MONTREAL - Is there any stopping the Bulldogs? The Hershey Bears sure hope so as they look to win their second straight Calder Cup crown. But Carey Price and company have other plans.
After wrapping up their third conference title in their 11-year existence by eliminating the Chicago Wolves in five games, the Bulldogs will now look to win their first-ever AHL championship. Should Don Lever's squad go all the way, the 'Dogs would also become the first Canadiens affiliate to do so in over two decades.
The last group of Baby Habs to turn the trick was the Sherbrooke Canadiens in 1984-85. That year, the storyline bore a striking resemblance to the script being written by the Bulldogs in 2007, with each team having an unproven rookie leading the way between the pipes.
While 19-year-old Carey Price continues to shine under the spotlight for Hamilton despite being only months removed from playing in junior, another unknown freshman named Patrick Roy did the same for Sherbrooke as a 20-year-old over 20 years ago. The future Hall-of-Famer joined forces with soon-to-be Habs teammates Stephane Richer and Brian Skrudland to bounce the Baltimore Skipjacks in six games in the Calder Cup finals.
| For all the marbles |
Here's a look at how Canadiens farm teams have fared in the Calder Cup finals dating back to 1971.
|SEASON ||FARM TEAM ||OPPONENT ||RESULT |
|2006-07 || || ||??????? |
|2002-03 || || ||Lost in 7 games |
|1994-95 || || ||Lost in 6 games |
|1986-87 || || ||Lost in 7 games |
|1984-85 || || ||Won in 6 games |
|1976-77 || || ||Won in 6 games |
|1975-76 || || ||Won in 5 games |
|1972-73 || || ||Lost in 5 games |
|1971-72 || || ||Won in 6 games |
Since that parade down the streets of Sherbrooke, the last three trips to the big dance by a Habs affiliate have ended in heartbreak. Just ask Michael Ryder, Mike Komisarek and Tomas Plekanec, who can all recall their Game 7 defeat to the Houston Aeros in 2003.
No matter how painful the result, such a playoff rollercoaster ride can only help a young player's development, according to Bulldogs bench boss Don Lever.
"You can't put a price on this experience for our young prospects," said Lever. "Not many guys get the chance to still be playing in June. As a group, they are showing me things that we never would've seen had we not ended up in such pressure-packed situations. Our success speaks to their growing maturity and determination. I'm real proud of what they've accomplished so far.
"They're all going to benefit from this," added Lever. "Even a guy who spent most of the year in the NHL like Max Lapierre is going to be a better player after this is all said and done."
While Lever's crew now has its work cut out against the defending champion Bears, underestimating the Bulldogs probably isn't such a good idea these days.
"We've sure got momentum on our side right now and all of our guys are working their tails off. It's just up to us to keep that fire burning," said Lever. "We're getting contributions from our entire lineup, top to bottom. This has really been a team effort from the start."
As for how the Bulldogs' improbable playoff run will end, their fans are hoping it culminates with a parade through downtown Hamilton.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com