SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Two weeks ago, we highlighted in this space the tight race for the North Division title, which at the time saw three teams separated by a total of two points.
Since then, the Manitoba Moose have kept up their torrid pace and suddenly own the best record in the entire Western Conference.
Manitoba has won five straight and 14 of its last 15 games, outscoring its opponents by a 57-24 count in that time. The Moose, who have set a franchise record with their current nine-game home winning streak, now sit four points ahead of second-place Hamilton with one game in hand on the Bulldogs.
Under the guidance of rookie head coach Scott Arniel, the Moose are poised to make a run at the first division title in the team’s 13-year history, including six seasons in the American Hockey League. Since Dec. 8, when Manitoba snapped a four-game losing streak with a victory over Peoria, the Moose show a record of 26-5-4-2 (.784).
Their top-flight goaltending tandem has been outstanding in that span, with Drew MacIntyre posting a 15-3-0 mark (1.78 GAA, .940 save percentage) and Wade Flaherty going 11-2-0 (1.97, .927). Both have postseason experience as well; Flaherty was the MVP of the 2004 Calder Cup Playoffs with Milwaukee, and MacIntyre helped Grand Rapids reach the conference finals in 2006.
Jason Jaffray, one of three Moose players who participated in the 2007 Rbk Hockey AHL All-Star Classic, has moved up to seventh in the AHL scoring race with 68 points, and has recorded seven goals, 15 assists and a plus-17 rating in 15 games since the All-Star break. Jaffray also has nine game-winning goals, tops in the league. Brad Moran ranks fifth in the AHL in assists (42) and tied for 10th in points (63), and has nine points and a plus-10 rating during his current six-game scoring streak. Winnipeg native Lee Goren has secured his fifth straight 20-goal season, and is one off his career high with 36 assists in 2006-07.
Yannick Tremblay, a veteran of 388 National Hockey League games – including 10 this season with Vancouver – anchors a defensive unit that has helped Manitoba to the best penalty-killing efficiency in the AHL (89.4 percent). The Moose blue line also features touted 20-year-old rookie Alex Edler, who has 23 points in 39 games for Manitoba while also appearing in 18 NHL games with the Canucks. Fellow defensemen Nathan McIver and Prestin Ryan also made their NHL debuts with Vancouver earlier this season, and fourth-year pro Maxime Fortunus has set AHL career highs with 16 assists and 17 points on the year.
The Moose are on the road for three games this weekend, visiting North Division foe Grand Rapids on Friday and Saturday before visiting Peoria on Sunday afternoon.
A BEACON IN THE SOUND … Bridgeport’s Eric Boguniecki earned points on eight of the Sound Tigers’ 10 goals in consecutive 5-4 victories over Philadelphia on Saturday and Hershey on Sunday.
The wins kept Bridgeport one point ahead of Albany in the race for fourth place in the East Division.
Boguniecki, who hadn’t had a four-point game since Dec. 22, 2001 when he was en route to earning AHL most valuable player honors for the 2001-02 season, had a goal and three assists during the Sound Tigers’ five-goal third period before coming back with three goals and an assist on Sunday. That marked his first hat trick since Jan. 25, 2002.
TWIN PEAKS … Going head-to-head with twin brother Peter for the first time in more than six years, Chris Ferraro had a goal and four assists in San Antonio’s 7-5 win over Peoria on Friday night.
Chris combined with Donald MacLean (2g, 3a) and Alex Leavitt (2g, 2a) for 14 points in the game. That trio has accounted for 12 goals, 20 assists and a collective plus-31 rating in the Rampage’s last four contests.
MILESTONE FOR McGILL … Omaha’s 6-2 win over Grand Rapids on Saturday night marked the 200th career AHL victory for Ak-Sar-Ben Knights head coach Ryan McGill.
McGill is one of five active AHL head coaches with 200 wins, along with Hershey’s Bruce Boudreau (320), Worcester’s Roy Sommer (308), Rochester’s Randy Cunneyworth (271) and Chicago’s John Anderson (245).
BEARS SET ROAD RECORD … The 69-year-old Hershey Bears franchise set a record on Saturday night with its 21st road win of the season, a 3-2 victory at Portland.
The Bears won 20 games away from home in 1973-74, and again in 1999-2000.
ETC. … Chris Durno scored three times in Milwaukee’s 6-4 win over Chicago on Saturday, his second hat trick of the season; Brandon Bochenski (Norfolk), now of the Boston Bruins, and Ryan Callahan (Hartford) share the AHL lead with three hat tricks apiece… Defenseman Oleg Tverdovsky, a Stanley Cup champion with New Jersey in 2003 and Carolina in 2006, has points in all five games since joining Manchester (3g, 5a)… Mike Glumac has six goals in his last three games and nine in his last seven for Peoria… Gerald Coleman earned his first win as a Portland Pirate on Friday night, making 23 saves in a 4-2 victory over his former Springfield teammates… Robert Nilsson was 0-for-8 in shootout attempts for Bridgeport this season; in his first shootout with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Friday, he went 2-for-2 to give the Penguins a 3-2 win over the Sound Tigers… Hartford equaled franchise records for fewest shots allowed (14) and most shorthanded goals scored (2) in Sunday’s 5-0 win over Springfield, which was also the 100th regular-season meeting between the rivals… Iowa had won eight straight road games before dropping two weekend contests at Manitoba… Houston ended an eight-game winless slide with a 4-3 shootout win over Peoria on Saturday… Norfolk set a franchise record with its league-leading 44th win of the season on Saturday night… Hamilton will host Syracuse at the Bell Centre in Montreal this Sunday afternoon… A total of 91,711 fans attended the 13 games on Saturday’s AHL schedule, an average of 7,054 per game.