WINNIPEG, Canada – The Hershey Bears made AHL history after winning the Calder Cup for the tenth time. The title was the team’s first in the last three seasons and gave the team sole bragging rights as the top title winner.
The Bears overtook the Cleveland Barons, who have nine championships and were relocated three years ago to play under the name Worcester Sharks.
After the Pittsburgh Penguins claimed the Stanley Cup in Hockey Town, Detroit, Pennsylvania has become the Hockey State, accommodating the two most prestigious championship trophies in professional North American hockey.
The club was the most successful in the Eastern Conference in the regular season. After winning the division title, the Bears defeated the Philadelphia Phantoms 4-0 in the first round before meeting the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.
The teams have met each other each of the last four post-seasons. Last year, Hershey lost in the first round while in the other years, a triumph over the Penguins led Hershey to the Calder Cup final. The script followed the same pattern as the Bears edged the Penguins in seven games and beat the Providence Bruins 4-1 to clinch the conference title.
Hershey faced the Manitoba Moose in a final of the two regular-season conference winners. The series broke the AHL attendance record with an average of 12,839 spectators and a total attendance of 77,038.
Hershey started with a 5-4 shootout win in Winnipeg but lost the second road game, 3-1.
When the series moved to Hershey, they were successful with 3-0 and 2-1 wins thanks to their excellent Czech goalkeeper Michal Neuvirth, who was named the best player of the game on both occasions.
The 21-year-old split his ice time in three leagues, playing five games for the Washington Capitals and for the ECHL’s South Carolina Stingrays. He was Washington’s second-round draft choice following his strong performance at the 2006 U18s, where he led the Czechs to the bronze medal.
The series went to Game 5 in Hershey, but this time Manitoba won, 3-2. The sell-out crowd of 10,860 fans went home without a Calder Cup party. But they were able to celebrate last weekend when Hershey wrapped things up in Winnipeg.
Three straight first-period goals from Andrew Gordon, Alexandre Giroux and Chris Bourque were unanswered. Manitoba’s Mario Bliznak made it 3-1 midway through the game.
However, post-season MVP Neuvirth defended his cage for the remainder of the game. Keith Aucoin scored an empty-netter to seal the win – and the championship. Hershey captain Bryan Helmer ended his team’s storybook season hoisting the Calder Cup.
Hershey’s title also meant that the Kronvall family doesn’t stay without a cup after Niklas Kronvall lost the Stanley Cup to Pittsburgh. His younger brother Staffan, who played with Hershey after he was traded from Toronto, was a pillar of the Hershey defence. He led all defencemen in scoring during the playoffs. The post-season top scorer is also from Hershey with Alexandre Giroux, who had 15 goals and 13 assists in 22 games.
Kronvall was one of four Europeans on the roster with Neuvirth and Finns Sami Lepisto and Oskar Osala.
The AHL will grow next year to a record 30 teams, giving every NHL club its own affiliate. The newest addition will be Dallas’ farm team, the Texas Stars, which will play in a new arena in Austin.
Two current teams will be relocated. The Calgary farm team Quad City Flames will be known as the Abbotsford Heat in British Columbia. The AHL will also return to Glens Falls, New York, in the upcoming season as the Philadelphia Phantoms will be moved and renamed to Adirondack Phantoms.