Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Moose, and fans, nail it this time

Execution is king in stands, on ice

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This is a tale about commitment to the cause; selling out for the team and the critical mass of synchronicity.But mostly, it's about spelling. Oh, and playoff hockey.

It all began in Game 1 of the Calder Cup final, when a gaggle of Moose fans showed up to the sold-out MTS Centre wearing white T-shirts each inscribed with a letter. As appeared in this space last week, we finally decoded the mass of letters in both rows behind the Hershey net to spell "N-E-U-V-I-R-T-H" (singling out Bears netminder Michal Neuvirth) on one row and "P-U-C-K-B-U-D-D-Y! in the row below them.

As it turns out, there was a miscommunication.

"Sorry for the confusion, one of our letters felt like being a stick in the mud and wouldn't take off his sweatshirt," one of the participants, Chris Vermette, explained in an email. "Shouldn't have gave such a crucial shirt to him. The first letter was an S, and we spelled out... NEUVIRTH, U SUCK BUDDY!"

Now it struck us what an appropriate metaphor could be made between fans and players, in particular during the pivotal post-season, when everyone must be on the same page every night to reach the required level of success.

An "S" gets misplaced. A "U" makes a turn. All of a sudden you've got bedlam. Not total disorganization, however, just enough to mess up the intention of the works. It's like going back to the dinosaur age and stepping on a butterfly.

The Moose, meanwhile, lost 5-4 in overtime, blowing a two-goal, third-period lead in the process.

Until that night, the Moose were a perfect 8-0 in the playoffs when leading after 40 minutes. So, clearly, a letter was out of place in the Moose message.

Said Moose head coach Scott Arniel: "We don't give up leads very often."

The key letter starting with T, as in turnovers, which the Moose committed in Game 1 with alarming regularity in the final two periods. Arniel counted upwards of 30 giveaways.

"There's some people in the room who got a good lesson how to play a championship hockey game," Arniel concluded, preferring the bright side. "For a lot of guys, it's trial in the heat of the moment."

Maybe. But that doesn't explain what happened to the guy wearing the letter "U." And what of young Neuvirth, who never would have been given to understand the diss in the first place? After all, "U SUCK, BUDDY!" is obviously more inhospitable than "PUCKBUDDY!" I mean, how was Neuvirth going to possibly know he does, indeed, suck if it's not spelled out properly?

People, this is the playoffs. What ever happened to giving 110 per cent, anyway?

"We'll make it more clear," Vermette vowed.

Sure enough, the fans came back for Game 2 with a plan. They had new shirts. They spelled, "NEUVIRTH, U SUCK$#%@".

Now THAT'S commitment. That's execution.

The Moose? Not too much at first, at least when ultra-dependable defenceman Max Fortunus was caught up ice twice on the same shift, allowing Bears sniper Alex Giroux two breakaway opportunities. Giroux made a pretzel of Moose netminder Cory Schneider on the second deke attempt to give the visitors a 1-0 lead. Manitoba's Jason Jaffray tied it up on the power play in the second.

Once again playing on the razor's edge in the third, Schneider made all the big saves. Every last one.

The Moose waited for their chance, patiently. And when Jaffray rifled home the winner with just 46 seconds left on the clock, the 14,437 were in full throat. Blew the lid off the place, in fact.

Funny how a little more commitment, a little better execution, and the results can be entirely different.

Huge saves from the MVP goaltender. Two monumental goals from their star sniper -- given that Jaffray found his game (a hat trick no less) in a game the Moose couldn't afford to lose -- and suddenly the home team got all their letters right this time.

Just like Vermette & Co.

Chances are, the Moose got their message across, too.

This is going to be a series, after all. We're guessing a long one.

Who's your PUCKBUDDY now?

randy.turner@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition June 3, 2009 C1

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About Randy Turner

While attending Boissevain High School in the late 1970’s, Randy Turner one day read an account of a Winnipeg Jets game in the Free Press when it dawned on him: "Really, you can get paid to watch sports?"

Turner later graduated with a spectacularly mediocre 2.3 GPA from Red River Community College’s Creative Communications program. 

After jobs at the Stonewall Argus and Selkirk Journal, he began working on the Rural page for the Free Press in 1987. Several years later, he realized his dream of watching sports for a living covering the Winnipeg Goldeyes and Bombers.

In 2001, Turner became a general sports columnist, where he watched Canada win its first Olympic gold medal in men’s hockey in 50 years at Salt Lake, then watched them win again in Vancouver in 2010.

He also watched everything from high school hockey and volleyball championship to several Grey Cups, NHL finals and World Junior hockey tournaments.

In the fall of 2011, Turner became a general features writer for the paper. But he still watches way too much sports.

Turner has been nominated for three National Newspaper Awards in sports writing.

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