Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Moose relish shot at reversing playoff luck

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The playoffs are usually about how you look forward, not back, but forgive us if we borrow the Manitoba Moose team-rule exception that allows just a few extra hours, maybe a day, to ponder a hard-earned victory.

The Moose are through three rounds after disposing of the difficult Houston Aeros on Monday night, ready to tackle their first-ever Calder Cup final series.

It took 62 victories this season to get this far, all brought more sharply into focus by the heartbreaks and failures of various pasts.

Consider just the most recent two -- though there are many more -- under head coach Scott Arniel.

In 2007, the Moose finished first in the division but just could not solve the Hamilton Bulldogs in the second round and were eventually put out of the playoffs on a fairly mouldy overtime goal.

In 2008's first round, the bully Syracuse Crunch beat them four times in overtime, the last two games decided on good goals aided by broken Moose sticks.

Those shattered sticks belonged to Brad Moran in Game 5 and Shaun Heshka in Game 6.

"I think it has been more sweet this year," Heshka said Tuesday. "Last year, my broken stick, and the year before it was such a letdown when Hamilton beat us because we had a good team that was predicted to do really well.

"Much like this year, but we're fulfilling some of those predictions."

Heshka said he didn't spend much time beating himself up for his bad luck that ended last season.

"It was unfortunate. We had a lot of chances to win that game," he said. "It was our lives, could happen to anyone. It wasn't like I made a bad play. I had no control over it.

"That battle was huge, very tough to lose, especially for me, because it was my stick that broke. We have some guys who went through some of that stuff, that disappointment, and it makes you want it more and gives you experience that playoff lives are always on the line and that every game counts."

That's the focus Moose coach Scott Arniel acknowledged on Tuesday.

"I went back and looked at those overtime games with Syracuse and tried to think of things I could have done different that I could use for the following year," Arniel said.

Iron sticks, or maybe wooden ones, might have been the only answer.

"Same thing with the year before in the Hamilton series," Arniel continued. "Just the other day, I was looking at the roster we used against Hamilton and I couldn't believe how good a team that was, not to be able to get by those guys.

"When you have those unfortunate times, you relish (these) a little and try to make sure you make the most of them. We knew as a team we were building over the course of the year, and to get to the end of 80 games and realize that we'd put together a pretty good hockey club, we wanted to make sure to make all those tough times and good times worthwhile come playoff time."

Moose defenceman Nolan Baumgartner, whose history with the team goes back to 2002, said the past's disappointments offer perspective.

"When you look back on it, it just didn't seem like it was meant to be that we'd move on," he said of the broken-stick episode last spring. "This year, it's a little better and we're happy about it.

"But in the lockout year (2005) we got to this point and got swept (in the conference final) and it doesn't leave your mind. You kind of forget about it, but it's always there when this time of year rolls around. I didn't want that to happen again. There was still a bitter taste in my mouth from getting swept in the conference final.

"It was nice to get it done (on Monday). It feels great, but there's work to do. Our goal was to get to this spot and now we have four wins to get what we ultimately want."

tim.campbell@freepress.mb.ca

 

Fan frenzy

 

The Moose think their home rink has been fan-tastic, maybe never better in the playoffs.

"Last night was probably the loudest I've ever heard it," defenceman Nolan Baumgartner said about Monday's Game 6.

"From how the organization has built the team here and has committed to winning and showing the fans that's what we're committed to, it does bring out more people. And the more that come out, the more the word spreads, and I think they've warmed up to us a great deal and it showed last night."

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition May 27, 2009 C3

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