Saturday, 9 June 2007

Calder Cup Victory

While the NHL's Stanley Cup avoided returning north of the border, the AHL's Calder Cup will be a Canadian fixture for at least one year. The Hamilton Bulldogs, the AHL affiliate of the Montreal Canadiens, defeated the Hershey Bears four games to one on Thursday night to win their first Calder Cup Championship. This is a huge accomplishment for a team that, at times, struggled mightily during the season, both on the ice and at the ticket booth. However, all is good in the Canadian steeltown, and the Montreal Canadiens have to be drooling over some of their prospects.

One such player is goaltender Carey Price. Price made 29 saves in the decisive Game Five win over Hershey, and finished the playoffs with a record of 15-6 with a 2.06 goals-against average, a .936 save percentage and two shutouts. The 19-year-old was the fifth overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, and made his AHL debut with the Bulldogs on April 13. His efforts in the playoffs earned him the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player of the 2007 Calder Cup Playoffs.

Price is only the third goaltender in AHL history, and the first since former Montreal Canadiens goaltending legend Patrick Roy in 1985, to lead his team to a Calder Cup victory as a teenager. You may also remember Carey Price for his heroics at the 2007 World Junior Championships in which he was named the tournament MVP for Canada. He was also a first-team all-star in the WHL this past season, was named the Del Wilson Trophy winner for being the top goaltender in the WHL, and was named Goaltender of the Year in Canadian Major Junior Hockey. Those are some pretty impressive accolades.

Hamilton was the lower seed in each round but never trailed in any of its four series, defeating Rochester (4-2), Manitoba (4-2) and Chicago (4-1) before ousting the defending Calder Cup champs from Hershey in five games as well.

The key to the Dogs playoff run could be pinpointed to one defining game for Carey Price: Game Six versus the Maniotba Moose. Price made 40 saves, and allowed his team to hang with the Moose, eventually winning in overtime 3-2 to eliminate the Moose. Price continually came up with remarkable saves and timely goaltending to keep his team in every game. That is the mark of a champion.

Scoring wasn't a problem for the Bulldogs either. Corey Locke led the Bulldogs in scoring in the playoffs, posting 10 goals and 12 assists in 22 games. Locke's 10 goals tied him for most in the 2007 Calder Cup Playoffs. Defenseman Dan Jancevski scored 3 goals and added 11 helpers for 14 points. Kyle Chipchura, Matt D'Agostini, Andre Benoit, and Duncan Milroy all added 13 points in 22 games as well. Ajay Baines had two short-handed goals, including the game winner in Game Five of the Calder Cup Championship series. Eric Manlow scored three game-winning goals - a sign of veteran leadership and clutch performance. Defenseman Danny Groulx opened the scoring in four games, another sign of the veteran leadership on this team. Andre Benoit (+13), Ryan O'Byrne (+12), and Duncan Milroy (+11) occupied the top three rankings in plus/minus in the playoffs, a credit to their defensive abilities and commitment to backchecking.

All in all, this team wasn't the best team in the AHL all season. They weren't even the best team in their division. The key is that they came together at the right time, and played incredible hockey for a little over a month. That's all you can ask for if your team is in the playoffs. Congratulations to the Hamilton Bulldogs, the 2007 Calder Cup Champions!

Until next time, keep your sticks on the ice!

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