Moose need some stability

First half of season a COVID-19 mish-mash


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On paper, the first half of the 2021-2022 AHL season went incredibly well for the Manitoba Moose.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 30/01/2022 (369 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

On paper, the first half of the 2021-2022 AHL season went incredibly well for the Manitoba Moose.

The Winnipeg Jets’ AHL affiliate headed into Sunday afternoon’s affair with the Abbotsford Canucks at 22-11-2-1 — the fourth-best record in franchise history through 36 games.

But the reality is, even though they’re sitting pretty in second place in the Central Division, the Moose are hoping the second half of the season looks much different.

Abbotsford Canucks’ Alex Kannok Leipert (41) defends against Manitoba Moose Nicholas Jones (8) as he drives around the net of goaltender Arturs Silovs (76) during first period AHL action in Winnipeg on Sunday, January 30, 2022. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

The pandemic has forced the Moose to go through countless changes all season long. The Jets have had no choice but to consistently call up players to the taxi squad and the majority of the Moose have been sidelined at some point after testing positive for COVID-19.

The club has dressed nearly 40 players this season, with forward Tristin Langan being the latest name added to the list. Langan, a Swan Valley, Man., native, signed a professional tryout contract on Friday and made his Moose debut Saturday in a 4-3 loss to Abbotsford. The Moose bounced back on Sunday to start the second half of their 72-game season with a 5-3 victory over the Canucks (15-13-3-1) at the Canada Life Centre in front of a sea of mostly empty seats. Current provincial health orders allow for a maximum of 250 fans in attendance.

Despite what their record says (Manitoba is the hottest team in the Central Division as they’ve gone 7-2-1-0 in their last 10), things have been far from easy.

“It’s been all over the map,” said first-year Moose head coach Mark Morrison.

“I think we’ve been a very resilient team. With all the changes and everything that’s happened from the beginning to now, I think we have 12 or 14 different bodies in than what we had before Christmas. They’ve been a resilient group and it doesn’t matter who they’re playing with or who they’re playing against or what the lineup looks like that night. The core guys seem to gel them together and they play hard and compete.”

Morrison got one of his core guys back this weekend in Jeff Malott. The undrafted second-year forward out of Cornell University missed three games due to COVID. Malott had a goal and an assist on Saturday and two goals Sunday. Malott said this season has been a constant adjustment but the guidance of Morrison has helped soften the blows.

“I think he does a good job of staying even keel,” Malott said postgame. Centre Nicholas Jones also scored a pair for the Moose on Sunday and winger Haralds Egle chipped in with a goal and an assist. Arvid Holm made 27 saves to improve to 7-3-1-1 on the season.

“When things are going well, our locker room’s great and we’ve got a lot of energy but he comes in and just makes sure we stick to our simple game and stick to what gives us success. And when things aren’t going our way, he’s quick to remind us of the things that turn the tide for us. I think it’s just a matter of him being this kind of calm, cool, and collected personality in the locker room that is contagious for us.”

Malott has yet to experience a ‘normal’ year of pro hockey. Last season saw the Moose playing at the Iceplex with not much, if anything, at stake as the AHL scrapped the Calder Cup playoffs for a second consecutive year.

“It’s just been kind of a constant adjustment. It’s hard to predict what next week is gonna look like and it’s funny to think about what it looked like last week. It’s constantly changing and I think the biggest thing I’ll take away from these two years, and hopefully it’s just these two years, is finding a way to be prepared for any situation possible,” said Malott.

Manitoba Moose goaltender Arvid Holm (35) moves to cover up the loose puck during first period. (John Woods / Winnipeg Free Press)

“I think it’s just a matter of not getting too set into one routine or getting too fixated on anything.”

The Calder Cup is on the line this year, though. If the Moose can get away from changing the nameplates on their locker room stalls every day and relying heavily on ECHL call-ups, this group could make some noise. This season will feature 23 teams in the playoffs with five rounds to decide the AHL’s champion.

“We’ve got guys that have never played playoff hockey in this league and I think we have a lot of guys that are excited for that opportunity. It’s hard to tell right now obviously, but I can see in a couple weeks us getting some key guys back and really solidify our lineup and getting it back to when things were a little more predictable before Christmas,” said Malott.

“But I mean, in the meantime, we have a great cast of guys that are ready to come and work and fill spots for us and it seems to be working.”

The Moose return to action on Friday when they host the Texas Stars.

Twitter: @TaylorAllen31

Taylor Allen

Taylor Allen

Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of...

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