Returning home after being on the road for nearly three weeks, the Moose may have to deal with severe flurries and a risk of frost bite from time to time, but it's a small price to pay to be back on familiar ice.
“It’s nice to be home,” said head coach Scott Arniel, heading into a weekend double-header against the Houston Aeros in early December. “It seems like we’ve been on the road a while here so it’s good to be back.”
The team left the comfy confines of Winnipeg midway through November to make way for Walking with Dinosaurs - The Live Experience. And while prehistoric beasts fought for survival at the MTS Centre, the Moose also did their best to mangle the opposition as they ended their seven game trip, which included stops in Syracuse, Iowa and Rochester, with nine of a possible 14 points.
Manitoba is now more than a quarter of the way through the season and with a record of 14-7-2-0 – good for second place in the North Division of the Western Conference – the team is clearly playing well. But just as impressive as the team’s been on defence and between the pipes, the Moose’s offensive game is what Arniel is most proud of.
“I like where we’re at. I think we have some real good skill; we’ve got a lot of forwards and some people on the backend that can score goals. When you can roll three lines out there and everybody’s a threat, it’s certainly a nice problem to have compared to having a whole bunch of guys that are just checkers.”
With only forward Colby Genoway in the top-40 in league scoring, the Moose are similar to the Canucks in that it’s difficult for defences to focus on one or two players because everyone is lighting the lamp. A balanced attack has been the key to Manitoba’s offensive prowess this season and it has helped them stifle their opponents for an average of 3.34 goals per game.
“If I could take eight or nine guys that are sitting just outside that top-40, I’m more than happy with that,” said Arniel. “I like the way our offence is spread out and the way that every line is dangerous, and this last road trip was a good example of us getting goals from a lot of different people.”
Nine players scored for the Moose during their most recent road trip, one of them being explosive rookie Michael Grabner. The Austrian born first-round draft pick already has 16 points this season, much to the delight of Arniel and the chagrin of the rest of the league.
“Grabner hasn’t surprised me because I know he’s a goal-scorer, but he’s surprised me in how good of a goal scorer he is already at this early stage. I watch him in practice and he scores almost every time he shoots the puck. He’s got a great release and a heavy shot and then obviously his speed is what really pushes people back and creates those chances.”
Born on Oct. 5, 1987, Grabner is the youngest player on Manitoba’s roster – albeit only by six days – but he’s been dangling through defences like a wily veteran.
It’s tough to compare hockey players to cartoon characters, but if the Moose ever decide to portray ACME on ice, Grabner would surely play the Road Runner.
“I think I’m doing very well right now, hopefully I can get a couple more goals,” said Grabner. “I’ve been getting a lot of chances so it’s just the time to put some in and take advantage of those chances.
“I just think I adjusted to the game here pretty quick by coming over here last playoffs and it helped me out in knowing the guys and how fast the game is and everything.”
It’s clear the Moose pride themselves on their balanced offensive approach, but the team may soon take on a new identity as rookie sniper Mason Raymond
threatens to become the head of the herd.
Since being re-assigned to Manitoba by Vancouver in late October, Raymond has adapted quickly to his new surroundings, as one might assume after the 22-year-old’s five point game on Nov. 21 against Rochester, which included his first professional hat-trick.
“Overall I feel a lot more comfortable here,” said Raymond, currently fifth in team scoring with 14 points in only 16 games. “It’s been up and down and I feel my consistency isn’t where I want it to be, but I look at that from within and I’ve got a lot of work to do. But at the same time, I’m having fun and things are getting better so I’ll keep working.”
The Moose close out December with seven games at home and three on the road, before beginning 2008 with a three-game home stand.