Season Highlights Part 1: Let the Countdown BeginBy: Mitch Peacock | Published: June 6th 2018
I don’t know about you, but for me, every season seems to be a blur.
A fast-paced, emotional roller-coaster, blast of a blur.
Now that the dust has settled on a truly memorable 2017-18 Moose season, I thought it would be fun to go back, sift through the journey, and highlight a few snapshots along the way.
Memorable moments for an edition of the Jets’ American Hockey League affiliate that started modestly, reached dizzying heights, and leveled off before impressing in the playoffs.
Here’s the first of five games that stood out to me over the course of the season.
The story of my first ‘fave’ of 2017-18 actually starts days before the game itself.
As is often the case with a new group of players, it took this edition of the Moose a little while to get rolling.
Right from the start there was an expectation this team would be in the hunt for a playoff spot, while grooming talent for a shot at the next level.
Nine outings into the season, the Moose were one game over .500, and in Bakersfield, California to begin a six-game road trip.
Things didn’t go well for Manitoba on Nov. 1, 2017. The Moose led 2-1 heading to the third, but the Condors scored four times in the period to claim a 5-2 victory.
I would later find out souls were searched and words were said following the loss. These weren’t typical post-game conversations. The tone was serious, and the players I spoke with said the gist of those talks were, “time to get going”, and, “we’re better than this.”
Easier said than proven.
Ancient Chinese philosopher Lao-Tzu famously wrote, “The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”
The first step for the Moose after that night in Bakersfield, was to face the Heat in Stockton. The Calgary Flames’ affiliate had points in five straight, and was well-rested. The Moose didn’t, and weren’t.
Goals by Patrice Cormier and Sami Niku had Manitoba up 2-0 going to the third period. When the Flames’ affiliate made it a one-goal game, Jack Roslovic and Mason Appleton each scored to put the contest out of reach.
Eric Comrie’s 21 third period saves can’t be overlooked either.
Now, a win the game after a heart-to-heart is important, but putting a streak together is a statement. That brings me to the first of my favourite games.
Right after the Moose beat the Heat in Stockton, they were back on the bus heading south for a rematch with the Condors in Bakersfield.
Twenty-four hours after winning in Stockton, the Moose were out to make it two straight wins for just the second time on the young season.
It was the club’s third game in four days on the heels of travel from Manitoba to California. Throw in a couple bus rides between Bakersfield and Stockton, and it was no easy assignment.
The game was even – I mean, dead even – after two periods. The score was tied 1-1, and the shot count sat locked at 21 apiece. A Cam Maclise goal had tied it for Manitoba in the middle frame and Michael Hutchinson was sharp in a showdown with fellow former IceCaps goalie Eddie Pasquale.
The third period couldn’t separate the teams with the two veteran goalies unwilling to give up anything, making a combined 23 saves.
Despite a good effort, it was either follow up a big night with something less than two points and wonder when you’ll start getting some traction, or put together back-to-back road wins under challenging conditions.
Just less than two minutes into the fourth period, Nic Petan led a break out of the Moose zone. Taking the puck down the left wing, Petan gained the Condors’ line. Jack Roslovic drove to the net, but Cameron Schilling was the trailer, and turned a two-on-one into a nightmare for Pasquale.
Petan fed Schilling for a one-timer off the rush, and… Moose win!
Two straight victories on the road after a sloppy start to the trip put the team back at .500.
It turned out that night in central California was more than a clutch showing. It was a springboard to bigger things.
That win over the Condors was followed by another in Stockton, and one more in San Jose, before the win streak, and the trip, ended with a setback in San Jose. It added up to an impressive 4-2-0-0 swing through California.
Heading home with an 8-5-1-1 record meant the Moose were on the rise, but I don’t think anyone could see what was to come next.
That confidence, new-found focus, and some roster stability set the table for a five-week stretch as good as any in the American Hockey League in 2017-18.
A stretch that provided a few more of my favourite games of the season.
Photo Credits: Mark Nessia/Bakersfield Condors and Jack Lima/Asvitt Photography