THEIR longest season ever finished with the same old kind of frustra*tion Friday at the MTS Centre -- the Manitoba Moose lost their last game.
At Game 102, this one was a little dif*ferent but hurt no less, losing 4-1 to the Hershey Bears in Game 6 of the Calder Cup championship series, ending the best-of-seven series with a 4-2 Hershey edge.
It was the Bears' 10th AHL champion*ship, which was not what the partying, soldout crowd of 15,003 came to see.
The Moose, in existence only 13 sea*sons and just eight in the AHL, fell two wins short of their first-ever champion*ship by self-destructing in Friday's first period.
The visitors pumped the error-prone Moose for a 3*0 lead in the first 11:16 of action, a perfect solution to neutralizing the largest crowd of these playoffs.
"It was the last thing we wanted, to lay an egg like that, myself and every*one out there," said Moose goalie Cory Schneider. "But we fought back, battled hard and we didn't fold it in."
That start, and the inability to score enough over the final four games of the series, doomed the Moose.
"I thought we took it to them after the first but unfortunately you can't play 40 minutes of a hockey game and expect to beat a team like the Hershey Bears," said Moose winger Jason Jaf*fray. "They're too strong offensively."
Manitoba had just five goals against Bears goalie Michal Neuvirth in the final four games of the series, and not a single power-play goal after a Game 2 win.
"We didn't change anything," victor*ious Bears coach Bob Woods said about the penalty killing. "We just executed. Our guys were a determined bunch. It wasn't anything we did different on the penalty kill, we just carried out our plan and worked hard. Hard work and goaltending are the secrets to killing penalties."
Jaffray said that obstacle was too much to overcome.
"(For Neuvirth) to give up four goals in the last four games, doesn't matter how good Cory Schneider's going to play, that's tough to beat," Jaffray said. "Our penalty killing was in the top two or three all season but running in the 70 per cents (75 per cent) in this series.
"With the amount of weapons they have, you can't take everything away. Our power play wasn't great either. They got it done when they needed to."
Manitoba's leading scorer with 23 points in 22 playoff games was Jason Krog and he pointed to Game 1 of the final as a key difference.
"I think the first game was kind of a big mistake by us," Krog said. "When you have a team down and let them steal a game from us in our own build*ing, you give them a lot of confidence. "(Tonight) we came out a little flat*footed, I don't know why, and bang, it's 3-0 and we've got nothing going yet. They're a good team, give them credit. It was a pretty good season but it sucks it ends this way."
Krog, who was paid more than $600,000 this season to try to help the Moose to a title, said was unsure if he would return next season.
"Right now, I have no idea what I'm go*ing to do," he said. "I'm just not sure. It was a successful season in many ways. I was treated so well here, my family as well. It would be enticing. This organ*iza- tion is going in the right direction. They want to win. That's what I want most, to be somewhere I'm going to win."
Moose coach Scott Arniel was especially sombre after the defeat.
"I'm real proud of these guys, the way we continued to bat*tle," Arniel said. "I feel for them be*cause they put it all on the line and this wasn't the ending they wanted.
"It's been a long 102 games from Sep*tember to now. We've done a lot of good things as a group. It's a feeling you don't ever want to have again. In saying that, we lost to a real good team."