April 25, 2017

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Moose season's success not entirely measured by win-loss record

For some, there was growth and development and even opportunity. For others, frustration and disappointment as they slid further down the organizational depth chart.

Such is life in the American Hockey League, where the only constant is change. And the Manitoba Moose certainly experienced plenty of that during what turned out to be year filled with numerous ups and downs. Players, coaches and staff gathered for one final time on Monday for medicals and exit interviews before heading their separate ways to begin the off-season.

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Nelson Nogier: "It was nice being able to get that experience under my belt" (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

BORIS MINKEVICH / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Nelson Nogier: "It was nice being able to get that experience under my belt" (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press files)

It might be easy to call this Moose campaign a failure, considering they finished far out of the playoff picture for a second straight year since returning to Winnipeg.

But there is more here than meets the eye, where true success isn't always judged by a win-loss record.

Players like Kyle Connor, Jack Roslovic, Eric Comrie and Nelson Nogier took significant steps this season. All four made their NHL debuts and will continue pushing for work with the Winnipeg Jets in the future.

"It was nice being able to get that experience under my belt and I think it just sets me up for a really good spot to work this summer," Nogier said Monday.

The kids were certainly alright, as Roslovic led the Moose in points, Connor led the team in goals and Comrie solidified himself as a solid No. 1 goalie at this level. All told, a dozen different players wore both aMoose and a Jets jersey at some point this year.

Kyle Connor: "I took strides as a player and got better." (Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Kyle Connor: "I took strides as a player and got better." (Wayne Glowacki / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"I think it was a good season, I took strides as a player and got better. I got more consistent at this level about playing the right way for the whole game," said Connor. "I think it all kind of fell into place."

Brendan Lemieux likely would have made it 13 Moose players suiting up for the Jets if not for suffering a broken foot last month which sidelined him for the remainder of the year. It was the same injury he suffered in training camp last fall which delayed the start of his year.

"It was definitely a tough year for me. But a lot of growth I thought in my game," Lemieux said Monday. He's chomping at the bit to show the big club he can be a difference-maker as early as next season.

The Jets made a couple of free agent depth signings last summer in the form of defenceman Brian Strait and forward Quinton Howden. Both expressed regrets Monday at how their seasons played out on a personal level, with each appearing in just five NHL games.

Brendan Lemieux: "It was definitely a tough year for me." (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Brendan Lemieux: "It was definitely a tough year for me." (Boris Minkevich / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"It was a little disappointing for me, obviously not being able to be with the Jets a little bit more. But I enjoyed my role here helping out the younger guys. We had a fun team and it was nice to see everybody take steps," said Strait.

Howden suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in early March but said he relished the opportunity to play pro hockey in his home province. He also sung the praises of the team's prospects.

"The young guys that we had here this year are exceptional. This team is definitely headed in the right direction," said Howden.

Jets prospects such as Chase De Leo, JC Lipon and Jimmy Lodge continued to show signs of improvement, while others such as Ryan Olsen, Scott Kosmachuk, Jan Kostalek and Brendan Kichton battled inconsistency and found themselves as healthy scratches at various points.

"Looking at my numbers, not the best year for me. I dealt with a lot of adversity this year," Kichton said Monday. He led the Moose in scoring last year with 11 goals and 30 assists, but put up just one goal and 22 helpers in 63 games this season which included breaking his finger in the first game of the year.

Kevin Czuczman: "I absolutely love it here. Great city, honestly one of the best places I've ever played." (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press files)</p>

Kevin Czuczman: "I absolutely love it here. Great city, honestly one of the best places I've ever played." (Trevor Hagan / Winnipeg Free Press files)

"I felt like it was a bit of an outlier year as evident by my previous numbers. Everything happens for a reason, right? Maybe having this year helped me improve my mentality and helps me down the road," said Kichton.

With so many call-ups and injuries, the Moose ended up dressing 46 different players this season including 13 who spent time in the ECHL. One of those, Dan DeSalvo, earned himself an AHL deal early in the season and finished third on the Moose in scoring.

There were also surprising contributions from defencemen Kevin Czuczman and Peter Stoykewych, who both had solid campaigns on the blue-line while playing on AHL-only contracts.

"I absolutely love it here. Great city, honestly one of the best places I've ever played. I have nothing but good things to say about this organization. Head-to-toe it's first class," Czuczman said Monday on his hopes to return to Winnipeg next season.

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Read more by Mike McIntyre.

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