After 53 days, which consisted of 17 games at the Bell MTS Iceplex, the Manitoba Moose wrapped up one of the longest homestands in professional sports history Thursday.
It started March 8 with a 6-5 overtime loss to the Stockton Heat. It would also come to an end against the Heat in yet another overtime affair, but Thursday, it was the Moose who would prevail as they came away with a 2-1 victory. David Gustafsson potted the game-winner in the extra frame while Bobby Lynch scored in regulation for the Moose. Goalie Mikhail Berdin stopped 20 shots on the night.
"It was nice as far as outside of the rink," said Lynch post-game on their unprecedented stretch of home games.
"Getting meals and stuff you could definitely stock up on food instead of buying for a couple of days. But I think it's easier on the boys too always being home, not having to get up and go every couple of days. I think the guys are excited to play a couple on the road, though."
And they will hit the road as the Moose will dust off their luggage for a seven-game road trip to close out the season. They'll kick off a three-game series against the Toronto Marlies next Thursday before playing four contests against the Belleville Senators. Their season finale lands on May 16.
The Moose won't, however, get an opportunity to play for the Calder Cup. It's not because of their record, as Thursday's result pushed the Moose to 15-11-2-1 on the year, good enough for second place in the five-team Canadian Division. It's because the AHL announced Thursday the Calder Cup will not be awarded in 2021. The seven-team Pacific Division will play a post-season tournament to crown a division champion, but the Atlantic, North, Central, and Canadian divisions will call it a year after the regular season. The top team in each division will win an award, with the Canadian Division winner — the Laval Rocket who boast a league-best 22-5-1-1 record — receiving the Frank S. Mathers Trophy. The Mathers Trophy has been presented to an AHL division or conference champion annually since 1995-96.
"At the end of the day, we're here to develop and to develop positive habits and understanding what the standards are of this organization, the Jets and the Moose, the culture we want to install in those guys, and understanding that next year when you're going to come back, we expect an improvement," said Moose bench boss Pascal Vincent.
"But not having playoffs, it takes away a lot. The best way to say it is it's in our DNA. We want those playoffs. We want to play for the cup. When you start a hockey game, you want to win that game. That's why we come to the rink. We're in this business to win games. It's not there so we'll adjust mentally, but it's not great."
The Moose played their first four games at Bell MTS Place before they got booted to the Iceplex for the season. While the situation wasn't ideal, the Moose played well at their makeshift home at the practice facility. They went 9-5-2-1 during their 17-game staycation but saved their best hockey for last. Manitoba earned points in their last eight contests and won seven of them.
"When I'm sitting on the bench, I just feel everybody has so much confidence Everybody's playing for each other," said forward Joona Luoto. "We have everybody's back. We trust our teammates and I think that's a huge thing. You know he's going to do his job and you know you're going to do your job."
Eighteen years old and still in high school, Taylor got his start with the Free Press on June 1, 2011. Well, sort of.