WINNIPEG – Five games into his pro career defenceman Kevin Connauton leads the Manitoba Moose with four goals.
The 20-year-old got two of those goals in a 4-3 Moose shootout win over the Hamilton Bulldogs in American Hockey League action Thursday night.
It was a boost the Edmonton native welcomed.
“I was a little nervous coming into the season,” Connauton said.
“Obviously it’s a step up from juniors, but I was pretty confident. I got a couple (NHL) exhibition games in up in Vancouver, (felt) a little more comfortable and I’m feeling pretty good right now.”
Connauton played 69 games for the Western Hockey League’s Vancouver Giants last season, setting a team record for points by a defenceman with 72, including 24 goals. He was also the league’s top rookie scorer.
So is it surprising to be Manitoba’s leading goal scorer at this point?
“Things are going in the back of the net right now,” Connauton said with a smile.
“I’m just going to keep shooting the puck and good things will happen.”
The victory bumped up Manitoba’s record to 3-2-0, while Hamilton went to 2-2-0 in front of 6,116 fans at MTS Centre.
Marco Rosa and Justin Schroeder scored for Manitoba during the shootout, while Hamilton shot blanks.
Connauton staked his team to a 2-0 lead, starting with his third goal of the season just 26 seconds into the game.
His shot from the blue-line ended up being kicked by teammate Jonas Andersson before going in off the skate of Hamilton defenceman Kyle Klubertanz.
Connauton made it 2-0 when his point shot on the power play went through traffic past rookie Bulldogs netminder Robert Mayer at 10:31 of the first.
It was Manitoba’s first power-play goal in their last 15 opportunities.
Mayer was making his fourth straight start in net for veteran Curtis Sanford, who’s out for possibly three weeks with a throat injury after he was hit by a puck in practice.
“I think it’s a good opportunity for me to show the coaching staff that I can play,” said the Czech Republic native, who played 31 games for Cincinnati in the East Coast league last season.
“Everybody thinks that they’re throwing me in the fire, but they’re throwing me an opportunity.”
Mayer said some “lazy penalties” were costly for his team, but vowed they have confidence heading into Friday’s game, the second of eight meetings between the teams this season.
Hamilton scored on its first man-advantage of the game as defencemen Brendon Nash banged in a shot past rookie goalie Eddie Lack at 13:56 of the first to make it 2-1.
The Bulldogs evened it up 5:06 into the second on another power play when defenceman Yannick Weber notched his fourth goal of the season just five seconds after Rosa had taken a seat in the penalty box for tripping.
Heading into the game, Hamilton was second in the league on the power play while Manitoba was 19th out of 30 clubs.
The Moose were ranked eighth on the penalty kill and the Bulldogs 24th.
Moose forward Kevin Clark scored his first goal of the season 1:22 into the third after he one-timed a Joel Perrault pass through the pads of Mayer.
Bulldogs centre Andreas Engqvist responded by notching his first goal of the season off a rebound to tie it 3-3 with just over six minutes remaining.
Hamilton had a power play for the final 32 seconds of overtime, but Lack turned away a number of close shots.
“It was unfortunate that we only had 30 seconds there in overtime to get a goal,” said Hamilton forward Ben Maxwell, who had a pair of assists.
“We had to capitalize when we could. We actually did a pretty good job killing (penalties). We came up a little bit short and it was a little bit frustrating.”