Manitoba Moose December in Review

If any one sound effect could accurately describe the Manitoba Moose’s past month, it would be a resounding ker-splat.

After a decent first two months of the 2018-19 season, December was rough for the Winnipeg Jets’ AHL affiliate. The team suffered an absurd number of injuries to key contributors and was forced to ice what basically amounted to an ECHL team for most of the month. However, they did manage to return to respectability near the end of the month.

Related: Manitoba Moose November in Review

In general, however, the adversity and ever-changing roster was too much for them. With a 3-6-1 record last month, they now sit at 13-16-2 overall.

Injuries and Call-Ups Take Their Toll

Beat Up in Bakersfield

The Moose began the month in Bakersfield in the midst of a six-game California road trip without the services of Luke Green, Nic Kerdiles, JC Lipon and Tucker Poolman due to various injuries, plus offensive dynamo Mason Appleton who was called up to the Jets in mid-November.

To further complicate matters further, the Moose were without blue line mainstays Sami Niku, Nelson Nogier and Cameron Schilling, all who made the jump to the NHL to fill in on the Jets’ banged-up back end.

Winnipeg Jets defensemen Cameron Schilling
Veteran blueliner Cameron Schilling is one of three defensemen that the Moose lost to call-ups in early December. (Brad Rempel-USA TODAY Sports)

Related: Jets’ Defensive Depth Tested by Rash of Injuries

The Moose lost both games against the Bakersfield Condors and injuries continued to abound. On Dec. 1, they not only lost 4-0, but also lost the services of reliable forward Seth Griffith, who’d tallied 15 points in 22 games, and Ryan White. In the rematch on Dec. 5, the Moose fell 4-3 despite Logan Shaw’s second hat trick of the road trip.

Stronger in Stockton

The Moose and their skeleton squad continued their road trip against the Stockton Heat for two battles and managed to prevent the road trip from being a total write-off. On Dec. 7, they gutted out a 2-1 win despite being outshot 42-16 thanks to a sparking performance by goaltender Eric Comrie. Again, though, they lost another player to injury as Skyler McKenzie suffered a concussion. The next night, they managed to snag a point in a 3-2 overtime loss.

Eric Comrie Winnipeg Jets
Eric Comrie stood on his head against the Stockton Heat on Dec. 7, making 41 saves and leading his team to a 2-1 victory. (Aaron Doster-USA TODAY Sports)

A Rough Return Home

Manhandled by the Marlies

Returning to the confines of Bell MTS Place after going 2-3-1 in California, the Moose got a major blue line boost as Niku, Nogier and Schilling were all reassigned. However, even with this injection of talent, they could not turn their fortunes around.

First, they were thoroughly embarrassed on back-to-back nights by the much-deeper Toronto Marlies. Outscored 12-3 in a pair of games on Dec. 14 and 15, they were the Moose’s worst pair of efforts since their first two games of the 2018-19 season. Jeremy Bracco, in particular, was a thorn in their side, registering six points.

Windsor Spitfires Jeremy BRacco
Jeremy Bracco, seen here in 2017 with the OHL’s Windsor Spitfires, torched the Moose for two goals and four assists in two games. (Photo by Aaron Bell/CHL Images)

To add injury to insult, the already crowded infirmary received two more members as C.J. Suess and Emilie Poirier went down. Suess suffered an an upper-body injury after being dog-piled in a scrum and is out month-to-month and Poirier broke his leg during a collision with a Marlies forward and is out until at least February. Suess was just heating up and had scored in two straight games prior to his injury.

The biggest highlight from those two games came courtesy of Moose fans rather than Moose players. On Dec. 15 — the Moose’s annual Teddy Bear Toss — the 8,555 fans in attendance chucked truckloads worth of stuffed toys onto the ice in support of the Christmas Cheer Board.

Related: The Teddy Bear Toss: From Kamloops to Hershey

Vanquished by the Griffins

After a full week of practice, the six-game homestand continued with a pair of games against the Grand Rapids Griffins. On Dec. 21, the Moose, still with a number of ECHL call-ups including Austin Carroll, Hunter Fejes, Cam Maclise and Brent Pedersen, managed the game well through two periods, but ultimately, lost their fourth straight. While they found themselves tied 1-1 in the third, they allowed three goals in the final frame in a span of 2:13 en route to a 4-1 defeat.

