HERSHEY, PA. – The Calder Cup will be adorned with the Hershey Bears' name for the 11th time.
The American League does not engrave the names of individual players and coaches on the Calder Cup, but for all the big-name AHLers and prospects like John Carlson and Karl Alzner who dot the Hershey lineup, the Bears have their fair share of players whose names once shone far less brightly.
The Bears erased a 2-0 series deficit in their battle with the Texas Stars and wrapped up their second consecutive Calder Cup championship Monday evening, winning the AHL title for the first time on home ice since 1980. Winning the Calder Cup for the third time in the five seasons they have been affiliated with the Washington Capitals, the Bears mixed a perfect blend of winning and development that will likely send a number of players to the American capital next season.
Hershey regrouped after a pair of one-goal losses to the Stars to open the series, going down to Texas and taking three road victories to bring the series back to Chocolatetown.
With Texas finding itself down 3-2 in the final and without veteran defenseman Andrew Hutchinson, coach Glen Gulutzan yanked goaltender Matt Climie from the net for Game 6 and inserted veteran Brent Krahn, who had not played in 36 days after sustaining a concussion in the second round against Chicago. Krahn could not fend off a ferocious Bears attack that poured on 17 first-period shots.
Hershey subsequently sailed to a 4-0 win and Chris Bourque, a mid-season waiver-wire addition from the Pittsburgh Penguins, earned the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as playoff MVP. Bourque, who briefly departed to Pittsburgh last fall, registered seven goals and 27 points in 21 playoff games and is the only Bear to have been a part of all three Cup-winning squads since 2005.
Rookie coach Mark French, a product of CIS hockey with Brock University and Wilfrid Laurier University, made his way to Hershey two-and-a-half years ago after a mid-season firing in the low-level Central League with the Wichita Thunder.
"Hershey is an unbelievable place to coach," French said during the team's on-ice Cup celebration. "Any coach would be very proud to be in Hershey."
League MVP Keith Aucoin played Division III hockey and paid his dues in the former United League.
"This is a great league,” Aucoin said. “To win a championship at this level is not easy to do and to do it two straight years shows what we have in this (dressing room).”
After the Bears' difficult start in the final, grizzled captain Bryan Helmer held a team meeting and the team soon took over the series for good. Patrick McNeill’s steady, unheralded game starred in the Bears' Cup-clinching win, as he pumped in a pair of Game 6 goals that put the persistent Stars away for good.
Finally, the Bears' superior depth allowed French to make any and all necessary adjustments.
"It's certainly rewarding," French said of his rise from the lower regions of the hockey world. “I feel very fortunate that I have been put in this spot. I sit back and I’m a little bit in awe of where I am, but very appreciative for the opportunity that people have given me."
Michal Neuvirth backstopped the Bears to his second Calder Cup and is likely to join Washington next season alongside Carlson and Alzner.
The best offer Aucoin could find early in the 2004-05 season was a Central League job with Memphis. Aucoin took it, earned an AHL promotion and has not looked back since.
"I never put my head down," Aucoin said. "I just went and played. It's been a lot of hard work. I just love the game."
THIS & THAT
• The New Jersey Devils finally made their AHL plans official this past Thursday, relocating the Lowell Devils to Albany, N.Y.
• Peoria will have Abbotsford assistant coach Jared Bednar running the Rivermen’s bench next season.
From THN.com American League correspondent Patrick Williams, Around The AHL keeps tabs on the world's second best circuit, details all the news and notes and profiling prospects destined for the next level. It appears every week only on TheHockeyNews.com.