Saturday, January 23, 2010

Manitoba Moose Looking to end three game losing streak...

In an effort to promote the American Hockey League and their quality players, The Voice of Sport will look at teams in the AHL every Saturday throughout the season. The teams in the AHL play an exciting brand of hockey and with a mix of veterans and NHL draft picks; the league is a great place to watch some tremendous hockey at a reasonable price. This week's team - the Manitoba Moose...

Coming off an 8-3 loss to the defending Calder Cup Champion Hershey Bears on Friday evening, last season's Western Conference Champions will try to regroup in time for tonight's contest, against the very same Bears squad in a back-to-back battle at the Giant Center in Hershey Pennsylvania. Currently in third place in the AHL's North Division, the Moose are ten points behind the division leaders, the Hamilton Bulldogs.

With a 23-18-4-1 win/loss record, the Moose have lost three games in a row and former Winnipeg Jet and current Head Coach, Scott Arneil, must rally his players to stay in contention for a playoff spot. The Rochester Americans are one point ahead of the Moose for second in the division but the Americans have three games in hand and could widen the gap between second and third if the Moose continue to slide. At home in the 15,000 seat MTS Centre in Winnipeg, their offence disappears on the road, scoring only 45 goals while allowing 62 against - not the recommended formula for success.

Second in the league in attendance, averaging 7,560 fans per game, Manitoba has struggled on the power play - 24th in the AHL with a 13.6% success rate, and they are one of the lowest scoring teams in the league with 111 total goals this season. On the penalty kill, the Moose are a respectable 14th in the league, killing off 83.5% of their penalties, but with a lack of offence, they will need to improve this statistic moving forward.

Leading the team in scoring this season is AHL rookie Sergei Shirokov. Selected 163rd overall in the sixth round of the 2006 entry draft, the native of Moscow spent last season in the KHL, accumulating 41 points in 56 games with CSKA Moscow. This year in Manitoba, Shirokov has 14 goals and 17 assists in 43 games, tying him for the team lead with AHL veteran Marco Rosa. After an impressive showing at the Vancouver Canucks training camp, Shirokov started the season in Vancouver, playing in six games but failing to score during his time in the NHL. With some improvement and experience in North America, he should find himself on the Canucks roster next season. Shirokov delighted the Manitoba fans with two goals for the PlanetUSA team in the AHL all-star game, held on January 19th (Team Canada won this year’s all-star game 10-9 in a shootout).

Rosa, a native of Scarborough Ontario, is in his sixth season of pro hockey in the AHL and ECHL. A draft pick of the Dallas Stars in the 2001 entry draft (8th round, 255th overall), Rosa spent four years at Merrimack College in the NCAA before joining the Long Beach Ice Dogs in the ECHL for the 2004-2005 season. Last year, Rosa accumulated 40 points in 69 games with the Houston Aeros and in his first season with Manitoba, he has continued to impress, scoring 13 goals and adding 18 assists in 46 games. While he is yet to play in the NHL, he is a dependable center. He could get the call from Vancouver as a reward for his perseverance and leadership if a roster spot opens up due to injury.

Speaking of leadership, what can be said of the Captain of the Moose, Mike Keane? A veteran of 1,161 NHL games and a three-time Stanley Cup Champion, Keane returned to his native Winnipeg in 2005 to continue his playing career and has captained the Moose ever since. Not selected in the NHL entry draft, Keane joined the Montreal Canadiens organization in 1985 as a free agent and made his debut in the hallowed Montreal Forum in 1988; he was also part of the surprising 1993 Stanley Cup championship squad. He would become Captain of the Habs before being included in the famous Patrick Roy to Colorado trade, which brought him another Stanley Cup in 1996. After a move to Dallas to start the 1997-98 season, Keane added a third Stanley Cup to his resume in 1999.

Perhaps the most remarkable aspect of Keane’s time in Manitoba with the Moose is the fact that at 42 years of age, he is fourth in team scoring with eight goals and ten assists in 45 games. In each of the last four seasons, he has scored eight goals while playing in almost every game, averaging 73 games per season. A true leader on and off the ice, Keane is the perfect example of what is good about the game of hockey. Much like Hershey Captain, Bryan Helmer, his desire to play has kept him in the game, helping to guide and teach the younger players what it takes to be an NHL regular.

In the week ahead, the Moose stay on the road for games against the Worcester Sharks on the 27th and 29th of January and finish the month with two games against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins on the 30th and 31st. They finally return home for back-to-back games with the San Antonio Rampage the first week of February. With the Abbotsford Heat only three points behind them in the division, the Moose must continue to work hard and hope the Hamilton Bulldogs cool off if they hope to repeat as the Division Champions.

Next week, The Voice of Sport AHL team profile looks at the Ottawa Senators AHL affiliate, the Binghamton Senators. Have a great sports day everyone.

Photo by Jezz on Flickr

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