Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Antler Banter: Season 1, Volume 24

If there's one thing that I love every autumn, it's the smell of freshly-laid ice in an arena. There's nothing quite like feeling that cool air as you leave the concourse for the rink, and when the ammonia scent of the ice hits your nose, it's magical. Why is this important? The AHL season kicked off on Friday, and we have two games under our collective belts as Moose fans. There were some changes to the roster before the season started, and the Moose got themselves ready for Friday night. The Moose opened the season in Toronto against the Marlies, so let's not not waste any additional time as we look at the first games of Moose v2.0!

Game 1 - At Toronto

The Moose opened the season against the Marlies in Toronto, and there was a sense that the Moose and Marlies could have some fireworks with two young, enthusiastic teams. Don Cherry dropped the puck on this somewhat-historic night as the Moose were welcomed back to the AHL! It took a few minutes for the teams to get their bearings and to start feeling out their opposition, but there were a number of goals on this Friday night.

Just five minutes in, we had our first set of fireworks as JC Lipon and Matt Frattin would take a seat for five minutes each after they chucked knuckles for a minute or so. Michael Nylander, Toronto's star rookie, opened the scoring on the power-play with Jan Kostalek watching from the sin bin for holding. Richard Panik took a drop pass from Connor Brown just to the right of Hellebuyck's crease, and he spun and found Nylander in the slot whose shot ricocheted off a body and found some room past Hellebuyck at 13:40 for the 1-0 lead. The Moose would answer 2:50 later when Brendan Kichton recorded the first regular-season goal for the new Moose! Matt Fraser found Kichton on in the left face-off circle on a 3-on-2, and the defenceman wired it to the far post over Antoine Bibeau's left shoulder to draw the teams even at 1-1.

The teams would carry that score into the second period, but it wouldn't stay there for long. Richard Panik threw a pass from the right corner to Zach Hyman in the right face-off circle, and his shot would be stopped by Hellebuyck. However, the rebound was loose in front of Hellebuyck, and Byron Froese would find it and shovel it past Hellebuyck for the 2-1 lead just 1:20 into the period. The Moose would fall behind by two goals nearly ten minutes later when Andrew MacWilliam couldn't clear a puck from behind the net that caromed over to Toronto's Josh Leivo on the left side of the net. Leivo centered a pass that got through traffic and found Marlies captain Andrew Campbell, and his low shot found its way through legs past Hellebuyck at 11:07 for the 3-1 lead.

The Moose would get one back just 15 seconds later. Scott Kosmachuk's initial shot on net was blocked, but he collected the puck and centered for Jay Harrison. Harrison's first shot would be blocked by Matt Frattin, but the big defenceman jumped on the loose puck and fired a low shot that Bibeau couldn't get a pad on to cut the deficit to 3-2 at 11:22. However, the two-goal deficit would be restored while Manitoba was a man down. Brendan Leipsic made a gorgeous cross-ice pass through the slot to find Josh Leivo open at the right hash marks, and he went high as Hellebuyck slide across to give Toronto the 4-2 lead on the power-play at 18:53.

The two teams would trade chances in the third period, and Manitoba would climb within a goal with just 1:50 to play and Connor Hellebuyck on the bench. Jay Harrison's wrist shot from the point eluded the screen in front and found room between Bibeau's pads, and it was 4-3 for the Marlies. However, the Marlies would ice the game with 33 seconds to play when Sam Carrick stole the puck from a Moose defender at the Manitoba blue line, and he wired the puck into the yawning cage for the 5-3 Marlies win.

Connor Hellebuyck stopped 29 of 34 shots in the loss while Antoine Bibeau picked up the win in stopping 21 of 24 shots faced. Brendan Kichton had himself a good game as he recorded a goal and an assist while posting a +2 rating and spending two minutes in the penalty box. The Moose fall to 0-1-0 while the Marlies improve to 1-0-0.

Game 2 - At Toronto

The Moose were looking to right the wrong from one night earlier as they completed the back half of the back-to-back series against the Marlies. The Marlies, to their credit, were looking to start the season with two wins, so they had something to play for as well. Who would fall in this one? Let's find out.

Manitoba would open the scoring 7:53 into the game when John Albert used some speed on the outside down the right wing to head to the net, and he dished it to JC Lipon who was crashing the crease. Lipon got enough of a stick on it to deflect it past Garret Sparks, and Manitoba had the 1-0 lead. Kudos go out to Manitoba netminder Eric Comrie who stopped 20 Toronto shots in this period without surrendering a single goal. However, you know that in giving up that many shots in one period is literally playing with fire.

