Coach Sheldon Weston earned his 300th career victory Saturday with a 4-3 win over River Lakes. Tuesday he came up just short of earning an even more important 301st win. Of course in sports, the next win is always the biggest. But Tuesday could have been especially big for the MAML Moose, as they had a chance to knock off the conference leaders from Buffalo.
At even strength, the Moose were every bit Buffalo’s equal Tuesday night, and according to the scoreboard, even a little better. When the two teams were playing at even strength, MAML scored once, Buffalo didn’t.
But once again, it was the power play that did in the Moose in what wound up as a 2-1 loss. Except this time, it wasn’t giving up power plays that stung so bad. It was being burned on power plays of their own. Buffalo scored two shorthanded goals in the second period to take a 2-0 lead and build a cushion that held off Monticello’s even strength goal and ensuing push for a tie in the final period.
“I don’t remember that ever happening,” said Weston of giving up two shorthanded goals in the same game, let alone the same period.
The goals seemed to let the air out of the Moose after the home team had spent the first period battling right with the Bison, who entered 2-0 in conference play.
Buffalo did earn nine shots on goal in the first period, to just six for the Moose, but Darien Jones played a great first period in net, even using a beautiful right to left slide to shut down a 2 on 0 break for Buffalo late in the period.
In the second period though, the energy seemed to change.
“The physicality of the game changed,” said Weston. “They got a couple good thumps on our guys and we backed off a little.”
A couple of their thumps led to penalties, but the Moose couldn’t take advantage. On the first power play opportunity of the second period, MAML struggled to generate much for looks. When the Bison were able to clear the puck out of the zone with less than 30 seconds left, it became clear the Moose would likely miss an opportunity to strike first. It was not yet clear that Buffalo would create their own opportunity. But as the Moose skated back up the ice, looking for one more power play chance, the Bison pounced. A neutral zone takeaway led to a 1-0 break, and a nifty finish led to a 1-0 lead for Buffalo.
“Turning the puck over like we did, you’re asking for trouble,” said Weston.
Minutes later, the Moose earned another power play and the Bison again took advantage. They dumped the puck into Monticello’s zone seconds into the man advantage, and a misplay off the boards gave Buffalo an open net, a gift goal, and a 2-0 lead.
MAML didn’t go away. They came back in the third period with a new determination, cutting the lead in half seven minutes into the period on a Reese Carstens top shelf goal.
“I keep telling the kids don’t ever get too high or too low,” said Weston, about being able to bounce back from the two shorthanded goals.
With the deficit at one, the Moose kept attacking, but weren’t able to get enough good looks around the net to finish a comeback.
“At times we would control play,” said Weston. “We did a nice job cycling the puck. We just couldn’t get to the net.”
Due to the nature of it, and the costly mistakes, the loss certainly stung the Moose. But they were left with a lot of positives to take away.
With the exception of one second-period mistake, the Moose got some of the best goaltending they’ve seen all year out of Jones and Nathan Isaacson (third period). They found a way to hang around despite being outshot. And they played very well at even strength.
“Buffalo’s been having a very good year,” said Weston. “Take away those two mistakes, and we win 1-0.”
Saturday at River Lakes wasn’t perfect, but the good outweighed the bad as the Moose scored three second period goals on their way to a 4-3 win.
Two of those goals came from Neal Wagner, a senior who has been a year-long leader on the team in terms of work ethic and leadership.
Wagner is a kid who Weston wasn’t sure would make it past tryouts this fall, but he did. And he’s continued to hang around ever since.
“He just worked his butt off this summer,” said Weston. “He does everything you ask, and he plays every shift like it’s a tryout. I’m so proud of what he’s done.”
Wagner wasn’t the only one with a memorable game Saturday. For Weston, the win marked his 300th career victory.
“It means I’m getting old,” joked the coach who is in his third year with the Moose after 20 years at Sauk Rapids.
“When I’m sitting back and looking at it though, it will be kind of neat,” added Weston.
But the time to sit back hasn’t come yet, nor will it for a while. Tuesday night’s loss to the conference leaders proved that MAML’s work is paying off, but that it isn’t done yet.
Tonight is their next chance to make a statement in the conference. The Moose host Rogers at 7.
Contact Clay Sawatzke at email@example.com