Pour 13 years of non-final elixir, mix 15,003 parts of Canadian hockey fan, add one cup sweat of Moose plus chocolate Bear shavings and shake for three hours. The result: A froth of summer hockey capable of washing down a winter so devilish even the Swine Flu couldn’t make Mexico look undesirable.
In the end the finish was a little bitter as the homeside Manitoba Moose blew a two-goal third period lead and fell 5-4 to the Hershey Bears in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Final.
It’s the dizzying highs and lows of hockey played on the fringe of summer, however, that make it uncomparable and Moose fans were given a ride to remember despite an ending to forget.
All those long February nights of trudging downtown to watch hockey seemed worth it on this Saturday night as the Moose and Bears paid off this Game 1 record setting crowd with a dazzling display capped by Hershey’s Alexandre Giroux scoring a power play goal at 13:33 of overtime to pop Manitoba’s balloon.
Giroux’s overtime winner was his third of the night and 12th of the post-season as the AHL’s regular season leading scorer continues to baffle goalies.
For the Moose its been 13 years of waiting to get on this stage and for Winnipeggers it’s been more than twice that long at 30 years since a local group of hockey pros fought for a championship and all that bubbled up into a piece of theatre drenched in drama. Moose coach Scott Arniel saw his club take a 3-1 lead into the third frame before coughing up three straight goals to trail 4-3 in the late going. A power play goal from Max Fortunus with just over a minute to go forced overtime but Arniel said the writing was on the wall for a while in this match.
"We had four turnovers in the first period and 15 in the second period. That’s where our troubles started," assessed Arniel. "Our pain was self inflicted. We had a number of guys that didn’t bring their A-game. We have to be better."
The Bears have now reversed home-ice advantage and following Tuesday’s Game 2 at MTS Centre, will have three games in a row in their own building should they need that many.
"The first two games, when you’re on the road you want to at least get one win," said Bears coach Bob Woods. "But they’ll be desperate on Tuesday and we’ll have to match their level of intensity. This is going to be a long series. We did our job in this game but there’s lots to go."
Manitoba hit the first paydirt of the series as crafty Mark Cullen, quietly one of the best of the Moose so far in these playoffs buried his fourth goal off a backdoor pass from centre Jason Krog on a first period 5-on-3 power play.
The lead was short-lived as the Moose quickly realized the Bears duo of Giroux and Keith Aucoin will bite if given the chance. The duo broke down the ice short-handed and after some confusion in the Manitoba zone, Giroux scooped up the puck and rifled it behind Moose goalie Cory Schneider for a 1-1 score with the period not quite half over.
Having not played each other all regular season the two clubs have a little to find out about one another and Moose dragster Michael Grabner opened the Bears eyes with a doozy to make it 2-1 at 13:18 of the first. Rookie Cody Hodgson found the puck in front of the Manitoba bench and zipped a pass to Grabner and the Austrian assasin took it in full flight before skirting a Hershey defender and roofing a backhand over goalie Michal Neuvirth.
Grabner added a second before the second was over for a 3-1 Moose edge and the home club seemed firmly in control.
The Bears made their push getting a pair of goals from Oscar Osala and another from Griouix to put the visitors in front.
"We knew they were going to come. I don’t know why we didn’t push back," said Moose winger Jason Jaffray. "We watched the film, they trailed in a lot of their games against Providence (Bruins) and always came back. "