Moose rewriting playbook for success
Club tearing up AHL with pandemic-related revolving-door lineup
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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 26/01/2022 (373 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
In a sport where stability is usually the hallmark of a successful team, the Manitoba Moose have dismantled conventional thinking.
Facing almost impossible roster conditions, the Moose sit second in the AHL’s Central Division with a 22-10-2-1 record after reeling off a 7-1-1-1 stretch since the beginning of January.
Thirty-five skaters have played at least one of Manitoba’s 35 games this season. Four goalies have played at least twice.
“We just have that no-excuse approach,” said captain Jimmy Oligny after the Moose returned to practice Wednesday following a two-day break. “The guys that are coming in with us are thinking it’s a great opportunity and I think they’re they’re filling up our lineup pretty go. They’re doing a very good job.”
The daily roster chaos is due almost entirely to the pandemic, which has triggered the recall of a slew of AHLers to NHL rosters and taxi squads and back again. The revolving door to the locker room has made call-ups from the ECHL standard.
Oligny said his faith in his teammates was cemented on Jan. 12 when the Moose travelled to Milwaukee, thumping the Admirals 2-0 before earning three of four possible points during a weekend series in Grand Rapids against the Griffins.
“I think we only had two regular defenceman in our lineup and we were we were just struggling to find… enough players to play and we still ended up winning that game and then we went to Grand Rapids and we also did a great job over there,” said Oligny.
“It struck me there it’s not only that we’re winning games, I think is the way we’re winning… It’s not always pretty but we’re getting the job done.”
Head coach Mark Morrison hasn’t forgotten the heroic effort he witnessed in Milwaukee.
“We were as depleted of team as I’ve seen and we had replacements come in from from our (ECHL) teams in Newfoundland and so on, and those guys did an incredible job,” said Morrison.
“I guess it’s a lot to do with the players — the core group — and Jimmy being one of those guys (and Cole) Maier, (Jeff) Malott and I think we still had (Austin) Poganski at that time. These guys have been great. Great leaders and great in spreading the message to the guys that are coming in.”
Much of the credit for the red-hot start, tied for second best in the franchise’s AHL history, must go to Morrison, a first-year head man, and assistants Eric Dubois and Marty Johnston.
“It’s not easy,” said Morrison. “The work is ramped up a little bit and the staff has had to work a lot harder and in preparing all the new players that are coming in all the time.
“The other thing we tried to sell to the guys is that it doesn’t matter who you play with on any given night because your lines change every game, sometimes by the period and they’ve had no regular linemates so that’s been challenging for them but more challenging, I think, for the coaching staff to continue to to work with that and and make sure that the linemates know tendencies.”
The personnel chaos also pushes players out of their comfort zones. For example, left-winger Evan Polei played 21 minutes — almost double his usual workload — in Sunday’s 3-1 win over the division-leading Chicago Wolves.
“They come in expecting to play a role this year and then they have to play a bigger role and they’re just doing a great job at it,” said Oligny.
Forward Mikey Eyssimont said Morrison has successfully merged a winning culture with a teaching approach.
“He’s very development-oriented,” said Eyssimont. “He comes to me with one or two or three points before a game that he wants me specifically to think about out there and then try to work on. And when he does that, that’s such a nice thing for me to just to have — a couple of key points to focus on that are usually oriented towards the systems that we play. It really just helps me play my game.”
Manitoba’s winning formula combines the division’s best defensive record with a scoring-by-committee approach to offence.
“When we lost the players that we lost to the Jets — (David) Gustafsson and (Kristian) Reichel and C.J. Suess — we had to start thinking we’ve got to score by committee and start preaching that,” said Morrison. “They do a good job of it. I think that the key to this group at the moment is that they believe that they can win any game no matter who they have in the lineup.”
BLUE-LINES: The Moose announced two rescheduled dates for postponed home games on Dec. 30 and 31 against the Abbotsford Canucks. Those game will now be played on Thursday, April 28 at 7 p.m. and Saturday, April 30 at 2 p.m.
Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.