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Moose ready to bust loose

Solid squad looking forward to lengthy AHL playoff run

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It has been four long years since the Manitoba Moose were playing high-stakes spring hockey. A playoff appearance in 2018 that lasted two rounds was followed by a miss in 2019 and then two straight pandemic-impacted campaigns with no post-season at all.

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Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 13/04/2022 (296 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It has been four long years since the Manitoba Moose were playing high-stakes spring hockey. A playoff appearance in 2018 that lasted two rounds was followed by a miss in 2019 and then two straight pandemic-impacted campaigns with no post-season at all.

The drought is officially over. And the farm club of the Winnipeg Jets will not only be competing for the Calder Cup starting next month, but they’ll be among the favourites to go the distance.

“It’s awesome. We talked about it right at the beginning of the year. A goal of ours was getting into the playoffs. That’s the first step,” forward Cole Maier told reporters following practice earlier this week. The undrafted 26-year-old is fourth on the team in scoring with 15 goals and 15 assists in 62 games this year.

JOHN WOODS / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS files ‘We’ve been working for this the entire season,’ says, Moose defenceman Declan Chisholm of the team’s impending post-season run.

At 37-21-7, the Moose officially punched their ticket following last Saturday’s 2-1 overtime loss in Chicago. They have seven regular-season games remaining, including home dates on Saturday and Sunday against Rockford. Manitoba is in second in their division, and sixth-overall in the 32-team AHL.

With the Jets unlikely to qualify for the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Moose will be loading up. You can expect current NHL call-ups Morgan Barron, Mikey Eyssimont and Dylan Samberg to be back on the farm by the start of May. They’ll join a group that already includes the likes of forwards Kristian Vesalainen, David Gustafsson, Kristian Reichel, Austin Poganski, C.J. Suess and Jeff Malott, and defencemen Ville Heinola, Declan Chisholm and Johnathan Kovacevic. Those nine skaters have all appeared in games with the big club this year.

“We’ve been working for this the entire season,” Chisholm, who has eight goals and 19 assists in 46 games, said of qualifying for the 16-team tournament. “It’s s a good accomplishment. Now we’re just looking forward to playoffs and getting ready for that. We’ve got a great tight-knit group. I think that goes to say how good we are on and off the ice and it’s going to translate into the playoffs.”

Indeed, this is a club that openly roots for each other. And there has been plenty to cheer about this year, with seven players making their NHL debuts with the Jets. On Monday night, the team was out for a big dinner celebrating Gustafsson’s 22nd birthday at the same time Winnipeg was playing in Montreal. Eyssimont was appearing in his first big-league game, and Barron scored his first goal with the Jets, then added a beautiful assist on a Paul Stastny tally for good measure.

“There was a good reaction from our table when we saw Morgs put that one away,” said Malott, who leads the Moose in scoring with 22 goals and 15 assists in 56 games. He played college hockey at Cornell with Barron, who was acquired from the New York Rangers last month as part of the Andrew Copp trade.

“He’s so reliable, he’s so sturdy,” said Malott. “(And Mikey), every game the year the guy is flying. He’s first into battle, he’s chippy. As soon as I saw the hole (with the Jets) needed to be filled and Mikey got that call, I sent him an immediate text saying ‘You deserve this, go out and make the most of this.’ He’s a huge part of the reason we have success here.”

The locker room is getting even more crowded with the addition of forwards Daniel Torgersson and Henri Nikkanen, who both inked three-year entry level deals with the Jets this week and have joined the Moose on professional tryouts for the stretch drive. The 20-year-olds were selected in the second and fourth rounds of the 2020 and 2019 drafts. That will give coach Mark Morrisson plenty of options to consider.

“Last year (when AHL playoffs were cancelled) we had a locker room that wanted to go far in the playoffs and an opportunity to play meaningful hockey,” said Malott. “With a lot of the same returning guys, we still have that drive and a locker room that’s ready to play some really serious hockey and some good series against some good teams.”

mike.mcintyre@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @mikemcintyrewpg

Mike McIntyre

Mike McIntyre
Sports columnist

Mike McIntyre grew up wanting to be a professional wrestler. But when that dream fizzled, he put all his brawn into becoming a professional writer.

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