After a dismal opening weekend against the Iowa Wild, the Manitoba Moose played at home the last two weekends, with a pair of games against the Belleville Senators followed up by a pair this weekend against the San Antonio Rampage.
The Moose split the series with the Senators, winning their first of the season on Friday the 12th 2-1 courtesy of goals from Seth Griffith and Mason Appleton, each scoring their first of the year and Eric Comrie stopping 30 of 31 shots. Things fell apart the next day, with Ken Appleby in net for Manitoba, as the Moose lost 6-2, with C.J. Suess scoring both goals for the home team.
Enter Kristian Vesalainen.
The young Finn was sent down to the Moose by the Winnipeg Jets in time for Friday’s game. Friday also saw the return of Logan Stanley, who blocked a shot late in the first game of the year and missed the next three with a leg injury. Michael Spacek is in the Czech Republic dealing with a family issues, while Nic Kerdiles is also out with injury. So it was a bit of a change for head coach Pascal Vincent to get things going. Here’s how the lines looked on Friday, and they were the same to start Sunday’s game as well:
Rather than playing less than seven minutes per night, Vesalainen found himself on the top line, alongside C.J. Suess and Seth Griffith, as well as featuring on the first power play unit with Sami Niku, Mason Appleton, C.J. Suess, and Seth Griffith.
Friday night, with Eric Comrie in net for Manitoba, the Moose struck first when Niku threw the puck to the net, and J.C. Lipon deposited the rebound in behind Ville Husso to give the home team the lead. The Rampage outshot the Moose 18-13 in the first period, and tied things up when former Brandon Wheat King Tanner Kaspick attempted a shot that went off of Jansen Harkins and slowly, slowly evaded Eric Comrie.
The second period saw a pair of Moose penalties and one for the Rampage, but nothing came of the resulting power plays.
The teams each had shortened power plays to start the third but nothing came of those. Finally, a hooking penalty to former Moose (and Jets 6th round pick in 2012) Ryan Olsen awakened the Moose. Seven seconds into the power play, Jansen Harkins took a slick backhanded no look pass from Tucker Poolman and wristed one past Husso with exactly eight minutes left. The Moose quickly built on their lead, with C.J. Suess and Seth Griffith doing a nifty give and go that saw Suess charge the net and tuck one in with 6:24 left. Kristian Vesalainen picked up his first point as a Moose with the breakout pass that lead to the play.
With the net empty, Lipon forced a turnover that Mason Appleton picked up, returning the puck to Lipon for his second of the night and of the season, wrapping up the scoring in a 4-1 win. Comrie stopped 34 of 35 shots on the night.
On Sunday afternoon, the Moose rolled out the same lineup and opened the scoring early. Mason Appleton took a pass and flew down the right wing, and rather than going behind the net, released a shot from the red line and caught the Rampage goalie cheating off his post and the puck snuck (sneaked?) in the short side 1:32 into the game.
A short time later, the Rampage tied it up when a point shot from Sam Lofquist went in off the stick of Jansen Harkins, the second time in as many games Harkins inadvertently directed a puck into his own net.
Seth Griffith was denied on a breakaway 11:40 into the game, as he looked to break out offensively.
Dennis Everberg lambasted a Rampage player about halfway through the period, but suffered a check of his own later on in the frame that knocked him out of the game, causing the remaining fourth line of Tye McGinn and Skyler McKenzie to see a multitude of linemates throughout the contest.
Each team had a couple of chances near the end of the period, with a great sprawling save by Comrie with 3:34 remaining, and a scramble with 34 seconds left led to a great chance for Manitoba, with the puck loose in the crease before a Rampage player intentionally dislodged the net but the refs didn’t seem to notice or care.
Early in the second, Tye McGinn took a penalty for cross-checking. San Antonio won the faceoff and a point shot blasted by a screened Comrie and it was 2-1 just like that 51 seconds into the second, just four seconds into the penalty kill.
On another Moose penalty, this time Harkins for interference, San Antonio nearly doubled their lead, with Nikita Soshnikov denied by Comrie.
With the Moose on a power play of their own, and with another penalty coming to San Antonio, Mason Appleton found Kristian Vesalainen who was wide open on the slot. The Rampage goalie came out to cut down the angle, but Vesalainen actually passed to C.J. Suess for a tap in goal, giving Suess his fifth of the year 5:21 in.
The Moose regained the lead when Vesalainen made a good play in his own zone to get the puck to Peter Stoykewych, who found Seth Griffith on a breakaway, and Griffith made no mistake with 9:26 left.
Appleton scores his second of the game off a tic-tac-toe play with Jansen Harkins passing to Emile Poirier who one time passed it to Appleton who one timed it into the net, extending the lead with 8:08 to go in the period.
More goals? More goals! Mason Appleton sent Poirier in on a breakaway. While being hauled down in what could have been a penalty shot if the shot didn’t go in, Poirier managed to lift the puck in. So quickly, in fact, that the refs originally called it off the post, but a quick review showed it went in off the centre stanchion. The assist to Appleton was his fourth point of the game, and the Moose led 5-2 after two.
Soshnikov, who was sent down by the St. Louis Blues and was San Antonio’s best player, one timed in a power play goal with Harkins in the box, cutting the lead to 5-3 just past the halfway mark of the third.
Manitoba would restore their three goal advantage. With 8:20 left, Manitoba went back to the power play. After a couple of short handed chances for the Rampage, Suess gained the zone on the left side and tapped the puck ahead to Vesalainen, who made like he was going to go for the wraparound, but rather dropped the pass back to Mason Appleton in the slot who whacked in his third goal and fifth point of the night, making it 6-3 and wrapping up the scoring in this one. Eric Comrie stopped 33 of 36 shots against, picking up his third win on the campaign, making his number 3-2-0 with a 2.80 goals against average and a.917 save percentage as he has rebounded nicely after two shaky performances in Iowa.
Mason Appleton leads the team in scoring after six games, with four goals and four assists for eight points. Suess has six points, while Vesalainen (in just two games) and Griffith each have four.
Also of note, Mikhail Berdin has played two games with the Jacksonville Icemen, winning both while putting up a 2.00 GAA and a .922 save percentage.
The Moose next play on Saturday, October 27th at the Milwaukee Admirals then travel to face the Rockford IceHogs on Sunday the 28th.