Thursday, 25 March 2010

Antler Banter: Volume 21

It's Thursday, and you don't usually find Antler Banter on your doorstep on this day, but here we are thanks to a couple of midweek games this week. Manitoba tangled with the Grand Rapids Griffins on the weekend before welcoming the Hamilton Bulldogs to Winnipeg for a couple of games. The Moose got some help courtesy of Mike Gillis' signings this week, and released a couple of players to get these new bodies into the lineup. We'll look at all of these developments coming up, as well as the push to the Calder Cup Playoffs! For all of your current Manitoba Moose news and information, hit up 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 Thursday's recap of Hardcore Hockey!

Familiarity Breeds Contempt

The Moose met up with the Grand Rapids Griffins for the second time in two weeks, and there was a definite feeling of two teams battling for their playoff lives. The Moose and Griffins had split their two-game set earlier this month in Michigan, so the Moose were looking for a season series win at home. Cory Schneider started for Manitoba while Daniel Larsson got the call for Grand Rapids.

The visitors opened the scoring when Brad May notched his fourth of the season. Nathan McIver won a battle behind the net for the puck, and the Moose defenceman kicked the puck towards the left corner. Brad May grabbed the puck near the bottom of the circle and fired it on net. The puck went high blocker side and found some room between Schneider and the crossbar. Certainly not a highlight reel goal, but they all count, and Grand Rapids had the 1-0 lead at 4:14.

Less than two minutes later, Riley Armstrong centered the puck from behind the net past two Moose defenders, and Francis Paré was standing on the doorstep all alone. He fired the puck past Schneider, and the Griffins went up 2-0 on Paré's 14th goal of the season at 6:01.

The Moose powerplay got a chance to stretch their legs when Logan Pyett was sent off for holding at 13:57. A face-off win in the offensive zone by Peter Olvecky sent the puck back to Evan Oberg on the right point. He centered the puck to Brian Salcido who ripped a one-timer high on the glove side that Larsson couldn't grab. Slacido's eighth goal of the season came at 15:36 on the powerplay, and the Moose were on the board, trailing 2-1.

The real story in the first period was Daniel Larsson. The Moose came out guns a-blazing in this game, outshooting the Griffins by a 19-6 advantage! Larsson was incredible in denying the Moose again and again, and he was the entire reason the Griffins were leading after 20 minutes.

Some rough stuff occurred in this period as Tommy Maxwell and Paul Crosty rumbled at 9:18. The scrum was eventually broken up, but there would be more to come.

Sergei Shirokov evened the game up after he found himself on a breakaway. The speedy Russian went backhand-forehand, opening up Larsson as he pushed from right to left in his crease. That movement gave Shirokov just enough room through the five-hole for his 21st goal of the season, and the game was tied at 2-2 at 14:59.

However, the Griffins jumped back in front just 21 seconds later. Jeremy Williams snapped a high wrist shot from the right face-off dot over Schneider's glove as Schneider went down, and the Griffins' sniper had his 24th of the year. More importantly, the Griffins led 3-2 at 15:20.

3:10 later, and all hell broke loose. Daniel Larsson earned a ten-minute misconduct under Rule 75.4. I didn't quite catch what he did, but it appeared he threw a punch with his blocker, earning him the misconduct. Nathan McIver and Jamie Tardif squared off in an old-fashioned bout of fisticuffs, and they sat for five minutes each. Tommy Maxwell and Ole-Kristian Tollefsen took double-minors for roughing, and each were given a ten-minute misconduct for their battle.

The teams saw these penalties roll into the third period, but none of them resulted in a powerplay. Nathan McIver did come off worse for wear, however, and I'll discuss him a little more below.

Evan Oberg, coming down the right wing, made a nice move to get past Crosty as he chipped the puck deep into the Griffins zone. Oberg won the race for the puck, and centered it as he crossed behind the net. His centering pass found Mario Bliznak in the slot, and Bliznak whacked the puck underneath Larsson and into the net. Bliznak's eighth goal of the season at 9:00 tied the game at 3-3.

The Griffins came back, though. The Moose looked to clear the puck down the ice as they went for a change, but they turned the puck over at their blueline, and Francis Paré brought the puck back into the zone. Mike Keane couldn't check Paré, and he fed a backhander across the slot to an open John Vigilante who one-timed the puck past Schneider's outstretched glove. Vigilante's 11th goal of the season made it 4-3 for the Griffins with just 4:08 remaining.

The Moose battled hard, but couldn't get another puck past Larsson. At the final horn, Grand Rapids had secured the 4-3 victory, dropping the Moose's record to 33-30-5-1 on the season. Perhaps a bigger loss was the loss of defenceman Nathan McIver. McIver broke his hand in the fight against Jamie Tardif, and is scheduled to be gone for approximately eight weeks. For a team already light on blueline help, this kind of news stings.

Schneider Stands Tall

If the weaker goal that Brad May scored on Schneider on Friday night sparked the Moose goaltender, it showed nicely in the only afternoon home game this season. The Moose and Griffins met for the fourth and final time on Sunday afternoon, and the Moose were looking for the win. Cory Schneider started for the Moose while the Griffins responded with Daniel Larsson in net.

