After a positive end of December in which it seemed they were destined to climb the standings, the Manitoba Moose underachieved in January, posting a 4-8-0-0 record and struggling to produce consistent offence despite having a number of weapons at their disposal for most of the month.
Harkins Receives All-Star Nod
A few hours before their first game of the month, the AHL announced that Jansen Harkins — who recorded 31 points in 30 games before being called up to the Jets in mid-December — was named to the 2020 AHL All Star Classic. He was able to represent the Moose at the annual showcase in Ontario, California, before returning to the Jets.
Tight Match-Ups to Begin 2020
The first two games of 2020 were against the Colorado Eagles and the final pair of a six-game homestand. In the first matchup, Eric Comrie made his first start for the Moose since clearing waivers late in December, and he played well, making 22 saves and allowing only one goal.
However, Eagles goaltender Adam Werner was a little better, pitching a 30-save shutout (remember, he shut out the Jets in his NHL debut back in November.)
On Star Wars Day the next day, Werner finally sprung some leaks as the Moose built up a 3-1 lead in the early third. However, the Eagles pushed back and tied the game 3-3, sending it to overtime. In the extra frame, birthday boy Seth Griffith scored a game-winner to remember to give him 18 goals on the season and his team its first win of the calendar year.
A Rotten Road Trip
A few days after the overtime win, Moose departed for a quick three-game Central Division road trip. First, they fell 4-1 to the Rockford IceHogs, with Skyler McKenzie scoring the only Moose goal.
The Moose then faced the Grand Rapids Griffins on back-to-back nights. In the first game — despite getting their 2018-19 leading goal scorer Logan Shaw back from a 25-game stint with the Jets and having good firepower overall — they got shut out 1-0 as Calvin Pickard made 23 saves, including one in the final seconds on Michael Spacek. Eric Comrie made 27 saves but suffered his third-straight loss since returning to the team.
The rematch the following night made it a truly rotten road trip for the team, as they allowed five goals second-period goals en route to a 6-2 loss and finished their Central excursion 0-3-0-0.
The Moose then returned home for four straight against Canadian opponents; two each against the Belleville Senators and the Laval Rocket.
In the first game, the Senators extended the Moose’s losing streak to four games with a 5-3 victory. Ryan White had a goal and an assist, but it wasn’t nearly enough as the Senators greatly outplayed and out-chanced the home side and Michael Carcone scored a hat trick.
In the Wednesday-night rematch, the Moose and Senators played a tight game that found itself knotted 2-2 after regulation. After Eric Comrie made some great saves in overtime, Michael Spacek tucked away the game-winner off a rebound generated by a Jonathan Kovacevic point shot. Spacek’s second point of the game snapped the losing streak.
The Laval Rocket then arrived for a Saturday/Sunday doubleheader, just in time for a Colorado Low that brought Winnipeg heavy snow and blustery winds. In the Saturday contest, the Moose looked great… at least from a visual standpoint. They wore spectacular Indigenous-themed jerseys as part of a joint promotion with the Jets that celebrated Indigenous culture, promoted hockey as a sport for all, and supported the Winnipeg Aboriginal Sport Achievement Centre.
Unfortunately, the game was anything but a dream performance for the Moose: they played lethargically and were shut out 3-0.
In the rematch the following afternoon, the Moose were much more engaged, feisty, and physical. They earned a 5-1 win as a result, with Mikhail Berdin making 40 saves and Michael Spacek and JC Lipon recording a goal and an assist apiece.
Lipon, with his first point of the afternoon and 213th overall with the IceCaps/Moose, pulled into the number-three spot on the franchise’s all-time points leaderboard, surpassing Jimmy Roy.
Woes Against the Wild
Heading into Des Moines for a pair of weekend clashes with the Iowa Wild ahead of the All-Star showcase, the Moose — four games below .500 — desperately needed a pair of victories to stay afloat in the Central Division.
Despite receiving Kristian Vesalainen and Cameron Schilling back from the Jets, they lost both games. In the first, despite playing energetically and firing 33 shots on Kappo Kahkonen, they got shut out 1-0.
In the second game, the Moose came close to being shut out again — not getting on the board until JC Lipon scored in the mid-third to cut a Wild lead to 3-1.
Down 4-1 after an empty-net goal, the Moose nearly came back — Vesalainen rifled one home with 1:30 left and Skyler McKenzie followed it up with a goal of his own just 36 seconds later — but the comeback ultimately fell short. The loss saw the Moose fall to last.
Finally… A Road Win
In their final game of the month, the Moose took a step toward salvaging their road trip in Rockford against the IceHogs. In addition to scoring a pair of goals in the game — which went to overtime deadlocked at 3 apiece — JC Lipon scored the shootout winner.
Records and Milestones
- Logan Stanley played in his 100th-career AHL game on Jan. 13 in Belleville.
- JC Lipon took sole possession of third on the all-time franchise points leaderboard by recording the 213th point of his career with the Moose/IceCaps franchise on Jan. 19 versus the Rocket.
The Road Ahead
If the Moose want to make any sort of playoff push, they must see each of their final 29 games between February and the end of the season as must-wins, as they are four points out of a playoff spot.
They’ll play 11 games in February, wrapping up their four-game road trip in Chicago on Feb. 1.
Then they return home for six straight: first on tap are two more against the Wolves, the latter contest being the 20th Anniversary celebration game on Feb. 7. The Moose will wear specialty jerseys that combines the original cartoon logo with the modern colour scheme and raise former captain Jimmy Roy’s number to the rafters.
The homestand wraps with two against the IceHogs on Feb. 12 and 13 and two against the Milwaukee Admirals on Feb. 15 and Feb. 17, which is a special Monday matinee for the Louis Riel Day holiday.
After a brief three-game road swing to Laval and Belleville Feb. 19 through Feb. 22, the Moose will wrap up the month at home, once again against the Wolves, on Feb. 29.
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.