July 22, 2019

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Soaring second half eases pain of missing playoffs for Moose players, coach

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Logan Shaw speaks at the Moose's last media day at the Bell MTS Iceplex in Winnipeg on Monday.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Logan Shaw speaks at the Moose's last media day at the Bell MTS Iceplex in Winnipeg on Monday.

The Manitoba Moose have missed the AHL playoffs by a mere two points, but no one was calling 2018-19 a failure as they cleaned out their lockers at Bell MTS Iceplex Monday morning.

"Everyone's been on a losing team before, everyone's been on a team that started off slowly and not many teams can bounce back the way we did," said second-year Moose forward Jansen Harkins.

"I think that's pretty special. I know I've never been part of a team that has come back (like this)."

Harkins has a salient point.

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The Manitoba Moose have missed the AHL playoffs by a mere two points, but no one was calling 2018-19 a failure as they cleaned out their lockers at Bell MTS Iceplex Monday morning.

"Everyone's been on a losing team before, everyone's been on a team that started off slowly and not many teams can bounce back the way we did," said second-year Moose forward Jansen Harkins.

"I think that's pretty special. I know I've never been part of a team that has come back (like this)."

Harkins has a salient point.

Manitoba, riddled with injuries and handicapped by numerous NHL call-ups in the first half, was dead last in the league with 24 points at Christmas.

When they returned from the holiday break, head coach Pascal Vincent challenged his players with some hard numbers. By his calculations, the Moose would need 64 points in their final 47 games to reach the 88-point plateau, which would probably be enough to qualify for the post-season.

His team responded with an incredible push, piling up 61 points and finishing with 85, just shy of the final playoff berth in the Central Division.

"We feel that we've been in the playoffs for almost four months now, because we had to," said Vincent. "Every game was important. Every game we needed the points. It's a playoff mindset...

"The only feeling that I have right now is I feel empty."

Manitoba finished the season with 39 wins, the second most in their division, and tied a franchise record with 25 home victories.

"The number of wins were right there, eighth in the league," said Vincent. "The one thing that hurt us a little during the season was scoring goals. We weren't scoring goals easy. So we had to win those 2-1, 3-2 games, and if we were giving up four we were in trouble."

Manitoba's 2.59 goals per game was fourth-worst in the AHL and the impact was predictable.

"Just going from where we were in the standings to being two points removed from a playoff spot was nothing short of remarkable, to be honest," said veteran defenceman Cam Schilling, who will be an unrestricted free agent this summer. "We had some iffy lineups there with injuries and everything, call-ups. We kind of battled through, had great goaltending and we kind of found our identity being a defence-first team and we were able to grind wins out."

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS</p><p>Riley Kosmolak piles bags of extra gear onto a cart on the Moose's last media day at the Bell MTS Iceplex in Winnipeg on Monday.</p>

MIKAELA MACKENZIE / WINNIPEG FREE PRESS

Riley Kosmolak piles bags of extra gear onto a cart on the Moose's last media day at the Bell MTS Iceplex in Winnipeg on Monday.

Manitoba's stretch drive was a point of pride.

"Just being in that situation, from being in last place in the league, to me that's pretty special," said centre Logan Shaw, who had a team-leading 29 goals and finished six points behind Seth Griffith's club-leading 57 points. "To do that in hockey... that's pretty hard to do."

Forward JC Lipon finished his sixth AHL season on the sidelines with a shoulder injury.

"When I went down it wasn't a good feeling, but watching the games when I was out, we were winning, and I think we did everything we could. So if I was in, I don't think it would've made much of a difference," said Lipon. "It just came down to a numbers thing and we did everything we could."

The 25-year-old is the longest serving member of the Moose.

"I've loved my time here and would definitely want to come back," said Lipon, who is about to become an unrestricted free agent. "I'll need to talk to my agent and kinda lay everything out. Winnipeg is definitely a second home for me."


Tucker Poolman was honoured as the club's best defenceman despite missing 33 games due to a seven-week concussion layoff and another two weeks lost to an ankle injury at the end the regular season.

Poolman, 25, is expected to become an NHL regular next season.

"There were some tough times for sure," said Poolman, who attended the season-ending media session with a medical walking boot on his left foot. "This (injury) kinda stung the first couple of days, with the way things were going. The earlier injury was long and frustrating, because I was close for a long time."


Veteran forward Ryan White started the season on a pro tryout and battled through injury to become an integral part of the organization. The 31-year-old Brandon product is highly regarded by Vincent.

"I really enjoyed myself here," White said at the end of his 11th pro season. "I mean, I'd sure like to come back and be a part of it in the future but it's hockey and you never know how it will work out."

mike.sawatzky@freepress.mb.ca

Twitter: @sawa14

Mike Sawatzky

Mike Sawatzky
Sports Reporter

Mike has been working on the Free Press sports desk since 2003.

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