Signings made Moose

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:43 AM ET

Let's take you back to July 7, 2004, a not-so-memorable day for Winnipeg sports fans.

For starters, the 0-2 Blue Bombers were preparing for another rain-drenched home game, on the way to their first non-playoff season in five years.

Baseball fans weren't much happier, as the Goldeyes that day were officially eliminated from the Northern League's first-half pennant chase, the beginning of the end of a 10-year playoff run for that franchise.

Who would have guessed, during all that darkness, the Manitoba Moose were quietly turning themselves from an AHL also-ran into a contender?

In a move that barely registered with most hockey fans at the time, the Vancouver Canucks on July 7 announced the signings of a pair of veteran minor-leaguers who would likely spend the season in Manitoba.

Today, forward Lee Goren and goaltender Wade Flaherty are two of the main reasons the Moose are into the second round of the AHL playoffs, and a decent bet to give the Rochester Americans all they can handle.

If you say you saw this day coming, you're a liar.

Goren, a former Boston and Florida farm-hand, hadn't scored a playoff goal three years running.

Today, the Winnipegger with the big stride is on a goal-a-game pace, after a five-game romp over the St. John's Maple Leafs in Round 1.

Flaherty's playoff heroics were a little easier to foresee. The guy led Milwaukee on a championship run a year ago, and was named Calder Cup playoff MVP.

That was the first time in 15 years the B.C., native had taken a team all the way.

Did anybody really expect lightning to strike twice -- at age 37?

Yet, here he is, having appeared in just 36 games during the regular season -- the same number as last year -- before finding the same groove he found last spring.

"I thought with the lockout coming that it would be a possibility my career would be over," Flaherty said. "I was fortunate I had another opportunity to keep playing. I feel good. I've felt good all season."

If Flaherty was the story of last year's Calder Cup chase, then Goren is determined to put his stamp on the thing this time around.

"As far as playoffs, this is it, this is my first real deal here," said Goren, fresh off a 32-goal year. "If you can be successful in the playoffs, you know you've got that extra level in your game. I want this to be something special."

It has been, so far.

If the 27-year-old isn't overpowering an opposing defenceman for the puck, he's flying down the ice on a breakaway, or blasting a game-winner from the slot.

The St. John's defence had to be seeing Goren and linemate Ryan Kesler in their sleep the last series.

"Lee is playing great right now," Kesler said. "We're just riding the wave."

The wave runs into a pretty formidable breaker, beginning tonight in Rochester.

Flaherty knows he'll have to out-perform the Americans' Ryan Miller, the hot-shot, 24-year-old who's been sailing along as the AHL's best goalie all season.

"I faced him last year in the playoffs," Flaherty recalled. "Hopefully we can find a way to put a chink in his armour."

For his part Goren will need a shield to fend off all the attention he's bound to get.

"I don't think they're as gritty and as cheap and undisciplined as St. John's is," Goren said. "I'm sure they won't be taking 13, 14 penalties a night, and we won't be getting any five-minute power plays. It'll be a tight-checking, defensive battle. They're expected to win. They're expected to go to the Calder Cup finals. Hopefully, we can be that bump."

If the Moose do bump the Americans off track, you never know where their own road might end.

Just like you would never have known it began on that dark day in July.


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