on the left side of the net. No one approached Skille, so he stepped out in front of Schneider and went up under the crossbar in a hurry on Schenider's stick side. Skille's 21st of the season came on the powerplay, and the IceHogs had a 4-2 lead at 4:08 of the third period.

Late in the period with the IceHogs on a delayed penalty, the Moose got one back. Tom Galvin's point shot deflected to the half-boards on the left wing. Lawrence Nycholat picked up the puck and fired it on net. The puck came to rest on the right side of the crease where Michael Grabner was standing, and he tapped in an easy goal. Grabner's 15th of the season at 18:18 made it 4-3 for Rockford.

However, the Moose were victimized by Rockford twice with the empty net. Kyle Greentree scored his 24th of the season at 19:14 and Danny Bois scored his ninth of the season at 19:54 to seal the deal as a 6-3 win for the IceHogs.

The score isn't truly indicative of the play of the Moose as they really played well when they weren't sitting in the penalty box. However, three powerplay goals-against plus two empty net goals were five of the six goals that Rockford scored, including two goals in five-on-three situations. With the loss, Manitoba drops to 33-29-5-1.

In And Out Despite Roster Freezes

The Moose should see a dynamic young player arrive in Winnipeg for the weekend, they release a youngster, and they see a veteran head out to the west coast. Will this roster ever remain the same for two weekends?
  • Andy Brandt - released from PTO. Brandt really didn't make an impact in terms of scoring, but the youngster got some experience that he should be able to use with the Victoria Salmon Kings in the ECHL.
  • Michael Grabner - recalled by Vancouver. Mikael Samuelsson's shoulder injury opened a spot up for the Austrian with the Canucks. He says that this time around, there will be no soccer before games to warm-up. As you recall, Grabner missed significant time after injuring himself in a pre-game soccer mishap.
  • Jordan Schroeder - signed by Vancouver. Schroeder, who had starred for the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers, signed his first pro contract with the Canucks. It is expected the first-round pick of the Canucks will be assigned to Manitoba, and may even see action against the Grand Rapids Griffins this weekend with Grabner heading to Vancouver.

Schedule And Standings

The Moose welcome the Grand Rapids Griffins to MTS Centre this weekend for games on Friday and Sunday. Grand Rapidsis behind Manitoba in the North Division standings, so the Moose have to be gunning for two victories. A split does nothing, especially with Hamilton looming on the horizon.

The Moose trail the Abbostford Heat and Rochester Americans by six points in the North Division. The Moose do have a game in-hand over the Heat, but that will mean nothing if the Moose cannot defeat the Griffins twice. As much as you don't need the extra pressure, these two games are "must-win" games. There's no other way to look at this.

Next week, the Moose welcome division-leading Hamilton to MTS Centre for a two-game set on Tuesday and Wednesday. Cedric Desjardins, Hamilton's goaltender, has been playing outstanding hockey as of late, so the Bulldogs will be a test as fans in Manitoba may get to see a potential first-round matchup in this year's Calder Cup Playoffs.

Task at hand? Beat the Griffins twice. Nothing else will do.

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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