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After a slight pause, Mason Appleton is picking up where left off from last year’s amazing rookie season.
The 22-year-old forward from Green Bay, Wis., fired a hat-trick and helped set up two other goals to pace the Manitoba Moose to a 6-3 victory over the San Antonio Rampage on Sunday afternoon at Bell MTS Place.
Last year’s American Hockey League rookie of the year opened the scoring for the hosts just 92 seconds into the game, notched another in the second period and added some insurance in the final frame with his fourth tally of the 2018-19 season.
He also set up goals by C.J. Suess and Emile Poirier, and has eight points in Manitoba’s first six games.
“First hat-trick in a long time, I can’t remember when the last one was but it felt good. It felt good to get the win, too,” said Appleton. “(The offence) is definitely coming. I’m not too sure that we’re going to win a lot of games by scoring five or six goals. There’s going to be some dogfights, for sure. But it’s great to see the puck go into the back of the net for our team, and when that happens it’s definitely a good thing.”
Appleton, a Winnipeg Jets’ sixth-round draft pick in 2015 who played two seasons at Michigan State University, supplied 22 goals and 66 points last season for the Moose. He represented the squad at last winter’s AHL All-Star Classic and was named a first-team AHL all-star along with his teammate, defenceman Sami Niku.
“Last year is last year. At this point, I’m just trying to grow my game this season and be the best player I can be,” he said. “I’m very comfortable right now. I’m not really one to get too nervous or too anxious about stuff, and (I) just go about my business.”
Appleton, 6-2, 195 pounds and a speedy skater, participated in Jets training camp and suited up in four pre-season contests but was held pointless.
Moose coach Pascal Vincent said Appleton’s game has started to ignite after a slow start.
“He showed up at (training) camp in really good shape, his numbers were really good in testing, on and off the ice, but I didn’t feel he brought that to the games,” said Vincent. “I felt (Sunday), for the first time — and it’s not about the goals whatsoever — I felt he was driving his legs, and that’s what he’s really good at. When he moves his feet, good things happen.
“The expectations have changed and maybe there’s more pressure that he didn’t feel last year… so far, every time he’s been put in a position where he’s needed to respond, he did it well. We had a little chat and he knows himself, what he’s good at. He’s a little like (Jets forward) Kyle Connor, he’s pretty good at self-evaluating and he knew he needed to move his feet.”
Rampage defenceman Mitch Reinke gave his club a 2-1 lead with a power-play marker just 51 seconds into the second period but the Moose struck back with four straight to lead 5-2 after 40 minutes.
C.J. Suess and Seth Griffith also scored for Manitoba, now 3-3-0 after sweeping Central Division-rival San Antonio (1-5-0) — the AHL affiliate of the St. Louis Blues — in a pair of weekend contests.
Kristian Vesalainen, assigned to the Moose on Friday by the Jets, had three assists, including a brilliant feed to Suess who was left alone on the doorstep for an easy tap-in past goalie Ville Husso.
The Finnish teen, who added an assist in Friday’s 4-1 win over San Antonio, said he’s setting in with new teammates while enjoying plenty of playing time.
“It’s just two games but every game has been better,” Vesalainen said. “I’m holding onto the puck a little more and I have that confidence, so I feel good. I just want to play hockey, and here I get to play a lot of minutes and it’s good for me.”
Winnipeg’s first-round draft pick in 2017 played five NHL games, registering one assist in St. Louis in a season-opening victory over the Blues, but watched from the press box as the Jets battled the Edmonton Oilers and Vancouver Canucks last week before joining the Moose.
Whether a recall comes today or down the road, Vesalainen wants to be ready to rejoin the Jets. “They just want me to play a lot and get comfortable with the playing style here,” he said.
Manitoba goalie Eric Comrie earned his third victory with a 33-save performance.
Vincent’s squad ventures out for three straight road games, beginning in Milwaukee against the Admirals on Saturday night. The Moose then head two hours southwest to Rockford, Ill., for a late-afternoon matchup Sunday with the IceHogs. On Tuesday, the Admirals and visiting Moose collide again.
NOTES: The Jets and Blues coaching staffs watched with interest from the press box Sunday afternoon. The NHL squads hook up Monday night at Bell MTS Place. … Brandon product Tanner Kaspick scored his first professional goal for the Rampage in the 4-1 loss to Manitoba on Friday night. He was held off the scoresheet Sunday. The 20-year-old former Wheat King forward was actually loaned to the Moose during the playoffs last spring and suited up for one game, recording an assist. … The afternoon contest was billed as the 1st annual Manitoba Moose Pride Day, in support of The Rainbow Resource Centre. The centre (RRC) offers support to the LGBT2SQ+ community through counselling, education and programs for people of all ages. …
Assistant sports editor
Jason Bell wanted to be a lawyer when he was a kid. The movie The Paper Chase got him hooked on the idea of law school and, possibly, falling in love with someone exactly like Lindsay Wagner (before she went all bionic).