Over the last couple weeks I’ve been sharing my favourite Moose games from this past season with you.
Now, it’s time to reveal my favourite.
There are so many memorable nights in any season; the first game of the campaign, the home opener, special occasions like New Year’s Day, or our retro game. Not to mention gritty road wins and high-scoring home victories.
The point is, it hasn’t been easy to narrow it down to a single game ahead of all the rest, but I’ve made up my mind as to “the one” and I’m sticking with it. (Man, that season finale in Cleveland was a dandy!)
MANITOBA vs TUCSON, April 9 at MTS Centre
It was the final home game of the season for the Manitoba Moose and the joint was jumping! More than 8,100 Moose fans jammed in for a Sunday afternoon celebration of the season and there was a buzz in the building from the start.
The Moose edged Tucson in OT two days before to improve to 2-0-1-0 to open a four-game stay at MTS Centre, the last four games of the home schedule. Now it was time for the re-match and the very last home outing of the season. It didn’t take long to get things going.
Late-season addition Francis Beauvillier banged in his fourth of the year at 6:50 of the first period to give the Moose a deserved 1-0 lead. Mid-frame it was still 1-0, but Manitoba was playing with loads of jump and outshooting Tucson 10-4.
The lead grew to 2-0 just under six minutes later thanks to a blast off the rush from Darren Kramer. The rugged winger has plenty of fans and always seems to get the crowd, and the bench, going when he turns on the red light. Tucson wasn’t going to go away quietly and Moose-killer Chris Mueller made it a one-goal game on a late period power play (his 9th point playing his 4th game against Manitoba).
So 20 minutes in, it was 2-1 Manitoba, but with the Moose holding an impressive 18-9 edge in shots.
VETERAN PRESENCE LIFTS MOOSE
Even though the Moose impressed in the first period, and fan entertainer Cameron Hughes had the fun-metre pinned, the Roadrunners worked their way back into the game.
Mitch Moroz snuck one past Eric Comrie at 10:49 and the game was tied 2-2, but as was often the case, when the Moose needed a real on-ice spark Patrice Cormier and JC Lipon were there to answer the call. The two teamed up to get the lead back when Cormier stole the puck from goalie Marek Langhamer behind the Tucson goal and centered for Lipon who found the empty net and put the home team on top again with just over a period remaining in regulation time.
A little more than eight minutes into that final frame the Moose put on the pressure looking for an insurance goal when Jimmy Lodge was stripped of the puck. Rookie Jalen Smereck, in his first AHL game, snatched the puck from Lodge and heading toward the Manitoba net. Lodge tried to catch up, but up-ended Smereck before he could test Eric Comrie.
So in went Smereck, 1-on-1 with a chance to tie it in his first pro game, and Comrie shut the door!
Even with Comrie’s clutch stop, the Moose lead didn’t hold much longer. Just 24 seconds after the penalty shot was saved, Tucson’s Michael Bunting deflected one into the Moose net to tie things 3-3.
How would the Jets’ affiliate respond to adversity in its final home game?
With a goal!
Ryan Olsen got the legs going and skated down the left side, into Roadrunner territory, before sending the puck in front. There it glanced off the skate of a back-checking Tucson forward and into the net. 4-3 Moose with less than half a period to play, and goalie Eric Comrie with his lone assist of the season in a neat twist-of-fate.
Tucson outshot Manitoba 13-9 before the stanza was over, but the man who “set up” the winner was a difference maker in goal yet again and the Moose delighted the home faithful with a win in their final appearance of the season at MTS Centre.
BEYOND THE FINAL HORN
After the game Moose players saluted the crowd and even passed along their sticks to some of the many fans who rooted for them all season long – a great way to connect one final time for 2016-17!
Defenceman Luke Green, a third-round pick of the Jets in 2016, recorded his first professional point with an assist on the game’s first goal, while Ryan Olsen finished with a goal and an assist.
Eric Comrie’s assist was the first of his AHL career and came in his 100th game at this level.
With the victory, the Moose posted a 3-0-1-0 mark in that final home stand, including back-to-back wins to close.