It has been a year of more downs than ups for the Manitoba Moose. But the development of three rookies — first-round draft picks Kyle Connor and Jack Roslovic along with ECHL signee Dan DeSalvo — has certainly been a major bright spot.
Moose coach Pascal Vincent decided to put his three young guns together on a line for Saturday night’s game. Consider the move a rousing success.
Connor scored twice, Roslovic had a goal and two assists and DeSalvo scored and had a helper as Manitoba rolled to a 5-3 victory over Rockford and snapped a seven-game winless streak in the process.
Roslovic is leading the Moose in scoring with 12 goals and 28 assists in 56 games. Connor is right behind with 21 goals and 17 assists in just 44 games with the Moose since being sent down by the Winnipeg Jets. He’s been unstoppable over the past dozen games, with 13 goals and seven assists in that stretch. DeSalvo is third in team scoring with 15 goals and 18 assists through 55 games.
"We were going out there, playing strong down low and winning puck battles. When we get the puck I think our skill takes over after that," Connor said following the game. He believes he’s a much different player then the one who began the year in the NHL.
"Over the past month or two I think I’ve tried to soak it all in, learn as much as I can," he said. "I’m just trying to keep building my game and get better every time."
Ryan Olsen opened the scoring late in the first period when he grabbed a loose puck behind the Rockford net and quickly tucked it in past a surprised IceHogs goalie Jeff Glass. It’s the sixth goal of the year for the rugged centre.
DeSalvo made it 2-0 early in the second period after he deflected a Jan Kostalek point shot past Glass. The Moose offence kept rolling later in the period as Roslovic found an opening and beat Glass with a wrist shot.
Defenceman Jake Kulevich drew the primary assist on Roslovic’s goal, which was his first professional point in his first professional game. Kulevich signed a contract with the Moose earlier this week after finishing up his college hockey career with Colgate. The 24-year-old defenceman was the captain of his NCAA squad and led the team in scoring.
"Definitely memorable. It was great, a great crowd, the guys were going, huge to get a win in the first game. It felt good out there and was a lot of fun," said Kulevich. "The pace is quick, you’ve got to move the puck quickly. It was fast-paced, physical. A good game."
Rockford got on the board just as time expired in the second period. But Connor put the game away by scoring twice in an 80-second span early in the third period. The IceHogs would get a couple of goals late in the period to make it more respectable.
Eric Comrie stopped 24 of 27 shots he faced for the victory. He was playing behind a depleted defence corps without three key pieces. Julian Melchiori remains on recall with the Winnipeg Jets, and Brian Strait joined him on the big club earlier in the day. Brenden Kichton was a surprise healthy scratch. Kichton is expected to produce offence on the blue line but has no goals and 17 assists in 53 games this season.
Forward Quinton Howden was hurt in Saturday’s game and Vincent said it could be a long-term recovery. Manitoba (24-32-9) wraps up an eight-game homestand by hosting Milwaukee Thursday and Friday.