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Bears Bow as Hamilton Claims Calder Cup

by Mike Vogel / Washington Capitals
HAMILTON, Ont. – All season long the Hershey Bears thrived on the shorthanded goal, scoring a club record 24 of them. The Bears added three more shorties in the playoffs, too. But Thursday night the Bears died by the virtue of a shorthanded strike. Ajay Baines’ shorthanded goal midway through the third period was the death knell for Hershey’s hopes of repeating as Calder Cup champions. Hamilton took a 2-1 decision and won the final series in five games.

“We didn’t have enough,” says Bears coach Bruce Boudreau. “They gave it everything they had. But we just didn’t have enough scoring. That’s what the whole series came down to. That would have been the one thing we thought we never would have had too little of. When only one line scores in the last three games …  and I’m not saying this negatively about the other guys because everybody tried their rear end off and they gave it what they had. When it was there, that goalie made the saves. I thought we did a really good job of defending the Cup, but we just didn’t have that extra step.”

After three straight games in which it had surrendered the contest’s first goal with the first six minutes, Hershey gained a small moral victory by getting through the first period without being scored upon. The Bears were forced to kill three penalties against a hot Hamilton power play unit, and they did so with aplomb, killing off two of the three without surrendering a shot on goal.

Hershey’s best offensive chance of the first period came when Chris Bourque went in alone on a shorthanded breakaway. Bourque lifted a wrister from between the circles, but Hamilton goaltender Carey Price put his hands together and blockered Bourque’s bid aside.

The Bears had two first period power plays, but did not get much going. Jakub Klepis tipped a Tomas Fleischmann shot off the post to Price’s right to account for Hershey’s best extra-man scoring chance of the period.

Bears goaltender Frederic Cassivi did his part to keep the game scoreless through the first 20 minutes. He made his best stop of the period midway through when he denied a Matt D’Agostini backhander in tight.

Hamilton’s best first period opportunity came on its third power play when ex-Cap Mathieu Biron fired from the point. Mikhail Grabovski deflected the shot, but it skittered just wide of the Hershey net.

Hershey came out with a sense of purpose in the second, and it drew an early power play opportunity as a result. Once again, the Bears were stymied with the extra man.

The Bears had a glorious chance to score first for the first time in the series just under eight minutes into the middle frame. Alexandre Giroux took the puck and worked his way through a handful of players in front of the Hamilton goal. He skated around the net and tried to stuff the puck in the opposite side, but the puck bounced off the post and trickled harmlessly away.

Just over 13 minutes into the period, Bears defenseman Tyler Sloan had a great shift that helped keep the game scoreless. First Sloan delivered a textbook hip check along the wall to Cassivi’s right, upending the puckcarrier and separating him from the disk. Seconds later, Sloan hammered Hamilton’s Jonathan Ferland just as the winger was about to tap the puck into an empty net to Cassivi’s right. Instead, the puck dribbled off the side of the net.

Less than two minutes later, the Bulldogs grabbed the lead when Maxim Lapierre scored from virtually the same spot where Ferland had been denied. Andre Benoit carried the puck around the back of the Hershey goal and made a wraparound attempt. It caromed lightly off Cassivi’s pad and went right to Lapierre, who had all day to flip it into the vacant cage.

An interference call on Hamilton’s Mathieu Biron gave the Bears a power play late in the period. Hershey failed to connect, but was moving the puck around the zone efficiently late in the man-advantage. Just after Biron came back onto the ice, the Bears’ Mike Green carried deep into the attack zone along the wall to Price’s left. Including Green, there were four Bears aligned horizontally down low. Green lofted a pass that hit teammate Dave Steckel on its way to Klepis, who was stationed just beyond the far post. Klepis fired it home with authority, and the Bears had drawn even with just 1:18 to play in the second.

Hershey had a chance to grab a lead – something it never managed to do in the three games at Copps Coliseum – in the first half of the third period when it was the recipient of two power play opportunities in short succession. The Bears not only failed to capitalize, they fell behind when Lapierre and Baines broke out on a 2-on-1 with Green back and Fleischmann in pursuit. Lapierre threaded a sharp pass across at exactly the right moment, perfectly leading Baines, who was going full stride and didn’t have much room between himself and Fleischmann. Cassivi slid across, but not as fast as the puck did. Baines one-timed it with almost one arm while losing his edge, beating the Bears goalie and giving Hamilton a 2-1 lead.

Hershey still had 10:27 with which to work at this point, but the toll of two long playoff runs totaling 39 games and five games in seven nights in this series proved to be too much. The Bears were unable to give themselves a fighting chance in the final half of the final frame, taking five minors in the final 8:47 to undercut any reasonable hope of a late rally. Hershey was shorthanded for six of the game’s final nine minutes, and the Bulldogs were able to deliver Hamilton’s first-ever pro hockey championship, and the first for the province of Ontario since the Toronto Maple Leafs won the Stanley Cup in 1967.

“If you look at what happened, it’s nothing to be ashamed of,” reflects Boudreau. “We had a great run, a great two runs. It’s tough to win it two years in a row when there are 27 teams in the league and we came within one [series] of doing it. We took right off and won the league championship and I just think we ran into a team that we didn’t expect to run into. We played teams smaller and not as disciplined. Then you play [Hamilton] and that’s what happens.”

On the impact of Giroux’s failed wraparound bid:
“I think if we had gotten the lead at any point, it would have made a huge difference. They were determined. They had no weak times. Usually in a series, another team has a weak moment. They played so well. Give [Hamilton coach] Donnie Lever credit. They played so well as a group. It’s tough.”

