Barron a perfect fit for Moose

Photo: Jonathan Kozub

📝 by Patrick Williams

Neither Kris Knoblauch nor Mark Morrison is known around the American Hockey League as a head coach who casually doles out praise.

Knoblauch has run the Hartford Wolf Pack for three seasons while Morrison is in his first season guiding the Manitoba Moose following 10 years as an assistant coach at both the AHL and National Hockey League levels. Both are low-key, measured personalities.

So Morgan Barron first earning Knoblauch’s praise in Hartford was notable.

“We rely on him for a 200-foot game,” Knoblauch said of Barron back in November.

To know Knoblauch is to know that those words are some of the most important that he can bestow upon a player.

But that praise really started to form a pattern when Barron went to the Winnipeg Jets in an NHL trade-deadline move with the New York Rangers on March 21. Losing Barron proved to be a critical blow to Hartford’s season, and the team eventually fell out of Atlantic Division playoff contention.

Upon joining the Moose, Barron was a relative unknown to Morrison, but the 23-year-old forward has quickly impressed his new head coach, who has used him with David Gustafsson and Mikey Eyssimont.

The Barron who has impressed both demanding head coaches was on full display Friday night at Canada Life Centre and wore down the Milwaukee Admirals in Game 4 of the teams’ Central Division semifinal series. Barron’s goal 6:22 into the game started a long night for Milwaukee star goaltender Connor Ingram, who eventually faced 44 shots in a 7-3 defeat. Barron added two more assists for a three-point night.

Because of that win, now the Moose will battle Milwaukee this afternoon in Winnipeg in the deciding Game 5 of the series (3 ET, AHLTV, TSN2). Manitoba has erased Milwaukee’s 2-0 series lead with back-to-back wins on home ice; Barron has five points (three goals, two assists) in four games in the series.

Converting early on Ingram, making his first playoff start with Milwaukee following a run in the Stanley Cup Playoffs with the Nashville Predators, was a team key.

“I thought that was probably our best start yet, and it’s going to be huge again [today],” Barron said.

Taken in the sixth round of the 2017 NHL Draft, Barron first began to blossom at Cornell, where he was a Hobey Baker Award finalist in 2020. He has experience with the sort of high-pressure games that the Moose are facing ― and hope to continue to encounter ― during the Calder Cup Playoffs. He twice was a part of ECAC regular-season championship seasons, and that second title came during his third and final college season when he was also an NCAA First All-American Team (East), ECAC First Team All-Star, and the ECAC Player of the Year.

While on recall to the Jets following the trade, Morgan went more than five weeks between games with the Moose. Sometimes the on-ice adjustment to returning to the AHL can test young prospects, but Barron’s smooth transition has impressed Morrison.

“First of all, he’s got the greatest attitude,” Morrison said after Game 3. “When he comes back, he fits into the group. He knows the group already because he spent some time here, but he’s got a great attitude.

“He just works, and his attitude is right. He does all the right things. He’s a great teammate, which we like to preach down here. His attitude is probably the biggest thing.”

Playing for both Knoblauch and Morrison has helped to broaden Barron’s game and learn the pro game in two different NHL organizations. With a 6-foot-4, 220-pound frame, Barron is an effective member of a group of Moose forwards that can grind down opponents, as Milwaukee knows all too well.

“I feel like in pro in general, with this level and the NHL, I think winning puck battles down low has always kind of been a point of emphasis for me,” Barron said, “and something that can really make or break a game. For someone like me with my size, I’ve always tried to focus on that.”

Now it is time for one final game this season in the Manitoba-Milwaukee rivalry and a chance to advance.

Said Barron of today’s Game 5: “These are the games you want to play.”