Moose Keep Winning Despite Depleted Roster

The Manitoba Moose have been losing core players on a near-daily basis due to call-ups and postive COVID-19 tests, but have continued to perform impressively and remain in second place in the AHL’s Central Division with a 19-9-1-1 record.

Moose Missing a Boatload of Regulars

The Moose began a five-game road trip in Texas last weekend without the services of most of their top scorers and mainstay players, including Declan Chisholm (COVID protocol,)Thomas Caron (COVID protocol), Leon Gawanke (COVID protocol,) David Gustafsson (called up to the Jets) Bobby Lynch (COVID protocol), Evan Polei (COVID protocol), Kristian Reichel (called up to the Jets,) and CJ Suess (called up to the Jets.)

David Gustafsson Manitoba Moose
David Gustafsson is one of many regulars the Manitoba Moose don’t have at their disposal right now. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Compounding matters further, they were missing all three goaltenders who had made starts for them this season: Mikhail Berdin (called up to the Jets’ taxi squad,) Arvid Holm (called up to the Jets’ taxi squad), and Philippe Desrosier.

Forward Depth, Goaltender Cormier Launch Moose Past Stars

Being severely shorthanded didn’t stop them from picking up all four points against the Texas Stars in back-to-back games. The players who stepped in, stepped up.

In a 4-1 victory Friday night, Austin Poganski scored a pair and Jeff Malott scored the game-winner on a nifty in-between-the-legs effort after Nelson Nogier’s shot bounced to him off the back boards.

Austin Poganski Manitoba Moose
Austin Poganski, stepped up to score a pair of goals against the Stars on Friday night. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The next night was a wild, back-and-forth affair. The Moose had a 2-0 lead by the early second thanks to goals by depth forwards Todd Burgess and Luke Johnson, but the Stars scored three straight by the 1:35 mark of the third to take the lead.

The Moose then scored back-to-back markers — Isaac Johnson’s first AHL goal on the power play followed by a Cole Maier’s even-strength goal just 1:15 later — to retake the lead. The Moose could not cling to the 4-3 advantage, though, as the Stars’ Anthony Lewis completed his hat trick with the Stars’ net empty and 1:01 to go.

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The game seemed destined for overtime until some last-second heroics: right-winger Haralds Egle scored with one tick on the clock to capture the improbably victory in regulation time.

Also contributing in a big way to the pair of wins was goaltender Evan Cormier. A last minute signing from the ECHL’s Newfoundland Growlers on Jan. 2, Cormier burst onto the scene by capturing three out of four points for his brand new team and only allowing three combined goals against the Iowa Wild in a two-game set.

The 24-year-old was nothing less than a human highlight reel in the Lone Star State, making a number of outstanding saves.

Moose Impressive in Milwaukee Despite Further Roster Hits

If you thought the Moose’s lineup couldn’t get any more patchwork, you’d be wrong: prior to Wednesday’s game against the Milwaukee Admirals, they lost Dylan Samberg and Ville Heinola to the Jets’ taxi squad, in addition to five more players to COVID protocol: Phillipe Desrosier, Jonathan Kovacevic, Cole Maier, Nelson Nogier (a defenceman who was already playing forward), and Hayden Shaw.

With three players on PTOs, another making his season debut, but Berdin returning to start his first game in nearly a month, a team that’s made winning by committee a huge part of its DNA continued to do just that, capturing an impressive 2-0 victory.

Even though the lineup featured nine players with fewer than 10 games in a Moose uniform this season, the group showed quick chemistry: they outshot the Admirals 34-24 in a stout road effort.

Luke Johnson scored on a scramble in the late second to break a 0-0 deadlock, Poganski scored an empty-netter, and Berdin stopped all the shots that came his way for his third shutout of the year.

Things Aren’t About to Get Easier for the Moose

The Moose’s resilience and ability to keep putting up wins in the face of so much roster turnover makes them a highly compelling and likeable team. They refuse to make excuses.

Head coach Mark Morrison’s message of “next man up” is obviously resonating and he deserves a lot credit for his ability to integrate new players into the lineup quickly. However, one has to wonder if there’s a limit to how many players the team can lose before it stops winning.

Related: AHL Central News: Playoff Race Heats Up

We will find out Friday, when the Moose roll into Grand Rapids for a pair of games against the Griffins. Morrison had yet another monkey wrench thrown into his roster plans Thursday morning, as Berdin, Malott, and Poganski were all called up to the Jets’ taxi squad prior to their Thursday tilt with the Red Wings.