Through 93 games in 2006-07 entering the Calder Cup finals Friday night, the Hershey Bears hadn’t been shut out once. They hadn’t faced Hamilton Bulldogs rookie Carey Price, either.
Price – who was tutored by Olie Kolzig during the 2004-05 lockout as a member of the Tri-City Americans junior team that Kolzig owns – stopped all 46 shots he faced in a 4-0 Hamilton victory at GIANT Center that put the Bulldogs up, 1-0, in the best-of-seven series.
The loss saw the Bears trail for the first time in six games, fall behind by more than a goal for just the second time in the playoffs and lose in regulation for the first time in the playoffs. It’s a setback as Hershey, which featured seven players in its lineup who played for the Capitals this season, will have to come from behind in order to become the first team to win consecutive Calder Cups since 1990-91.
History fans will no doubt note that the Bears lost Game 1 in the Calder Cup finals a year ago before rebounding for a six-game series win against Milwaukee and, 10 years ago, dropped the first game against Hamilton in the finals before winning four straight.
Those precedents are encouraging, of course, but the prospect of beating Price four times is daunting. The 6’3”, 212-pound 19-year-old Montreal Canadiens property has heard plenty of Patrick Roy comparisons from the Canadian media of late thanks to Roy’s heroics as an AHL rookie in 1985, the last time the Canadiens’ affiliate won the Calder Cup.
Those comparisons didn’t seem so unreasonable Friday night, as Price used his size and positioning to make dozens of difficult saves look routine and rarely allowed second chances. He was at his best in the first period and the third, as the Bears held a 9-2 shot advantage early and a 20-3 edge in the third.
“He looked so mature, I don’t know if he even sweat out there,” Hershey head couch Bruce Boudreau said of Price. “He did not overplay anything, and he moves side-to-side so well … We’ll have to try to find some way to beat him.”
Boudreau was quick to credit Price’s teammates as well, noting that many of Hershey’s shots came from the perimeter, or came after the outcome was all but secured.
“I thought they outplayed us badly tonight,” Boudreau said. “Shots are so misleading that way.”
Hershey had a 16-12 shot advantage after the first, the best opportunities coming in the first half of the period. Jakub Klepis, Andrew Joudrey and Louis Robitaille had the best of the Bears’ chances on Price.
“I thought [Chad] Wiseman and Joudrey made some great plays tonight,” Robitaille said of his linemates, “and we could have easily had three of four goals, but their goalie made some big saves. Tomorrow we have to put more traffic in front of him. He’s a great goalie, we knew that coming in.”
Price’s teammates carried more of the play in the second period, thanks in part to two early power plays, both of which were converted.
Matt D’Agostini scored the first on a rebound at 1:21. Just more than two and a half minutes later, Mikhail Grabovski added another power-play goal to make it 2-0.
Price made a great save on Wiseman’s power-play bid that would have cut the lead in half, setting the stage for Corey Locke’s first of two goals on the night, effectively putting things out of reach for Hershey.
The Bears poured on the pressure in the third, recording 20 shots, but never managed to beat Price. Tomas Fleischmann, Alexandre Giroux and Mike Green
had some of the best opportunities; Giroux drew two penalties on one play that gave the Bears a two-minute five-on-three advantage.
Outstanding penalty killing by the Bulldogs and more clutch saves from Price left Hershey frustrated on that opportunity, and shortly thereafter Locke scored again, the Bulldogs’ third power-play goal of the night.
The two goals and one assist give Locke 10-9—19 totals in the playoffs, tied for the AHL lead in goals and ranking second in points.
Tempers flared between the two teams late in the third period as three fights broke out following an elbow by Hershey defenseman Tyler Sloan. Another fight ensued before the puck could be dropped again, leading to a total of 95 penalty minutes called at the 18:56 mark of the third.
That left the promise of more hostility in Saturday’s Game 2, but there was never any doubt that the Bears had plenty of fight in them. What was in question, after Game 1, was what they had to do to beat Price.
“We know they’ve got more to give,” Bulldogs head coach Don Lever said. “That wasn’t their A game.”
“It’s a seven-game series,” Bears defenseman Mike Green
said. “By no means is this over. We take a step back and look at the situation, but we don’t dwell on it and don’t let it get us down. Like last year, anything can happen.”Notes:
Opening faceoff was delayed almost 30 minutes as a thunderstorm roared through the area in the 45 minutes leading up to the game, causing power outages and localized flooding.
Capitals owner Ted Leonsis was among those in attendance at GIANT Center … The Bears have a host of players who won a championship last season, of course, led by the members of the 2006 Calder Cup champions. Also with a 2006 title ring is center Andrew Joudrey, who won the NCAA championship as a member of the Wisconsin Badgers. Joudrey’s Badgers won an overtime game against Cornell last season that proved to be the final collegiate game for his current teammate, Sasha Pokulok, and Hamilton defenseman Ryan O’Byrne.
The crowd of 10,257 was just shy of a sellout. Some tickets remain for Saturday night’s Game 2.
More than 100 media credentials were distributed for Game 1, including the Washington Post and several Canadian outlets … Game 2 is set for Saturday night at 7 p.m. and can be seen and heard online via links on the WashingtonCaps.com home page. XM Radio, which picked up the Bears’ radio feed for Game 1, will not carry Games 2, 3 or 4 due to Stanley Cup playoff conflicts, but would pick up Games 5, 6 and 7 if necessary.
Special thanks to John Sparenberg for interview clips from Game 1.