PORTAGE LA PRAIRIE — Sergei Shirokov is one of those puzzles that leaves fans holding their breath one night and coaches banging their heads the next.
Shirokov returned to the Manitoba Moose lineup Saturday night and immediately had an impact, whistling a wrist shot past Abbotsford Heat goalie J.P. Lamoureux that he could only blow a kiss to.
The goal was the centrepiece in a 4-3 Moose win over the Heat at Portage’s PCU Centre to wrap up Manitoba’s pre-season record at a perfect 3-0.
This may have been a minor league pre-season game in a junior hockey rink but everything about this goal was big time.
The 24-year-old Russian has the ability to shoot the puck like an elite NHL sniper. The disc hits his stick and is immediately gone. Fired with intent and almost always on target, Shirokov has the kind of shot that can result in big numbers at the AHL level.
"He can shoot it and when he gets open and gets an opportunity he rips it top shelf with the peanut butter," said Moose coach Claude Noel, who shrugged off questions about the 3-0 mark saying, "They don’t give out too many rings for the pre-season."
Last season Shirokov scored 22 goals and 23 assists in 76 games with the Moose and there’s no reason to believe he can’t improve on those numbers.
"Like a lot of young players he needs some work but he showed what he can do," said Noel. "To me he just needs a little bit of structure. He’s got the raw materials and now it’s a question of whether he can step up to play in the next league. But he can be an impact player here."
Shirokov left Vancouver Canucks camp amid suggestions that his conditioning was lacking and the player says he’s happy to work on that.
"I talked to the trainers and maybe I didn’t train the right way and work on the right things," said Shirokov, who came to North America last season and learned a new style of game, language and way of life. "I don’t think about going back to Russia. I want to play in The Show. It’s the best league with the best players. It’s where I want to be. For now I like being in Manitoba. It’s a great organization with great people and coaches. I want to help this team. If they need me to score 30 goals that’s what I’ll try to do. If they want me to block a shot in the last minute, that’s what I’ll do."