Moose’s Positive Locker-Room Culture Leading to Success Through Turbulent Times

The Manitoba Moose are continuing to win games despite being severely undermanned due to quick chemistry, solid work ethic, and an inclusive and welcoming atmosphere for their many newcomers.

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An impressive weekend sweep of the Chicago Wolves, the AHL Western Conference’s top team, made that abundantly clear.

Depth Players Stepping Up

Throughout 2022, the Moose have been without many regulars due to call-ups to the Jets and their taxi squad, in addition to having players in COVID-19 protocol.

For this past weekend’s two-game set at Canada Life Centre, they were without Mikhail Berdin, Mikey Eyssimont, David Gustafsson, Ville Heinola, Arvid Holm, Jeff Malott, Cole Perfetti, Auston Poganski, Kristian Reichel, Dylan Samberg, and CJ Suess.

But it doesn’t seem to matter to this club who the personnel is: whoever’s is asked to step up does, and in spades.

Lynch, Polei Lead Way in Saturday Extra-Frame Win

Bobby Lynch, a player entering the weekend with four-career AHL goals and less than 50 games played, led the way when tasked with a top-line assignment on Saturday. The 23-year-old scored a pair of goals, including the filthy marker below. it’s too bad only 250 people were in attendance to see it live.

“Guys have left, and new guys have come in, and we battle. That’s what we do. We battle every night. We work really hard,” Lynch said postgame Saturday.

Evan Polei, a rugged forward known more for throwing his weight around than for producing offence, scored a on an end-to-end rush in overtime to lift his side to the 4-3 victory.

Evan Polei Manitoba Moose
Evan Polei, a rugged forward, scored the overtime game-winner on Saturday. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

“When he gets the puck, he’s a big man to knock off,” Lynch said. “I was doing some battles against him in practice earlier this season. I was calling him “The Water Buffalo” because he gets the lions on his back and he keeps on going. That’s what he did and it was a nice goal.”

Backup Goalie and Defenseman-Turned-Forward Star on Sunday

In the Sunday afternoon rematch, a different pair stepped up in a gutsy 3-1 victory.

First and foremost, the Moose got an outstanding performance between the pipes from Philippe Desrosiers. The Quebecker was making just his second start of the season and first since early November. Thrust into the spotlight, he made 40 saves and allowed only one goal to the Wolves’ high-octane, top-five offence.

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An unlikely player scored a pair of goals — one to give the Moose a 2-1 lead in the mid-third and another into the empty net to ice it. It was defensive defenseman Nelson Nogier, who was recently tasked with playing right wing due to the lack of available forwards.

The pair of tallies were just the sixth and seventh of his 233-game AHL career.

“Honestly, this is no exaggeration, I don’t think I’ve ever had a better teammate than Nelson,” defenseman Jonathan Kovacevic said.

Every win lately has been a team effort for the club that now sits at 22-10-2-1 and in second place in the Central Division behind the Wolves.

Inclusive Dressing-Room Culture Leads to Positive Results

The list of players who have seized opportunities is long: Haralds Egle has five points in his last seven games; goaltender Evan Cormier is 4-1-2 with a 2.51 GAA and a .919 SV percentage since taking the crease by storm early this month; Greg Meireles is up to 15 points in his first full AHL season.

Evan Cormier Manitoba Moose
Goaltender Evan Cormier has had the bulk of the work this month and the team has at least one point in six of seven of his starts. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

The dressing room is good-spirited and welcoming of newcomers, Bobby Lynch said.

“Whenever a new guy comes in, the coaches are pretty good about explaining the systems and the guys are never shy to step up and explain them further if that’s what’s needed,” he explained.

Inclusivity is the name of the game, assistant coach Eric Dubois said post-game Sunday. He recalled an early-season meeting with the leadership group where coaches asked what the first thing that came to mind was when it comes to being a good teammate.

“The first word that came in was inclusion,” he said, adding the sentiment was unanimous. “We have to be able to include everybody, whether they’re a rookie, whether they’re coming from the (ECHL.) if new guys are feeling like they’re part of our team, feeling like they’re included into the success of our team, everything from there will go well.”

Assistant coach Eric Dubois

“Everyone that’s brought into the group seems to be accepted very easily, and the core group that’s still there seems to bring them in and they seem to play for each other even though there’s a lot of new bodies,” head coach Mark Morrison said Saturday.

No Excuses, Just Wins

Dubois also spoke post-game Sunday about the importance of strong character and said he “couldn’t be prouder” of his troops for battling through tough circumstances.

“They did whatever it took to win games — blocking shots, playing more physical, killing penalties… to battle every night knowing that we (have a shortage) of players… there’s a lot of character in that dressing room,” he said. “They like each other, they like to play for each other, they’re happy for the success of guys next to them.”

Jimmy Oligny Manitoba Moose
The leadership group, led by captain Jimmy Oligny, deserves credit for helping to quickly integrate new players into the regime, the coaching staff said. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Morrison added when new players get a chance to play expanded roles, it helps their development. “I think they’re learning a lot about themselves too, with the ice time that they’re getting,” he said. “They feel more and more comfortable in the league.”

The win-by-committee victories have been sights to behold, and make the team compelling and likeable. The Jets — who have found a lot of ways to lose recently rather than ways to win — could learn lessons in resilience and sheer will from their farm club.

Related: Jets’ Inability to Hold Leads Looms Large In Winless Road Trip

The Moose’s overarching perspective is summed up quite well by Jonathan Kovacevic: “We’re not looking for excuses,,” he said. “We’re looking to win games.”

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