WINNIPEG – The Manitoba Moose overcame two different two goal deficits and didn’t even have a lead until the final three minutes, but they still finished their home schedule with a victory. Chase De Leo scored twice including the game tying goal to lead the Moose back from both a 2-0 and a 4-2 deficit.
“It shows the character of this group.” De Leo said.
“Obviously would have been nice to do that a little bit earlier in the season. But I think we came a long way. Obviously it’s been a bit of a roller coaster year.”
Brenden Kichton returned to the Moose lineup after a brief stint with the Winnipeg Jets. He scored one goal and added two assists in the win. Kichton played on just a few hours sleep after an overnight flight home from Los Angeles.
“I kind of wanted to still play.” Kichton said.
“I didn’t play in any games on the road trip so I texted Keith (McCambridge) and said hey can I play today ? He said sure. And I said okay even though I got only three hours sleep. Happy to play. Happy to win.”
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Brendan Lemieux scored his second professional goal and Dan DeSalvo scored the game winner with less than three minutes left in regulation to break the 4-4 deadlock.
Connor Hellebuyck finished the game with 39 saves, but he had a rocky start allowing four goals in the first period. Moose head coach Keith McCambridge considered pulling him but his gamble paid off in the end.
“I thought about it.” McCambridge said. “It crossed my mind obviously on the bench anytime a team gets quick goals like that. But for me the thought process is, Connor’s been our MVP, he deserves a chance to stay in the net. And I don’t want the last home game for him possibly in the American Hockey League to be one he gets pulled out of that net. He’s earned that respect to stay in the net and battle through and nobody was happier than me whenever he was able to make some of those big saves that he had to come up with at the end of the game.”
“Anytime you start to get scored on you have to check yourself and see how you’re feeling.” said Hellebuyck. “The way I was feeling I didn’t want to be pulled. I know coach has a lot of confidence in me and I wasn’t going to show any emotion, any reaction that I wanted to be pulled.”
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With the game just 25 seconds old, Vinnie Hinostroza threw the puck in front of the net and Tyler Motte knocked a one-handed stab past Hellebuyck for his first professional goal. David Rundblad also had an assist for Rockford.
Just four minutes later Motte came busting in down the wing. He faked the shot but sent it over Cameron Schilling who had a gaping cage for his fifth goal of the season. Tanner Kero had the second assist and the IceHogs had an early two goal lead. Rockford was outshooting Manitoba 7-1 in the early going.
Midway through the opening period, Kichton put a harmless looking shot towards the net. It appeared to hit something before deflecting past former Moose tender Drew MacIntyre. But Kichton was credited with his 11th goal of the season as Axel Blomqvist drew the only assist.
A few minutes later Andrew MacWilliam let off a slap-pass from the point and De Leo tipped it past MacIntyre. Jordan Hill also had an assist for his first point with the Moose.
With just 1:49 to go in the period, Ryan Haggerty skated in and picked the top corner on a shot Hellebuyck probably should have stopped. Former Moose Matt Fraser picked up the only assist.
Then just 36 seconds later, Hellebuyck stopped the initial shot but Runblad was right there to tap in the rebound. His second goal of the season was assisted by Hinostroza and Kero. It was 4-2 for Rockford after one with the shots 14-10 in the IceHogs favour.
The Moose powerplay went to work early in period two. De Leo fed it Lemieux at the top of the circle and he buried the wrister top shelf on MacIntyre. Kichton picked up an assist as well and the Moose trailed by only one.
Late in the second, Mark McNeil hammered De Leo into the boards. Sean Escobedo jumped in to defend his teammate and the two squared off in a short tussle. Both players received five minute fighting majors.
The Moose tied up the game just 52 seconds into the final frame. De Leo stepped in and ripped an outstanding shot off the crossbar and in for his second goal of the game and 19th of the season. The assists went to Kichton and Scott Kosmachuk and it was 4-4.
The Moose took the lead for good with 2:42 to go. DeSalvo stepped in from the blueline and bulged the mesh for his fourth goal of the season. Escobedo and Kosmachuk grabbed the assists on the game winning goal.
The game was a sellout with an official attendance of 8812.
Before puck drop the Moose announced the winners of their year end awards. Hellebuyck was an easy choice for the team’s most valuable player award. Julian Melchiori won the award for best defenceman. De Leo was named the Moose rookie of the year and goalie Eric Comrie was presented the three stars award.
The Moose still have two road games remaining with the San Antonio Rampage up next on Friday.
WATCH: Manitoba Moose Post Game Reaction