Manitoba hockey team has case of the SWEATTS

Elburn native Bill Sweatt battles with Chicago Wolves goaltender Peter Mannino but comes up empty in the shootout portion of the Manitoba Moose 2-1 loss at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill. Sweatt, a left winger, is contributing to the AHL affiliate of the Vancouver Canucks as its fourth-leading scorer.
Photo by Ben Draper

by Mike Slodki
ROSEMONT, Ill.—Look a little close to see which team is the home favorite.

On Nov. 30, the Chicago Wolves of the American Hockey League took the Allstate Arena ice for the 24th time in the 2010-11 season, but it wasn’t against an ordinary opponent.

Their foe was the Vancouver Canucks’ top affiliate, the Manitoba Moose, featuring brothers Bill and Lee Sweatt, who have taken to the ice for the first time this season as professional teammates.

Originally from Elburn, and now based in Colorado, the Sweatts saw big minutes of ice time, but saw their efforts fall just short in a 2-1 loss that went to a shootout. Bill was the last Moose entry of five to aim for Wolves goaltender Peter Mannino, but was stopped. Chicago’s Darren Haydar scored for the only goal past Eddie Lack for the final result.

Seasoned hockey players will tell you ‘that’s hockey’ but coming to the suburban Chicago area for the first time as pro teammates made a cold November night anything but ordinary.

“That’s exactly what it is,” Lee said. “We just didn’t score enough goals.

Playing for the biggest pro hockey team in hockey-crazy Manitoba, the Sweatts can provide what a phenomenon playing the national sport can truly be.

“It’s way different,” Bill said. “Chicago’s getting a little hockey-crazy because of the Hawks, but it’s just on a different level. They’re obsessed with it.”

The Moose (12-9-0-3) currently sit in fifth place in the Western Conference’s North Division and got a goal from center Cory Hodgson with 5:59 remaining in the second period, only to be matched by Jason Krog’s shot with 2:25 remaining in regulation.

But both Sweatts put their franchise in a position to win with needed contributions. Rookie Bill has 13 points with five goals and eight assists as the fourth-leading point gatherer on the squad, while Lee has four goals and four assists as the sixth-leading points nabber.

Bill, 22, was the second-round pick of the Blackhawks in the 2007 NHL Entry Draft, behind the first-round pick of Patrick Kane, but after sticking with his standout college hockey career at Colorado College (CC), he found himself traded to the Toronto Maple Leafs along with Kris Versteeg. Waiting until ownership of his rights expired, Sweatt signed with Vancouver, capping a crazy stretch.

“Absolutely, I’m happy,” Bill said. “No matter what happened, I knew I was going to have to play in the minors and work my way up and learn the pro game a little bit, and that’s what I’m doing.”

Lee, 25, who played at CC with his brother for a year and was undrafted, enjoys playing in North American after making the rounds in Latvia, Austria and Finland over the last four years.

“I’ve been very fortunate to be in Finland and Austria. I would say they all have their pros and cons, Riga (Latvia) has the wildest fans, but I like Winnipeg. The fans are great there.”

The Moose, with Sweatts in tow, return to Rosemont on March 6, 2011.

Elburn native Lee Sweatt does what he can as defenseman during the Manitoba Moose 2-1 shootout loss to the local Chicago Wolves on Nov. 30 at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill. He graduated from Colorado College like his younger brother, Bill, and spent last year split between teams in Latvia and Finland. Photo by Ben Draper