The next afternoon, in their last game before Christmas, the Moose gifted snow globes to their fans, but could not gift them a win. The team once again only mustered up a single goal, falling 3-1.

New Jerseys and Return to Respectability

Energetic Against the Eagles

Returning to the ice on Dec. 30 for the first of two games against the Colorado Eagles, the Moose donned their dark jerseys for the first time at home (all AHL teams wear dark after Christmas). They also got a much-needed injection of talent up front as Griffith and Lipon returned to the lineup.

Griffith was immediately noticeable, tallying two assists. Comrie performed excellently, making 38 saves and recording his first shutout of the season in a 4-0 victory that snapped their five-game skid. It was undoubtedly the team’s most complete performance of the month.

Seth Griffith Florida Panthers
Seth Griffith, playing for the first time since Dec. 1, helped the Moose break their five-game losing streak by tallying two assists. (Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports)

The New Year’s Eve rematch the following day followed a similar script. The Moose again turned in workmanlike performance, hustling and battling their way to a well-deserved 4-1 victory to ring in the New Year in style. Comrie stood tall again, stopping 31 shots, and Alexis D’Aoust scored a shorthanded goal — the eventual game-winner — in the second period.

“It was big. Obviously it’s not the playoffs, but we want to have the right mindset. The position we are in right now…there’s nothing we can do about what we’ve done in the past and there’s nothing we can do about the injuries, but we can control what we’re controlling now. Our mindset has to be like if we were in the playoffs. It’s a must-win…The last two games they’ve been playing like if we were in the playoffs, so it’s good to see.” Head coach Pascal Vincent said of closing the year with back-to-back wins

Key Contributors

Michael Spacek

One of the few offensive bright spots on a team that scored only 20 times last month (an average of two goals per game) and has a league-low 75 goals overall was Michael Spacek. The Czech native recorded two goals and seven assists for nine points and had a five-game point streak between Dec. 5 and Dec. 15.

Logan Shaw

Another offensive bright spot was Logan Shaw. The 26-year-old tallied four goals and two assists for six points throughout the month. He leads the team with 21 points.

Logan Stanley

With so many defensemen out with injury or up with the Jets, the 20-year-old Logan Stanley was thrust into a role even bigger than his 6-foot-7, 230-pound frame. He logged heavy minutes at five-on-five, on the power play and on the penalty kill.

“I was fortunate to get some extra minutes…” Stanley said prior to the homestand. “I’m just trying to keep playing my game, to keep it simple, and play as hard as I could.”

The first-year pro’s footspeed and first step continue to be issues, but he shouldered the increased responsibility fairly well overall, putting up a goal and two assists for three points and boosting his plus/minus to plus-two, tied for best on the Moose.

Firsts and Milestones

  • Defenseman Justin Woods recorded his first AHL point on Dec. 8 with the primary assist on Alex D’Aoust’s goal.
  • Forward Brent Pedersen recorded his first AHL point on Dec. 15 against the Marlines.
  • Michael Spacek played his 100th career AHL game on Dec. 21 against the Griffins.
  • Defenseman Nelson Nogier suited up for his 100th career AHL game on Dec. 22 against the Griffins.

The Road Ahead

Sitting in last place in the Central Division, the Moose will have to go on an extended win streak soon if they want to have any hope of qualifying for the Calder Cup Playoffs. They’ll play 12 games in January in a span of 24 days, and if their last two games of December represent the beginning of an upward trend, they’ll have plenty of chances to gain ground: 10 of those contests are against divisional foes.

The busy schedule begins Wednesday against the San Antonio Rampage, far away from Winnipeg’s bone-chilling cold. Then the Moose will be in Cedar Park for back-to-back games against the Texas Stars on Jan. 4 and 5.

Matt Donovan Milwaukee Admirals
The Moose will face the Milwaukee Admirals three times in January. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

After that, the team will have another six-game homestand between Jan. 10 and 20, welcoming the Laval Rocket, Milwaukee Admirals and Rampage for a pair of games each. Their final three games will be on the road against the Griffins, Rockford Icehogs, and Admirals on Jan. 23, 25 and 26, respectively.