The new year is off to a roaring start for the Jackson Hole Moose, as the team improved to 4-0 in 2022 this past weekend with a two-game sweep over the St. Louis Spirit.
Welcoming into town a talented and experienced roster — which included the likes of former NHL player Terry Yake, who spent over a decade playing at the highest level — the Moose were expecting a hard-fought, down to the wire weekend of hockey; that’s exactly what they got.
Playing with a full roster for the first time this year during Friday’s game one opener, the Moose came out of the gates hot, striking for a pair of goals in the first 15 minutes of play. While it was the Spirit who had several quality looks on net, the puck ultimately rolled the Moose’s way early, with multiple tap-ins contributing to an early first-period lead for Jackson.
Coming out of the first break, the Spirit flipped the script on the Moose, striking for three goals in a six-minute span to take the lead and momentum. The Spirit proved to be the quickest team the Moose had played all season, and pressured goaltender Robbie Leslie all night.
The Moose had an opportunity to take a lead into the third period, but a goal with seven seconds left on the clock knotted the score at four. The Moose regained control of the game and got the last laugh in the third period, before an empty net goal in the final minutes of the game put the game on ice for a 7-4 victory. Leslie came up big for the Moose, saving 92% of the Spirit’s shots, allowing four goals of their 50 total shots on goal.
In Saturday’s game two — expecting another close contest — the Moose wasted no time once again, striking for four first-period goals, including two from forward Jason Reese in a 10-second span. The Spirit struck for three of their own in the second period, but the early deficit was ultimately too much to overcome, as the Moose coasted to a 7-5 victory after an ensuing back-and-forth trade of goals.
It was a series of momentum for the Moose and Spirit, who both had several periods where they controlled the shots on goal, in one of the tightest weekends of hockey this season. The Moose were forced to use all of their depth over the weekend, resulting in close or tied games headed into the third period.
“We expected them to be good,” said Reese, the third-year Moose. “It panned out to be exactly the kind of what we thought … fast-paced, clean and overall a pretty solid weekend of hockey.”
Reese tallied his second hat trick of the season, but was impressed with what he saw out of Spirit goalie Luke Venker.
“They definitely were one of the more skilled teams, obviously their goalie was a giant and moved extremely well, which made things tough,” Reese said. “Usually if we get 55-60 shots off we get more than six goals and an empty netter, but he was obviously keeping them in it.”
Confidence is growing amongst the Moose, who believe they can compete against any team when they have a healthy squad.
“We knew it was going to be a tough competitive weekend, but when we’re playing our game there’s not many teams that can beat us,” defenseman Brad Improta said. “Fortunately we came to play last weekend and we were able to get two wins out of it.”
The Spirit were paced offensively by Andrew Bond, who led the visitors with five goals over the weekend and proved difficult to contain. Bond recorded a hat trick in Friday’s game one before striking for two more scores in game two.
“Both games kind of played pretty similar,” Reese said. “We got a decent lead early, they came back, and then we kind of took back over and then they made a late push again. If it was four periods, the scores probably would have been closer than they were. That’s just a momentum thing.”
“We were just fortunate enough to start it and finish it in both games,” he said.
The Moose will look to keep their momentum building this weekend, as they get set to welcome the Phoenix Desert Dogs into town. Game one is set for Friday at 7:30 p.m. from Snow King Sports and Events Center.