Grand Rapids' Justin Abdelkader took a foolish goaltender interference penalty just 37 seconds into the game, and the new-look Moose powerplay took to the ice. Jordan Schroeder, playing his first pro game for the Moose, was sent out on the man-advantage. Matt Pettinger's pass from the right half-boards to Lawrence Nycholat at the point opened up a shooting lane. Nycholat teed up the puck, and Schroeder, wearing #23, scored his first professional goal by tipping the puck on its way to the net, and it got past Larsson. Schroeder's first goal of his career put Manitoba up 1-0 just 1:52 into the game.

Another newcomer from the collegiate ranks gave Manitoba a bigger lead. Dusty Collins threw the puck at the net, and Larsson made the save. Tommy Maxwell picked up the puck as he circled out from behind the net, but Larsson didn't give him any space to shoot. As the Griffins crowded the crease, Kevin Clark joined the crowd in the blue paint. Maxwell finally shot after skating across the crease to the right side, and the puck hit a defender in front. Clark whacked at the loose puck, and his shot knocked the puck into the net. Clark's first career goal at 6:25 gave the Moose a 2-0 lead.

Penalties rounded out the first period, including a scrap between Tommy Maxwell and Paul Crosty, but the Moose held their two-goal lead. Schneider was excellent in the first period, turning away all ten shots he faced. This will be a common theme in today's game. The second period had no scoring, but the vacations in the sin bin continued. Guillaume Desbiens and Brad May spent the most time there in the middle frame after their scrap got them five minutes each.

Lawrence Nycholat added to the Moose lead midway through the third period on the powerplay. His slapshot from just above the right face-off circle beat Larsson on the glove side with Yan Stastny providing an excellent screen. Nycholat's fourth of the season at 11:23 put Manitoba up 3-0.

With 32 seconds left, Jordan Schroeder capped off a great day. Schroeder was battling with Sergei Kolosov in front of Larsson, and managed to create a little room for himself. Matt Pettinger fed the puck from the right face-off circle to where Schroeder was standing, and that space he created allow him to chip the puck past Larsson for his second powerplay goal of the game, his season, and his career. Manitoba took a 4-0 lead.

Grand Rapids would mount no more offence in the game, and Cory Schneider recorded his fourth shutout of the season as Manitoba skated to the 4-0 win. With the victory, Manitoba improves to 34-30-5-1 on the season. It was a spectacular debut for the two youngsters as Clark and Schroeder combine for three goals including two powerplay markers, six shots on net, and a +1 rating.

Don't Wake A Sleeping Dog

Hamilton entered the Tuesday contest against the Moose with nothing on the line. They had secured a playoff spot, and had a large lead over the rest of the North Division, so there was little for which they had to compete. However, the games still have to be played. Cory Schneider got the call for the Moose against former teammate Curtis Sanford.

The first period was relatively quiet. No goals, only three minor penalties, and not a lot of scoring chances at either end. Schneider stopped all eight shots while Sanford kept the nine shots he saw out of the Bulldogs' net.

The first goal was scored by the visitors. Alex Henry's point shot through traffic ricocheted off the crossbar behind Schneider and ended up in the slot. Schneider couldn't find the puck, and Mike Glumac had no problem chipping the puck into the net. Glumac's 18th of the season made it 1-0 for the Bulldogs just 5:39 into the second period.

Less than a minute later with Alex Henry in the penalty box for roughing, the Moose responded. Brian Salcido made a nice move around a sprawling JT Wyman at the blueline, and fed a cross-ice pass to Marco Rosa at the top of the right face-off circle. Rosa took one step and fired a high wrist shot to the near corner past Sanford's glove. The powerplay marker was Rosa's 21st goal of the season, and the Moose evened the game at 1-1 at 6:27.

The fast and furious scoring continued. Mike Glumac and David Desharnais broke in on Tom Galvin on a two-on-one. Glumac pass the puck from the middle of the ice to Desharnais, forcing Galvin to cut off Desharnais as Lawrence Nycholat back-checked hard. However, Desharnais feathered a pass back to Glumac to went forehand-backhand on Schneider before roofing it behind the Moose goalie. Glumac's 19th goal of the season came at 7:03, and the Bulldogs were back on top by a 2-1 score.

It took ten minutes for the next goal to be scored. Nycholat broke out of his zone with a pass to Marco Rosa who was gaining speed at the Moose blueline. With Glumac pestering him from behind, Rosa brought the puck in across the Bulldogs' blueline. Rosa sidestepped a check from Brock Trotter and fed a pass across to Guillaume Desbiens at the top of the face-off circle. Desbiens wasted no time in getting a wrist shot on net, and Sanford made the save. Or so it was thought. The puck squirted under his arm and slid into the net. Desbiens' 16th goal of the season came at 17:28, and the Moose pulled even again at 2-2.