The 1-0 lead would be carried into the second period where the Marlies found the equalizer. Manitoba found itself down two men as Andrew MacWilliam received two minutes for slashing and Jay Harrison sat beside him for roughing four minutes in. On the 5-on-3 power-play, Brendan Leipsic appeared to be ready to shoot from the bottom of the right face-off circle after TJ Brennan found him, but Leipsic shoveled a backhanded pass to the slot where Byron Froese one-timed it past Comrie to even the game at 1-1 at the 5:24 mark. Speaking of 5:24, Toronto would take the lead 5:24 after their first goal. Matt Frattin would tee one up from the point that Andrew Campbell would get a stick on in front of the net, and his deflection found its way past Comrie for the 2-1 lead which would hold up through to the intermission.

The third period saw the two netminders making all sorts of acrobatic saves, but the Moose would eventually find their own equalizer. With Comrie on the bench and six attackers out on the ice, Chase De Leo threw a backhander from a sharp angle on the net, and Sparks kicked out the puck. Ryan Olsen was standing on the doorstep, and he chipped a shot over the sprawling Sparks with 1:51 to play in regulation for the 2-2 tie. With no scoring in the final two minutes, this game was off to overtime!

Despite there being a number of chances at both ends, the two goalies would hold the deadlock through the end of the extra period, so this game would be decided by the shootout. The first three shooters for each team were stopped, so it came down to the Round Four shooters. Toronto's Byron Froese went first, and he came in straight ahead and fired a puck low that found a gap through Comrie's five-hole for the first goal of the shootout. Chase De Leo was the man tabbed by the Moose to tie the shootout, and his low shot along the ice was turned aside by Sparks to give the Marlies the 3-2 shootout win!

Eric Comrie was easily the best player for the Moose on this afternoon as he stopped 39 of 41 shots faced in regulation. Garret Sparks stopped 27 of 29 shots in regulation and all four shooters he faced in the shootout for the win. Manitoba drops to 0-1-1 on the season with the shootout loss while Toronto improves to 2-0-0 on the season with the victory.

Up Next

The Moose return home to Winnipeg and MTS Centre for their home opener against the Ontario Reign tomorrow night! Ontario comes into the game having won their season opener 5-0 over their Pacific Division rival in the Bakersfield Condors. The Reign are the reigning Calder Cup champions, so this should be a good test for the Moose in front of their home fans.

The Moose will battle Ontario again on Saturday evening to complete this two-game set, so they'll have a chance to close out the weekend above .500 in the standings and having taken down the defending Calder Cup champs twice. As it stands right now, the Moose sit in fourth-place in the Central Division, tied with the Iowa Wild, and three points behind the undefeated division leaders in the Charlotte Checkers. Two big wins would go a long way in helping the Moose vault past some of the teams between them and first-place.

Alpha Male?

John Albert, #16 in your programs, will wear the captain's "C" this season. Patrice Cormier and Andrew MacWilliam will serve as alternate captains for the Moose. Albert was an assistant captain in St. John's for the last two seasons, so this is a natural progression for the 26 year-old.

"John has all the characteristics you want to have in a leader," said Moose Head Coach Keith McCambridge. "He comes to work with a purpose and leads by example every single day. He's a high character individual who makes others around him better."

Albert already has an assist on the season, and it's expected he'll be one of the offensive catalysts on this team whenever his number is called. The AHL veteran of 217 games has recorded 56 goals and 63 assists for 119 points in his career thus far.

Drilling For Oil

The Moose announced today that they assigned defenceman Brennan Serville to the ECHL's Tulsa Oilers. The 22 year-old played with the NCAA's Michigan Wolverines last season, but saw no time on the ice with the Moose this weekend. This move makes sense to help Serville make the jump from the collegiate game to the pro game, and he'll get plenty of ice time in Tulsa.

The Stats Man

Consider yourself lucky that the Bridgeport Sound Tigers aren't going to visit Manitoba this year because one player did his best imitation of a wrecking ball this past weekend. Bracken Kearns leads the team in scoring and is second in AHL scoring after one weekend where he posted three goals and two assists in three games. Not bad, right? How about the fact that he also picked up 17 minutes in penalties to lead the AHL!

Bridgeport played Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on October 10, and Kearns scored a shorthanded goal and added an assist in a 4-1 win. Bridgeport then played St. John's on the 11th, and Kearns scored one of five third-period goals in a 6-1 win while picking up all 17 minutes in penalties for instigating, fighting, and a ten-minute misconduct. And finally, Bridgeport played Springfield on the 12th, and Kearns went off as he scored a power-play goal in the second and added an assist in the third period.

Not a bad opening weekend of hockey for Bracken Kearns, I'd say.

That's all for tonight. The Moose and Reign tangle tomorrow in the Moose home opener. Not much else needs to be said than GO MOOSE GO, but here's hoping a weekend sweep is in the cards for the Herd!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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