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Woods completes rare AHL title trifecta

by Lindsay Kramer
Less than 48 hours after guiding his team to a Calder Cup series-clinching win in Manitoba, Hershey coach Bob Woods was engaged in a chore that hundreds of residents Chocolatetown would have gladly volunteered to take over for him.

Woods was mowing his lawn on a warm spring evening. Ah, the glory of being a champion.

"I always make time for it. I enjoy doing it," said Woods, a year-round resident of the Hershey area. "It's one of the jobs you do, and when it's done, it looks good. You feel good about it."

Sound like anything else that's relevant these days? Like, say, winning a Calder Cup?

Woods, who was promoted from assistant coach to the top spot during the 2007-08 season, is quickly running out of jobs that help carry the Bears to a championship. He is the first man in team history to earn it as a player (1997), assistant coach (2006) and head coach (2009).

What's next? Zamboni driver? Program vendor? VP of Marketing?

"I think always as a player, it's special," Woods said, comparing the different satisfactions. "You are one of the guys. As a coach, I've explained it as watching your kids at Christmas. Every championship is different. But they all mean the same thing. They are the best at whatever level you are at."

The Bears took that concept to an exclusive plateau with this title. It is Hershey's 10th Calder Cup, the most of any city in AHL history.

"From day one in training camp, the plan is to go after the Cup," Woods said. "We just do what's expected here. Every year, you go into it and that's what they expect you to get done. We were fortunate enough to get it done this year."

Bears' fans can hardly ask more of Woods, though he has one tiny hole on his resume that he can attempt to Spackle next year. Of Woods' three Calder Cups, none has been clinched on Hershey's home ice.

"I'd like to win at home. Winning the Cup at home would be great," he said. "The champagne tastes just as sweet on the road. It's good wherever you do it."

Finals a popular ticket
-- The Calder Cup finals was must-see hockey in both Hershey and Manitoba.

Five of the six games were sellouts. The average (12,839) and total (77,038) attendances for the finals were both all-time league records for a playoff series.

The league couldn't have asked for a more dynamic matchup. Hershey is the AHL's most storied franchise, while Manitoba is arguably the one most run like an NHL team. And the Moose (107 points) and Bears (106) were two of the top three teams during the regular season.

"Both organizations are class organizations. Plus, you know you are getting terrific hockey," said AHL President Dave Andrews. "It's great for our players to be in that environment."

As is league custom, the AHL brought several of its office staffers to a finals game, this time in Hershey.

"Part of this is to see the culmination of what they work for," Andrews said. "It gives them a little bit more meaning to what they do."

As a whole, average playoff attendance in the AHL increased 19 percent league-wide over last postseason.

Tough isn't enough -- A couple of the AHL's toughest players are trying to develop leaner, meaner games.

It's already paid off for Milwaukee's Triston Grant. Syracuse's Jon Mirasty hopes his reward is coming soon.

Nashville recently signed Grant to a one-year, two-way deal for next season. Grant compiled 153 PIMs for the Admirals last season, but it was a different number that caught the Predators' eyes. As a checking-line forward Grant was a plus-11, one of just four AHL players to post at least 150 penalty minutes and a plus/minus rating in double digits.

"I think always as a player, it's special. You are one of the guys. As a coach, I've explained it as watching your kids at Christmas. Every championship is different. But they all mean the same thing. They are the best at whatever level you are at."
-- Hershey coach Bob Woods

"Just to base your game on one aspect doesn't cut it any more. You have to adapt and find new ways to contribute," Grant said. "Everybody has their role on the team. My role is to play really hard against their top players. I feel like I could do that role at a high level."

Mirasty's AHL deal is about to expire, so he hopes to hit the market with a more well-rounded skill set. He's going old school with some of his training tactics on his horse farm in Meadow Lake, Saskatchewan. His day is filled with hard-core workouts that include uprooting and moving boulders, shoving full wheelbarrows up hills and dragging and pounding on tires.

Mirasty compiled 227 PIMs last year, so the goal isn't necessarily to become stronger. He said he wants to improve his conditioning so he can be used for longer and more frequent shifts instead of being viewed as a five-minute per game watchdog.

"A lot of guys train inside a gym. I'm outdoors," he said. "It's something new. I'm trying to relate everything to hockey. This year, I'm going to focus more on playing hockey, rather than fighting. I know I'm tough enough to play hockey. I just have to improve in other ways."

Around the AHL -- Glen Gulutzan has been named the first head coach of the Texas Stars, and Paul Jerrard has been tabbed as his assistant. Gulutzan, 37, comes to the Stars from the Las Vegas Wranglers of the ECHL, where he spent the last six seasons as general manager and head coach. He compiled a record of 254-124-55 for a .650 winning percentage, including 100-plus points in three consecutive seasons (2005-2008) – a first for any team in the 20-year history of the ECHL. Gulutzan also took the Wranglers to the Kelly Cup finals in 2008 and the conference finals in 2009. ... When Todd Richards was named head coach of Minnesota earlier this week, he become the seventh person to rise from AHL head coach to NHL head coach in the last 19 months, joining Bruce Boudreau (Washington), Scott Gordon (N.Y. Islanders), John Anderson (Atlanta), Cory Clouston (Ottawa), Dan Bylsma (Pittsburgh) and Joe Sacco (Colorado). ... Hershey's Michal Neuvirth was named playoff MVP after becoming the fourth goalie ever to win 16 games in an AHL postseason. ... Bears forward Alexandre Giroux closed the playoffs with a 13-game scoring streak (11-8-19) and paced all postseason scorers with 28 points (15-13) in 22 games. ... The Calder Cup finals have not extended to Game 7 since 2003, when Houston topped Hamilton. ... Hamilton and Toronto will compete in The Gardiner Cup this preseason. The two AHL teams will join UK Elite League’s Edinburgh Capitals and Belfast Giants in the four-team tournament. ... Hartford has signed a pair of defensemen, Mike Berube and David Urquhart. Berube skated in 56 games for the WHL’s Vancouver Giants this season, notching 4 goals, 20 assists and a plus-33. Urquhart, a rookie out of McGill University, logged 58 games for the Wolf Pack this season, scoring six goals and adding eight assists. ... The Chicago Wolves have signed forward Patrick Galivan, a native of nearby Oak Park. Galivan completed a four-year career at Western Michigan University this spring, leading the team with a career-high 19 goals and 28 assists in 41 outings.

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