The Manitoba Moose begin their quest for what would be a first-ever Calder Cup championship in franchise history Friday night in Milwaukee.
Game 1 of the best of five AHL Central Division semifinal will be a 7 p.m. CT start with Daniel Fink and Derek Meech calling the action. The pregame show starts at 6:35 p.m. on 680 CJOB and the broadcast will also be livestreamed online.
Centre Cole Maier, who was named the team’s most valuable player during Wednesday night’s annual awards presentation, told CJOB Sports Show host Christian Aumell following Thursday’s practice at Wilson Park Arena in Milwaukee that the start of the post-season seems to have been on the radar forever.
“We feel like we’ve been talking about playoffs for a long time now,” said the six-foot-one, 199-pound pivot from Pequannock, N.J., who scored 17 goals and added 20 assists for 37 points in 68 games for Manitoba this past season. “Guys are itching to finally start playing and stop talking.”
The Moose finished their 72-game schedule with a 41-24-7 record for a .618 winning percentage to wind up second in the AHL Central. The Admirals, who played four more games than Manitoba as a result of the league’s unbalanced schedule, came in third in the division at 39-28-9 and a winning percentage of .572.
So while it seems a bit strange for the Moose to be opening the series on the road as the higher seed, Maier says he and his teammates aren’t making that big a deal out of it.
“It’s pretty interesting. It’s not something I’m too familiar with,” the Union College product admitted. “We have a lot of guys who don’t have too much playoff experience on this team so it’s already all new for us. Nothing too crazy.”
One thing Maier and his Moose teammates are very familiar with is their first-round opponents. Manitoba and Milwaukee met 12 times during the regular season, with the Moose taking the series by winning seven, losing four and dropping an overtime decision in the very first meeting on Nov. 5 at U of W-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
“After playing them that many times, we know they play a hard and heavy game,” said Maier, who joined the Moose for the final three games of the 2018-19 season and has been with the organization ever since. “There’s not going to be any free ice out there so we know we’re going to have to work for every inch we get. I think we’re looking forward to that challenge.”
And perhaps it won’t be such a negative for the Moose to be starting on the road as they went 4-1-1 in Milwaukee while splitting the six games at Canada Life Centre with the Admirals.
Manitoba will also be bolstered with the return of defenceman Dylan Samberg and centre Morgan Barron, who finished the regular season with the Winnipeg Jets. Maier says both will be welcome additions.
“It’s super nice to have those guys back down with us. Obviously, it helps with our depth, which is something we sort of prided ourselves on,” said Manitoba’s 26-year-old alternate captain. “All year we had four lines and six D that can do the job so it’s nice to have everybody down here and ready to go.”
That won’t be the case for Milwaukee, which will have to start the series without its No. 1 goalie Connor Ingram, who turned in a brilliant 49-save effort for the parent Nashville Predators in their 2-1 overtime loss at Colorado on Thursday night. Ironically, it will be University of Denver product Devin Cooley who is expected to get the start for the Admirals in Friday’s opener. The soon-to-be 25-year-old Californian was 0-2 with a 3.54 goals-against average and .896 save percentage in three appearances versus the Moose during the regular season.
Fourth-year veteran Mikhail Berdin will likely get the call for Manitoba. The Jets 2016 sixth-round draft pick won four of five decisions in his total of six regular-season appearances against Milwaukee, to go along with a 2.24 GAA and .893 save percentage.
Game 2 is set for 6 p.m. Saturday (5:35 p.m. pregame on 680 CJOB) in Milwaukee before the series shifts to Winnipeg and Canada Life Centre starting next Wednesday.