The AHL’s most storied franchise takes on the league’s newest franchise in the 74th Calder Cup final series beginning tonight at Giant Center in Hershey. The Hershey Bears will be vying for their 11th Calder Cup championship while the Texas Stars will seek to complete their first season in the circuit with a league title. The Bears are competing in the Cup final for the fourth time in five springs since re-starting their affiliation with the parent Capitals for the 2005-06 season. Hershey is seeking to become the first back-to-back AHL champs since the Springfield Indians in 1990 and 1991.
After setting an AHL record with 60 wins (60-17-0-3) during the regular season, the Bears disposed of Bridgeport, Albany and Manchester to get to the final. Hershey is 12-3 overall during the 2010 Calder Cup playoffs.
“It’s been a special year,” said Bears coach Mark French after Hershey ousted Manchester. “It’s obviously nice to get back to the finals. At the start of the year, you think you have an opportunity with the lineup that you have. But there’s a lot of work ahead of you. So it’s pretty rewarding for the guys in the room.”
Each of the first two games of the final series will be played at Giant Center; Game 2 is on Saturday night. The series then shifts to Texas, where Games 3-5 will be played next Monday, Wednesday and Friday, respectively. Hershey would host Game 6 on June 14 and Game 7 on June 16, if necessary.
Hershey is 42-4-0-2 on home ice this season, including 8-0 in the postseason. Dating back to last November, the Bears have won 37 of their last 38 games on the Giant Center sheet. Chris Bourque
(seven goals, 16 assists) leads the Bears in postseason scoring. He has a t least a point in 10 of his last 11 games with seven goals and 20 points during that stretch. Keith Aucoin
leads the league with 18 assists in the Calder Cup playoffs; he has at least one helper in 14 of the Bears’ 15 playoff contests. Alexandre Giroux has 12 goals and 21 points in his 15 postseason tilts this spring.
Goaltender Michal Neuvirth
led the Bears to a Calder Cup title as a 21-year-old rookie last spring. He is 10-2 with a 2.13 GAA and a .917 save pct. in a dozen games this spring.
After sweeping away Rockford in the first round, Texas hard-nosed its way to the final series with a pair of Game 7 road wins over Chicago and Hamilton. The Stars are 12-6 during the postseason.
The Stars’ Jamie Benn leads all AHL postseason scorers with 24 points (14 goals, 10 assists). He has already matched the league mark for most goals by a league rookie in the Calder Cup playoffs. Benn skated in all 82 games with the parent Dallas Stars this season, totaling 22 goals and 41 points as an NHL rookie. The 20-year-old native of Victoria, B.C. did not play at all for the Texas Stars during the 2009-10 AHL regular season.
Former Bear Travis Morin was the Stars’ second-leading scorer (52 points) during the regular season. He was Washington’s ninth-round choice (263rd overall) in the 2004 NHL Entry Draft.
Texas forward Matt Beaudoin is the only other ex-Bear on the Stars’ roster; he had a seven-game stint in Hershey during the 2007-08 season. Stars’ assistant coach Paul Jarrard formerly held the same post in Hershey.
Former first-rounder (ninth overall to Calgary in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft) Brent Krahn opened the playoffs as the Stars’ starting netminder. Krahn fashioned a stellar 17-4 record to go along with a sparkling 1.83 GAA and a .945 save pct. in 21 regular season showings. He opened the postseason on a 7-3 run before being sidelined in Game 7 of the Chicago series. Matt Climie came on in relief and has held the pipes since.
Although Krahn is said to be ready to return, Climie is the stated starter for the Stars for Thursday’s Game 1.