There are hockey games and then there are hockey games. This one, folks, promises to be a doozy.
Everything is in place for a night to remember at the MTS Centre as the Manitoba Moose and Hershey Bears lock up in Game 6 of the Calder Cup Final (7:30 p.m., CJOB, MTS TV, Shaw TV) with elimination a possibility on one side and a chance to celebrate a championship on the other.
Throw in a sellout crowd of Winnipeg hockey fans and a city that, to borrow a phrase from Free Press columnist Randy Turner, is caring about instead of just cheering for these Moose, and the tension is thick.
Let's set the stage. The Moose trail the Bears three games to two in this best-of-seven series and with a win will force a Game 7 here in Winnipeg on Sunday night. For Hershey, a victory would allow them to celebrate their 10th Calder Cup in franchise history. They've chartered a jet to bring along their front office staff as well as the players and their families to make sure their party, should they earn one, is almost as fun on the road as it would be at home.
The Moose fell behind 3-1 in this series before a dramatic Game 5 win in Hershey on Tuesday enabled the fun of a sixth game before 15,003 Winnipeggers who haven't been able to celebrate a pro hockey championship in 30 years.
So, yeah, this game means lots to both sides. Enough that Moose coach Scott Arniel or one of his staff put this message on the club's whiteboard at some point on Thursday morning:
"Stay focused. Don't get caught up in the hype."
Good plan but easier said than done. So if you're going to the game or listening to the game or watching it on TV, here are some keys:
"ö 1. First 10 minutes
It gets said a lot at this time of the year but the opening half of the first period will be critical. The Moose will have the backing of a Canadian hockey crowd in full throat and they'll want to keep the audience in the game. The Bears, on the other hand, will attempt to silence the house. Look for big hits and big goals in this critical stretch.
"ö 2. Disciples of discipline
Referee Frederick L'Ecuyer swallowed the whistle in Game 5 and handed out just three power plays the entire game. The howling from just about everyone involved will no doubt have been heard by the AHL's top brass, so don't be surprised if the rules are a little stickier in this game. Power plays are huge, so discipline will be key.
"ö 3. Masked robbery
Manitoba's Cory Schneider and Hershey's Michal Neuvirth have both been brilliant in this series and there's no room for soft goals at this stage. Which one of these two netminders is forced to blink first could very likely be the deciding factor in Game 6.
"ö 4. You show me yours, I'll show you mine
The Bears rely on the offensive brilliance of Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux and they have yet to disappoint in this series. Giroux leads Hershey with five goals and two assists in the series while Aucoin has one goal and five assists. There's a three-way tie for the Moose lead in scoring at five points each between Michael Grabner, Jason Jaffray and Jason Krog. The team that gets production out of their top guns in this game will have a distinct advantage.
"ö 5. A hero, my kingdom for a hero
Who will it be? Someone will step out of the pack tonight and make an impact. Giroux had a hat trick in Game 1 and Jaffray did the same in Game 2. Neuvirth was the man of the hour in Game 3 and Aucoin stole the show in Game 4. It was Schneider's turn to eat up the scenery in Game 5. Break out the Metallica, Hero of the Day, is the theme for both clubs.
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