Around the Final Turn
The Manitoba Moose are into the final quarter of the regular season. The Moose continue to lead the Central Division and Western Conference with their sights on a strong push to the post-season.
While the first half of the campaign was one for the club record books, the third quarter presented its share of challenges.
Call-ups, injuries, hot streaks and cold stretches dotted the path to the final nineteen games leaving the Jets’ American League team battle-tested and confident facing the road ahead.
UP, DOWN, AND PRODUCTIVE
The Moose went 10-7-1-1 to harvest 22 points from third quarter. It was solid run, though the mark was four points shy of the team’s best quarter to this point in the season.
Five of those 10 victories came consecutively on the road, as the Moose hit an AHL season-high 14 straight away games with a point. However, the mid-January to early-March segment also included the team’s first taste of being winless in four and first run of three straight losses in regulation.
Any 76 game haul is going to have its highs and lows. What matters most is how a club deals with those extremes.
Moose head coach Pascal Vincent likes the way his group is managing. While the coach clearly sets the tone, he’s quick to credit the player’s leadership group – from Captain Patrice Cormier on down.
“For those guys to keep things in perspective when things are not going as well as it used to, and keeping the team emotionally stable when you have a lot of success. Those guys, those veterans, there’s a value to those guys.”
Interestingly, both Cormier and All-Star defenceman Cam Schilling reached 400 AHL games during this featured block of the schedule, while JC Lipon tallied his 100th assist at this level. All three are key members of the team’s leadership group.
THIRD QUARTER QUALITY
There’s not enough space here to mention every player who impressed or achieved something of note since last we talked, but here’s a few tips of the cap to acknowledge some of the good deeds getting done.
Mason Appleton became Manitoba’s all-time top scoring rookie when he notched an assist against Chicago on February 24 for his 51st point of the season. The Green Bay, WI surpassed Sean Tallaire’s impressive mark from the inaugural season of Moose hockey back in 1996-97. Appleton’s steady work also has him on top of the AHL’s rookie scoring list, and within reach of the overall scoring lead as the Moose hit the home stretch.
Sami Niku continues to pour it on from the Manitoba blue line. The Finnish standout picked up 14 points in the 19 games to put himself alongside the top scoring defenceman in the entire American League.
It was also a memorable spell for netminder, and second-year pro, Jamie Phillips who stepped into the crease for a personal-best six straight contests and only allowed more than three goals in a game once.
The final quarter of the regular season really kicks in when the Moose hit the road for their longest road swing of the season this week. Manitoba will play seven games over the next two weeks away from Bell MTS Place. The stretch started with a 3-2 shootout loss to Milwaukee on Wednesday.
Having a positive emotional tone will be important for a team with big goals within reach, and Vincent sees his lineup adjusting to get its energy right.
“There’s a lot of emotions, there’s a lot of intensity in the games and we like that,” said the head coach after a recent game. “Now it’s a matter of controlling those emotions. We’re getting closer to the end of the season, those emotions will be there and we want to bring that intensity in the games in control.”
Inside the dressing room, there’s plenty of respect for the chasing pack and a belief that things are very much on track.
“The goal is obviously to make the playoffs,” said Captain Patrice Cormier after a recent practice. “No matter what, coming (into) the first two rounds you have to face a Chicago team that’s really good or an Iowa or Grand Rapids. Milwaukee’s close (and Rockford too). If you make the playoffs, you have to face one of these teams in the first round so we focus on ourselves. We focus on how to get better and I think we’ve been doing a really good job.”
And with that the stretch drive is officially underway. No one is taking anything for granted, but you can be sure there will be plenty to cheer about before the season is complete.