After two periods, the Moose and Bulldogs were all even at 2-2, and they had both registered 17 shots. Both teams appeared to be sitting back, waiting for the other team to make a mistake, but the game was square after 40 minutes.

10:27 into the third period saw the home team finally grab the lead. Jordan Schroeder didn't have much room to work with after Yan Stastny had centered a pass from the corner, so the Moose rookie dropped the puck back to Evan Oberg in the high slot. Oberg's low shot found a seam through Sanford's five-hole, and the Moose were out to a 3-2 lead on Oberg's fourth goal of the campaign.

While both teams continued their sit-back-and-wait approach, the Bulldogs did pressure with time winding down. The Moose held strong, though, and picked up the victory against their potential opening round opponent in the upcoming Calder Cup Playoffs. With the 3-2 victory, the Moose move to 35-30-5-1 on the season.

Bloodthirsty Killing Machine

Wednesday night's game featured the back end of the two-game set against the Bulldogs, and all I'll say is that this one was ugly. Hamilton didn't just beat the Moose, they thrashed, trounced, and destroyed them. This one will be short simply because there's no need to re-open a nasty wound. Cory Schneider started for the Moose, and Cedric Desjardins got the call for the Bulldogs.

Brock Trotter scored his 32nd goal of the season just 56 seconds in. Lawrence Nycholat tied the game with his fifth goal of the season after he cashed in a Jordan Schroeder rebound at 3:49. Trotter added his second of the game at 7:32 for 33 goals on the season, and Hamilton was up 2-1. They made it 3-1 on Aaron Palushaj's seventh goal of the season.

12:44 into the second, Yannick Weber ripped a slapshot through Schneider for his fifth of the season, and Hamilton had the 4-1 lead. Ryan Russell made it 5-1 on his 18th goal of the season at 17:07 of the second. Hamilton led 5-1 after two periods, and head coach Scott Arniel decided to give Cory Schneider the rest of the night off.

With Daren Machesney in net, things didn't get any better for the Moose. Dany Masse added a powerplay goal at 13:43 for his second goal of the season, and Hamilton was up 6-1. Andrew Conboy notched his seventh of the season at 17:11 on the powerplay, and the Bulldogs skated to a 7-1 victory.

An ugly loss for sure for the Moose, but it was much worse than what the boxscore read. Geoff Waugh and Andrew Conboy got into a scrap at 17:15 of the second period, and it looked as though the two were evenly matched. However, Conboy decided to tackle Waugh into the ice, slamming the Moose defenceman's head into the ice. Waugh was escorted off the ice and didn't return, and it was almost obvious that he had suffered a concussion.

Don't get me wrong: I appreciate a good tussle when they develop. But what Conboy did was not only cowardly, but it was extremely dangerous. I'm not sure if the Moose will be sending tape to the AHL Offices, but you can bet that if these two teams meet in the Calder Cup Playoffs, that move on Waugh won't be forgotten.

Scoring Youngsters In, Others Out

The Moose are benefiting from Mike Gillis' signings in Vancouver. Clearly, as seen in the Sunday game against the Griffins, the new kids are bringing some scoring ability to the Moose, and that will help tremendously. Here are the latest moves.
  • Jordan Schroeder - assigned by Vancouver. Schroeder jumped from the University of Minnesota to the Canucks by signing his first pro contract, and was assigned to the Moose for some training in the professional game. In three AHL games, Schroeder has two goals, two assists, and seven shots.
  • Kevin Clark - signed by Manitoba. The Winnipeg native was plying his trade at the University of Alaska-Anchorage when he decided to make the jump to the pro ranks. The Moose signed Clark to an amateur tryout contract, and the former Winnipeg South Blues star responded with one goal in three games with a +1 ranking.
  • Andy Brandt - released from PTO. Brandt was officially released from his professional tryout contract. The numbers game saw him sitting, and the Moose simply had too many hands on the farm.
  • Nikita Kashirsky - released from PTO. Kashirsky was in the same boat as Brandt, so the Moose had to release him as they brought in the youngsters.
  • Aaron Volpatti - signed by Manitoba. Volpatti was Brown University's captain, and leaves the school as the career leader in PIMs. Volpatti played with the Vernon Vipers of the BCHL before making the jump to the NCAA. He can score and likes to hit, so the Moose can definitely use his tenacity.
Coming Up

The Moose head out on a six-game roadtrip where they'll face North Division opponents in every game.

They'll battle the Abbotsford Heat on Monday and Tuesday, and the Moose currently trail the Heat by four points in the standings. They need to win both games to cause a major pile-up in the middle of the North Division standings.

Following those games, the Moose battle the Toronto Marlies and the Hamilton Bulldogs, two teams that the Moose have to beat at least once. If the Moose can win four of six games, they'll certainly guarantee themselves a playoff spot. They may also achieve their goal of hosting a playoff series as second place in the North Division is still quite attainable.

However, it starts with winning. The Moose have eight games remaining, and I'm going out on a branch in saying they have to go 6-2-0 to secure second place. It starts on Monday and Tuesday, though. Wins over Abbotsford are paramount if they want second place. DO IT!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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