Pope answers challenge

KEN WIEBE, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 9:21 AM ET

Matt Pope had a difficult decision to make and it's looking more and more like he made the right one.

Faced with the prospect of returning to the Bakersfield Condors of the ECHL for the Kelly Cup playoffs or starting the Calder Cup playoffs as an extra with the Manitoba Moose, the rookie right-winger chose the latter.

His patience was rewarded in Game 4 of the first-round series against the Toronto Marlies as Pope drew into the lineup when the Moose lost three players due to injury.

Pope spent much of his time during the final three games on either the first or second line, then was front and centre as the Moose came back from a 2-1 deficit to defeat the Marlies 4-2 and knock them from the Calder Cup playoffs.

Pope cued the comeback, scoring the equalizer at 1:45 of the third period, then assisted on the game-winner by Ray Sawada to cap a night that saw him named first star.

"It's just a lot of fun and exciting game when I jump in," said Pope, who wasn't on Manitoba's clear-day roster and is only eligible to play when there are any combination of three injuries, call-ups or suspensions. "All I can do is hope to keep going."

Pope admits that not being available every game can be challenging.

"Yeah, it's tough, especially when my old team was playing and I was sitting in the stands," said Pope. "I knew at some time I would get a chance to play. Obviously in the playoffs, guys are going to get injured. I knew there was a light at the end. I just had to stay focused, keep working hard and stay prepared.

"I knew I wanted to be here. It was important."

Biding your time is a lot easier when you know you'll play a valuable role -- which includes a regular shift among the top six forwards and some power play time -- when the opportunity to play arises.

"It's nice to get in the game, that's when I play my best," said Pope, who had four goals and eight points in 12 games after joining the Moose. "It's tough for me to play my game when I only get a few shifts a period. I like to stay in the game, stay involved and stay hot. It's huge that I can jump right in on one of those top lines."

Moose head coach Scott Arniel appreciates the way Pope is making the most of a difficult situation.

"It's a tough thing, but I like the fact that when we popped him in the lineup, it was like he hadn't missed a game or missed a beat," said Arniel, noting the Moose tried to bring Pope in earlier this season but were unable to do so because of an injury to the right-winger. "He went in and added offence for us, got dumped on the power play, made plays. These guys recognize that when they get in there, they can't be a liability, that they have to go in and do what they do best.

"Pope was a good example of that. As was (defenceman) Travis Ramsey (who replaced Nathan McIver)."


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