City's recaptured old hockey buzz

PAUL FRIESEN -- Winnipeg Sun

, Last Updated: 8:34 AM ET

Vancouver Canucks head coach Marc Crawford provided an interesting observation just before last night's AHL playoff game between the Manitoba Moose and Rochester Americans. There was a real buzz around the new rink on this night, Crawford was saying, a buzz he hadn't seen around these parts for awhile.

Two-and-a-half hours later, as the horn sounded, that buzz became a standing ovation, after the Moose had pulled off yet another upset, this time a 2-1 win that gave them a 3-1 stranglehold on their second-round playoff series.

On a night when the Americans lost their cool, Winnipegger Lee Goren continued to run hot and adopted 'Pegger Jimmy Roy scored the winning goal with 3:12 to go, hockey seemed important again in a town that seemed to give up on it a few years back.

Tomorrow night, a crowd of 10,000-plus will spill into the upper decks as the Moose try to deliver the knockout punch and advance to the conference final -- as far as any post-WHA team has ever gone.

Want a reason to believe, sports fans?

Here are a few.

- Start with Goren, who's hotter than a North-End pistol, recording his eighth playoff goal to open the scoring last night.

They didn't hand out an assist on the play, but they should have -- to Rochester defenceman Brandon Smith, who came around his own net and backhanded a perfect pass to the Moose winger for a simple one-timer past a disbelieving Ryan Miller.

The Moose are still going to need a little more help from the supporting cast, people like Alexandre Burrows and Jesse Schultz, for instance. Jimmy Roy was on that list, until about 9:45 p.m. And big Justin Morrison can start getting his nose a little dirtier any time now.

But when you've got a sniper who's good for nearly a goal a game, you've got a foundation.

- He's 37 years old, cool as a cucumber and showing signs he could be ready to repeat the roll he got on in last year's playoffs.

Goalie Wade Flaherty wasn't terribly busy last night, but when the Moose did turn in a bad shift, the guy bailed them out, big-time.

We take you back to the third period, and stops on Derek Roy on an Americans power play, Clarke MacArthur on a 2-on-1, a leg stop on Rochester captain Chris Taylor and a shoulder job on speedster Milan Bartovic.

Old Flats has been anything but, and the Moose are on the verge of scaling Mt. Rochester because of it.

- The Moose penalty-killers were no great shakes during the season, but they're picking it up, now that the stakes are high.

Unsung heroes like defencemen Joe DiPenta and Kent Huskins turned in yeoman's duty last night, along with the usual efforts from Goren, Ryan Kesler and Co. up front.

A couple of Rochester power plays barely got a shot on net.

You kill penalties like that, you've always got a shot.

- Finally, a salute to this town's beleaguered hockey fans.

Winnipeggers, dare we say it, have rediscovered their passion.

Last night, they mocked Miller, the opposing goaltender, with the appropriate chants.

They put their hands together in appreciation for the little things, like a subtle dump-in on the penalty kill.

Their call for "Defence!" with 1:30 to go was deafening.

There was even a spontaneous outbreak or two of "Go Moose Go," virtually unheard of without some electronic prompting on the big screen in the past.

Needless to say, the place went bonkers when Roy buried the winner.

I don't know if it's the new rink, the absence of the NHL, this Moose team or just that time has healed some of the wounds, but we're into hockey again. And the Moose seem to be feeding off it.

The buzz is back.


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