“Two and a half seasons into two. I don’t know, I’ve got to believe it was, but at the same time if you say it was then it’s an excuse. I think the penalties at the end were frustration things. I don’t know, I guess you’ve got to call them, and the league will love them for calling them. But they sort of took the opportunity from our team to win. Whether we would have scored one or not I have no idea. We weren’t really generating an awful lot of chances in the last eight minutes, anyway.”

On Cassivi’s performance:
“Freddie played great. And I always knew when the game was on the line Freddie would be there. It’s too bad what happened. If Bourque would have scored in the first period on a [breakaway] … there are going to be a lot of ‘ifs’ going around over the summer. You can’t say enough about our team. We won 64 games this year. We had points in 80 games or close to 80 games out of 100. They came to play every night. I guess a typical way of describing our team today would be Quintin [Laing]. This morning he couldn’t even stand up. He’s got a sprained MCL from last night, and he said he had to play. He played one of the better games out there on sheer guts. Deano [Arsene] is going to have I’m sure an operation. He has been playing through pain and other guys [have too]. We just didn’t have all the horses going. When you’re playing a great team, you can’t win [that way].”

On what impressed him most about the Bulldogs:
“Carey Price. Also their determination. They played hard every game. There was no letup whether it was Game 1 or 2 in our building. We had to play our rear ends off to win Game 2. Their special teams were either really good or ours were really bad after what we had been doing so great before. They were a very tough opponent. They were big, and we had small guys who couldn’t [penetrate] their box. And it cost us.”

On the mood at the second intermission after the Bears had tied the game:
“I thought we were there. I know if we could have gotten the lead it would have been a different story. I know Freddie would have held the fort, I know we would have [bore] down and everybody would have played great. That’s what would have happened.”

On the game:
“We knew obviously it was an elimination game. We came out and up until that power play, we did what we needed to do. We kept it close. I thought we responded well after they scored first. It’s a little different from last year, obviously.”

On the team’s run over the last two springs:
“We had a great regular season again. Right from the start our goal was another Calder Cup. For us to say we were just happy to be in the finals again is an understatement. We really had our hearts set on winning again. Hamilton came out and they did what they needed to do to prevent us from doing that.”

On the toll of 39 playoff games over two years:
“Mental fatigue is always there during the regular season, but it compares to nothing. When you get to the playoffs it becomes physical and [is a matter of] responding. To play both years into June and have a month and a half off is really a credit to the Capitals and the Hershey Bears and the coaching staffs that work hard to put us in this position year in and year out.”

On whether least year’s team was more battle-tested heading into the finals:
“The only series we really had a challenge in was the third against Portland. That might have helped us playing a really good team and knowing how to win. For the most part, we’ve battled all year. We know how to do it. We just failed this time.”

On the Bears’ remarkable run over the last two seasons:
“I played two years on almost the best team I ever played on. I had so much fun. I think these guys deserve it like everybody, but we can’t do anything about it. We lost three games in here. We needed to win just one but we didn’t do that. I don’t know what to say. I’m really upset.”

Lineup – Louis Robitaille and Tim Wedderburn were reinserted into the Hershey lineup for Game 5 while Pete Vandermeer and Troy Milam were healthy scratches.

Special Delivery – For the first time in the series, neither team scored on the power play. But as it did all series, Hamilton held the special teams edge in Game 5, clinching the Cup by virtue of Baines’ shorthanded goal.

Hamilton was 7-for-35 (20%) on the power play in the final series even after an 0-for-9 performance in Game 5. Hershey, which entered the final series with the league’s best playoff power play percentage, was just 3-for-41 (7.3%) with the extra man in the series.

Junkyard Dogs – Hamilton has been flat out nasty on its own ice surface this spring, especially lately. The Bulldogs have allowed just nine goals in their last seven playoff games.

Slim Odds – Thirteen teams in AHL history have come back to win a series after trailing 3-1. It has only happened three times in a Calder Cup finals series, and not since 1949 when the Bears held a commanding 3-1 lead only to squander it to the Providence Reds.

Nineteen With a Bullet – Price is became just the third teenaged goaltender ever to lead his team to a Calder Cup title. Eighteen-year-old Gordie Bell led Buffalo to a Cup championship in 1943 and 19-year-old Patrick Roy helped Sherbrooke to the title in 1985.

As everyone knows, Roy is the NHL’s all-time wins leader and a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. Bell’s NHL career consisted of only eight regular season games (when he was 20) and two playoff tilts (when he was 31). Bell spent more than a decade in the AHL, including a stint in the District with the Washington Lions in 1947-48 when he played a career high 64 games.

On This Date – Until tonight, June 7 had not been a stellar date for Hamilton playoff hockey. On this date in 1997, Hershey’s Mike McHugh scored 56 seconds into overtime to give the Bears a 6-5 win over Hamilton. McHugh’s goal gave Hershey a 2-0 series lead over Hamilton.

On June 7, 2003 Hamilton suffered a 6-4 loss to Houston to fall behind 3-2 in the Calder Cup final series.

In the House – Ex-Bear and former Capital Brian Willsie, a native of London, Ont., was in attendance with his family for Thursday’s Game 5.

Former NHL defenseman Leo Reise was also in attendance and celebrating his 85th birthday on Thursday. Reise, a native of Stoney Creek, Ont., played in 494 games over a 10-year NHL career with the Blackhawks, Red Wings and Rangers. Reise’s AHL career consisted of just five games with the Indianapolis Capitals in 1946-47.


1. Baines – He’d certainly tell you it’s the biggest goal of his career.

2. Lapierre – On a night with very little scoring, he scored the game’s first goal and made a perfect play to set up Baines for the game-winner.

3. Klepis – His goal gave the Bears life, and he was the one reliable offensive player the Bears had in the series.

Honorable Mention – Both goaltenders.
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