Photo by Shelby Rose, The Paisano

Manitoba Moose winger Jimmy Lodge’s natural hat trick was the difference in Manitoba’s 5-2 win over the San Antonio Rampage in the final game of the 2015-16 season on Friday, April 15 at the AT&T Center.

The Rampage went into Friday night’s game having won seven in a row at home; one more win to end the season would have tied the franchise record for most consecutive home wins.

Friday’s contest started as a low-event affair, with the Rampage and the Moose earning just seven shots on goal apiece in the first period. Each team had a power play opportunity, but neither was able to convert.

Captain Ben Street opened the scoring with about two minutes left in the first period. After intercepting a pass in the Rampage end, Street exploded through the neutral zone – creating a 1-on-1 matchup with Moose defenseman Andrew MacWilliam – and sent a backhanded shot past Manitoba goaltender Connor Hellebuyck from the left circle.

The Rampage struck again just three minutes into the second period when Duncan Siemens’ shot from the point deflected off the stick of forward Sam Henley and past Hellebuyck.

In the second period, the chances for the Moose picked up as San Antonio got into penalty trouble. First, the Rampage took three minor penalties in a span of ten minutes.

“I looked at some of the calls, and I thought they were questionable,” said Rampage Head Coach Dean Chynoweth. If (the referee) is going to call them, he needs to call them both ways.”

With about five minutes left in the period and almost halfway through the third straight Moose power play, Manitoba winger Scott Kosmachuk wound up for a slap shot at the right point, but decided instead to take a few steps forward, find an open lane and put a wrist shot past Rampage goalie Reto Berra, cutting the Rampage lead to one.

The game-tying goal came after the Rampage lost a puck battle behind their net and Moose winger Axel Blomqvist hit Jansen Harkins with a backhanded centering pass. Harkins, who had been left open in the slot, quickly buried the puck before Berra could adjust to the changing point of attack.

While the in-arena announcer was still announcing the Moose’s tying goal, the Rampage appeared to score a goal that would give them a one-goal lead. However, the referees determined that goaltender interference occurred and the goal was disallowed.

“The disallowed goal was the wrong call…it’s a hockey play,” said Chynoweth. “Street doesn’t push him to the net, he’s trying to get to the net…I thought the puck was actually even in before the infraction happened.”

With just under three minutes left in the second, Rampage defenseman Mason Geertsen received a double minor for roughing and a 10-minute misconduct for “attempting to continue a fight or altercation after he (had) been ordered by the Referee to stop” – rule 46.5 in the American Hockey League (AHL) rulebook – putting the Moose on a four-minute power play.

With 30 seconds left in the period, Blomqvist gained the offensive zone along the left boards and chipped the puck towards the net. Rookie Manitoba forward Jimmy Lodge, who was streaking through the slot, redirect the puck past Berra for his first career AHL goal in his 43rd game and gave the Moose a 3-2 lead – their first of the game.

Nine minutes into the third period, Lodge found himself with plenty of space in the left circle with Rampage defenseman Sergei Boikov crouching in front of the net to block a shot. Lodge showed patience in waiting for Boikov to stand up before sending a low wrist shot through Berra’s five-hole to extend the Moose lead to 4-2.

Standing in the same spot from where he scored his second goal, Lodge received a backhand pass from Moose captain John Albert in the corner and beat Bera high-glove side with a wrist shot to complete the natural hat trick. The Moose held the 5-2 lead

The Rampage recorded only four shots to Manitoba’s 13 in the final period. The Rampage failed to hit a double-digit shot count in any single period and ended the game having been outshot 34-20 by the Moose.

In four games this season, the Moose power play scored on seven of 19 power-play opportunities they earned against the Rampage for an efficiency of 36.8 percent – compared to an overall power-play efficiency of 17.2 percent.

“(The Moose) have some mobile defensemen on the backside,” said Chynoweth of the Rampage’s struggle against Manitoba’s man-advantage. “They have some skilled guys up front, even though that might not show as much five-on-five. They have guys that specialize in those areas. Your best penalty killer needs to be your goaltender…the other four guys got to contribute, and there’s no doubt we had some troubles against them.”

Had the Rampage won, they would have set new franchise records for both consecutive home wins and consecutive home losses in the same season. The Rampage set the franchise record for most consecutive home losses when they lost 12 in a row between Nov. 22 and Jan. 19.

The Rampage (33-35-8) ended their first season as an affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche in last place in the AHL’s pacific division with a win percentage of .487. They were led in scoring by 19-year-old rookie forward Mikko Rantanen in his first professional season in North America. Rantanen’s 24 goals and 60 points in 52 games placed him first among rookie scorers and sixth overall in AHL scoring.

Rantanen’s superb season earned him the shared honor of the AHL’s Garrett Award, given to the most outstanding rookie. The award was shared because Rantanen tied in voting with 22-year-old undrafted Providence Bruins forward Frank Vatrano, who scored 34 goals and 51 points in 34 games. Rantanen went scoreless in only 10 of the 52 games he played for the Rampage.

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