Manitoba Moose March 2021 in Review

The Manitoba Moose posted a 4-6-2 record in March and now have a 8-10-2 record through 20 games.

Here’s a brief recap of the month that was for the Winnipeg Jets’ AHL affiliate.

An Up-and-Down Eastern Trip

After two one-goal losses to the Laval Rocket to finish the February portion of their schedule, the Moose headed to Toronto for two games against the Marlies. They lost both of them by 4-2 scores. The Moose rued missed opportunities on the power play in the pair of games, going a combined 0-10.

Related: Manitoba Moose February 2021 in Review

The Moose snapped their four-game slide on March 5 against the Belleville Senators, however, taking the contest by a 3-1 score. They followed it up the next afternoon with a strong 6-2 victory.

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The power play got back on track in the big win, scoring four goals with the man advantage. Left-winger Jeff Malott had a pair of goals and an assist, leading scorer Nathan Todd had a goal and an assist, and David Gustafsson — in his second game since being reassigned to the Moose from the Jets’ taxi squad —had two assists.

Unfortunately, the win didn’t come without its downside as defenseman Leon Gawanke was knocked out by a hit to the head from the Senators’ Joseph LaBate.

Starting One Giant Home Stand Versus the Heat

The Moose then returned to Winnipeg for a massive 17-game home stand out of Bell MTS Iceplex. They first welcomed the Stockton Heat, who are playing out of Calgary this season, for four games between March 8 and 13.

The Moose lost the first two in overtime — first in a 6-5 barn-burner with Nathan Todd piling up another three points, and then in a 3-2 decision.

Prior to the third game, 2017-first rounder Kristian Vesalainen — who posted 12 goals and 18 assists for the Moose in 2019-20 — was reassigned to the team from the Jets’ taxi squad.

Kristian Vesalainen Winnipeg Jets
Kristian Vesalainen, who played eight games for the Jets earlier in the season, was reassigned to the Moose prior to their third game against the Heat. (Photo by Darcy Finley/NHLI via Getty Images)

They fell in Vesalainen’s 2020-21 AHL debut by 2-1 score before rebounding with a 4-2 win, finishing the four-game set with four of a possible eight points.

In the 4-2 victory, defenseman Ville Heinola and Gustafsson both recorded a goal and an assist. Eric Comrie — making his 2020-21 Moose debut after being claimed off waivers from the New Jersey Devils — made 19 saves. It was his 200th start with the Moose.

A Miracle Comeback After a Long Break

After a 12-day break and playing an inter-squad 3-on-3 mini tournament, the Moose finally got back in action on March 25, playing the first of four games against the Laval Rocket.

The Moose seemed destined to lose the first one, down 3-1 with less than a minute to go. But they engineered a miracle comeback, with Skyler McKenzie tipping in a Vesalainen shot with 32 seconds to go and then Gustafsson scoring with only one second left.

After 3-on-3 solved nothing, Todd scored the only goal in the shootout to give his side a jubiliant victory and push their record back up above .500.

Three Straight Losses to Laval

The Rocket got their revenge the next three games, though. They shut out the Moose out 1-0 the next night with a goal by Joel Teasdale 2:43 into the game standing up as the game winner.

In the third game of the series, the Moose seemed in good position to get back into the win column, up 3-1 in the back half of the third on goals from Vesalainen, Kristian Reichel, and Gawanke.

But they folded like a cheap chair, allowing four goals in the final 5:59 to lose 5-3.

In the final game of the month — a Tuesday late-afternoon tilt — he Moose fell 3-1 with Cole Perfetti scoring their only goal.

Top Prospect Report

Here’s brief check-in on the ten players who suited up for the Moose this month that we rank as top-20 Jets’ prospects. See here for prospects #11-20 and here for the Top 10 prospects.

Mikhail Berdin (G)

Berdin was once again busy, starting every game but one.

Mikhail Berdin Manitoba Moose
Mikhail Berdin saw plenty of rubber once again. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Through 18 starts this season, the flashy Russian holds a 7-9-2 record, a 2.80 GAA, and a .904 SV%.

Declan Chisholm (D)

The rookie defenseman played in all 12 games, recording seven assists.

Leon Gawanke (D)

The second-year pro missed four games after taking a headshot on March 6, but returned to action on March 25.

In eight games, he had one goal and three assists.

David Gustafsson (F)

Gustafsson had a strong month, recording two goals and eight assists for 10 points in 10 games.

David Gustafsson Winnipeg Jets
David Gustafsson, who has played 26 games for the Jets, is getting the opportunity to log big minutes with the Moose and has been strong. (Photo by Jonathan Kozub/NHLI via Getty Images)

The 20-year-old is looking like a player who will be a boon to the Jets’ bottom-six in the future, especially if they lose pending UFA Adam Lowry in the offseason.

Ville Heinola (D)

Heinola logged big minutes in all situations, recording two goals and five assists in eight games before being recalled to the Jets’ taxi squad.

Joona Luoto (F)

Luoto scored his first-career AHL goal on March 1, but hasn’t played since March 3 as he’s currently on the Jets’ taxi squad.

Cole Perfetti (F)

The Jets’ top prospect continued to chip in and get more comfortable with the professional game. In 12 games, he had two goals and four assists.

“There’s lots to learn. Every game I’ve gotten better, I find. I find that I’m learning every game. Little things, here and there, on the wall, on the power play, five on five, in all three zones in all different situations, I’m experiencing new things and learning from it,” Perfetti said about how he felt about the first 20 games of his professional career.

I think my game’s come a long way and I’ve been really happy with the way I’ve developed in the last 20 games. It’s been great for me, a great learning experience… I look forward to continuing to get better and to learn and keep working on my game and coming to the rink ready to learn,” he continued.

Kristian Reichel (F)

After a strong 2019-20, Reichel has had a bit of a rough go this season. In March, he played seven games and scored one goal. He missed the first part of the month due to injury.

Kristian Reichel Manitoba Moose
Kristian Reichel, Manitoba Moose (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

Overall, he has three goals in 14 games.

Dylan Samberg (D)

Samberg played in all 12 games and continues to log big minutes.

Dylan Samberg Team USA
Dylan Samberg, United States, 2019 IIHF World Junior Championship (Photo by Rich Lam/Getty Images)

He was plus or even in more games than he was a minus, and recorded one assist.

Kristian Vesalainen (F)

In six games since being reassigned from the Jets’ taxi squad, the third-year pro has one goal and four assists.

What’s Next?

The Moose will play nine games in April, all of them at Bell MTS Iceplex as the 17-game home stand continues. They have until April 7 off, when they begin a four game set versus the Senators between then an April 12. After the Senators depart, they’ll host the Heat for a five-game set between April 22 and 29.

Kristian Vesalainen Manitoba Moose
The Moose will look to Kristian Vesalainen to provide some offence in nine games in April. (Jenae Anderson / The Hockey Writers)

While the Calder Cup Playoffs may ultimately not be in the cards for this inexperienced team, the most important part is that the prospects are playing and gaining experience.