The Manitoba Moose had an up-and-down December after a strong November, posting a 5-7-0-0 record as they dealt with call-ups to key personnel such as leading scorer Jansen Harkins, and a number of injuries.
They began the month by finishing off a seven-game road trip with their first game of the season against the Rockford IceHogs. The Moose fell behind 1-0 and 2-1 in the first, but goals by Seth Griffith and Skyler McKenzie erased both deficits. However, it was a late-second period tally by Brandon Hagel that proved to be the game-winner for the home side, which added an empty netter to take the contest by a 4-2 score.
Wolves… and Bears
The Moose then returned for a brief two-game homestand, welcoming the Chicago Wolves for a pair of games. The Moose took the first matchup by a 3-1 score, powered by a three-point night by Skyler McKenzie and a Kristian Vesalainen third-period power-play game-winner. Goaltender Mikhail Berdin, meanwhile, made 27 saves and almost scored a goal for the second time during the season but shot just a few inches wide.
The Wolves forced a series split the next day, grabbing a 4-2 victory. The real winner, however, was the Winnipeg Christmas Cheer Board — Moose fans came through for the annual Teddy Bear Toss night, chucking piles of bears and other stuffed animals onto the ice during the first intermission.
On the Road Again
After the quick two-game homestand, the Moose went right back on the road again for another long road swing that took them through Texas and Colorado. They started with a pair against the supernova-hot Texas Stars and dropped both games to their Central Division foes by 3-1 and 3-2 scores.
One bright spot in the pair of contests was Jansen Harkins, who continued his torrid pace with three points in the pair of contests to push his point total to 31 on the season. Meanwhile, Mason Appleton, who was reassigned to the Moose after being out since late October with a broken bone in his foot he suffered playing pickup football the day before the Heritage Classic in Regina, played in his first two Moose games of the season and tallied an assist.
The Moose snapped their three-game losing streak the next night against the San Antonio Rampage, but made the win harder on themselves than necessary. They built a solid 3-0 though two periods, but in the third frame, got into penalty trouble and allowed the Rampage to make it 3-2. It was only some outrageous saves from Berdin and an empty-net goal by birthday boy Emile Poirier that cemented the win.
Big Losses in Loveland
The Moose then departed Texas for Loveland, Colorado for back-to-back games against the Colorado Eagles. In the first game, CJ Suess put up a goal and two assists but his effort wasn’t enough: the Eagles’ Kevin Connauton matched Suess, scoring the game-winner in the second and adding two apples in a 5-3 victory.
The next night, sans leading scorer Jansen Harkins and Mason Appleton — who were both recalled due to injuries to Mathieu Perreault and Andrew Copp — the Moose were thoroughly thumped 10-4. Connauton once again stole the show, racking up five points in the utter debacle.
Home for the Holidays
The Moose then returned for a holiday homestand, first welcoming the San Antonio Rampage for a pair. In the first game, the Moose put up four goals in the opening period, including two from Seth Griffith and carried that four-goal lead into the third. The Rampage made the game interesting, but Griffith completed his second hat trick of the season with an empty netter and the game ended 6-4 in favour of the Moose. Andrei Chibisov broke his seven-game pointless slump in a big way with three assists.
Griffith scored twice again in a Sunday afternoon tilt the next day. The game appeared destined for overtime, knotted 2-2 late in the third, but Nathan Walker scored a fluky game-winner with just 1:41 left on the clock. The Rampage would add another one in the final minute to make the final 4-2.
The Moose would rue missed opportunities on the man advantage. Not only did they squander a two-minute 5-on-3 when the game was tied, but they also allowed two shorthanded goals to alternate captain Nathan Walker.
Reinforcements Arrive to Face Rockford
After a week off, the Moose changed to their blue jerseys and wrapped up the 2019 portion of their schedule with a pair against the Rockford IceHogs.
Prior to the Dec. 29 matchup, they received late gifts in the form of reinforcements: Sami Niku, Michael Spacek, and Ryan White all returned from injuries (Niku missed 12, White missed 24, and Spacek missed a pair.)
Eric Comrie was also assigned to the team — the Jets re-acquired the longtime farmhand on Dec. 19 off waivers from the Detroit Red Wings after losing him to the Arizona Coyotes on Oct. 1, and he cleared waivers in Winnipeg this time. Comrie didn’t dress for the Sunday matchup, but will be a great support to Berdin — who has been run ragged— in the second half.
White wasn’t long for the contest as he was booted early in the first for elbowing Philip Kurashev (and was suspended three games in the aftermath), but Spacek scored the game-winner midway through the second as the Moose hung on for a 3-2 victory.
The Moose then completed the decade with their annual New Year’s Eve matinee game. They opened up a big lead in the second period by scoring four goals in just 4:16 and got the near-capacity crowd buzzing. However, after the IceHogs replaced goaltender Kevin Lankinen with Colin Delia, they pushed back hard.
The visitors scored three unanswered and nearly tied the game in the dying seconds, but Berdin made a big pad save to preserve the 4-3 win — the franchise’s 10th straight on New Year’s Eve.
“In the second period, I thought we were much better for the first ten minutes of that period, we were flying, we were aggressive with our decisions, with the puck and without the puck,” head coach Pascal Vincent said post-game. “In the second half, once it was 4-0, we changed the way we played a little bit, giving up more time and space. And first thing you know, they score two goals, so they’re back in the game.
Records and Milestones
- Charles-David Beaudoin appeared in his 100th AHL game on Dec. 11 versus the Stars.
- Defenceman Hayden Shaw made his AHL debut on Dec. 13 against the Stars.
- Derek Hulak recorded his 100th AHL point Dec. 14 against the Rampage.
- Bobby Lynch made his AHL debut Dec. 31 against the IceHogs.
The Road Ahead
The Moose sit at 17-18-0-0 and fifth in the Central Division to begin 2020. They will have twelve games this month as they look to improve their position.
They’ll wrap up their six-game homestand with a pair against the Colorado Eagles on Friday and Saturday before going on a quick road trip Jan. 8 through Jan. 11 that takes them to Rockford and Grand Rapids. Then, they’ll return home for a pair against the Belleville Senators on Jan. 13 and 15 before welcoming the Laval Rocket for a weekend set.
After that, they’ll hit the road again for more divisional matchups — two in Iowa and one more in Rockford.
Declan Schroeder is a 26-year-old communications specialist and freelance journalist in Winnipeg, Manitoba. He holds a diploma in Creative Communications with a major in journalism from Red River College and a bachelors in Rhetoric and Communications from the University of Winnipeg.
Deeply rooted in the city’s hockey culture, the original Jets skipped town when he was two and the 2.0 version came onto the scene when he was 17.