Ajay Baines scored a short-handed goal at 9:33 of the third period, giving the Bulldogs their first American Hockey League title Thursday with a 2-1 win over the Hershey Bears. Hamilton’s Maxim Lapierre, who opened the scoring in the second period, burst down the right wing and sent a perfect feed across to Baines, who buried the puck behind Frederic Cassivi.
“I don’t score too many goals so that’s a pretty special one,” said Baines.
It’s the franchise’s first Calder Cup in its 11-year history. Hamilton, the affiliate of the NHL’s Montreal Canadiens, won the decisive Game 5 of the best-of-seven AHL final in front of a crowd of 14,205 at Copps Coliseum.
“Just a lot of guts,” Baines said, when asked how the Bulldogs won the Calder Cup. “Guys just really knew their roles. We had no superstars.”
Hamilton lost to Bears in the 1997 final and again to the Houston Aeros in a dramatic seven-game series in 2003.
Head coach Don Lever said his hungry team was easy to coach.
“It’s character,” said Lever. “These kids, they just never quit. To go on the road and win every first game on the road and come in with the pressure when you had to win at home.
“It’s not easy winning that fourth one, especially against the best team in the league.”
Jakub Klepis had the lone goal for Hershey, which produced a much better effort than in Games 3 and 4 but still had trouble beating goalie Carey Price.
Price, who won the Jack Butterfield Trophy as playoff MVP of the Calder Cup playoffs, made 29 saves. His stops included a pad save on Klepis, who fired a hard shot at the Bulldogs’ rookie in the opening minutes of the third period with the score tied 1-1. He also stopped a hard point shot from Mike Green in the closing minutes with Hershey looking to tie the game.
“I was just so relieved (when the game ended),” the 19-year-old said. “They’re a good team, they could have come back at any second.
“It’s a nice way to top it off.”
Lapierre had no shortage of praise for the young Bulldogs goaltender.
“He’s just unbelievable,” Lapierre said. “He’s a young kid with great skills and he’s not nervous. He made us look good all playoffs long. I think he’s going to be a great goalie.”
The Bulldogs enjoyed some early chances, but unlike the previous two games at Copps Coliseum they failed to get on the scoreboard in the opening minutes.
Hershey, after looking sharp killing a Bulldogs’ man advantage, went on their own power play and nearly took a lead midway through the first when Tomas Fleischmann’s hard shot from the faceoff circle was tipped in front, fooling Price but ringing off the far post.
The Bears’ Chris Bourque had another great opportunity short-handed moments later when he stole the puck off Mathieu Biron and went in alone, but Price gave the Hershey forward little room to shoot and denied him with a solid save.
Cassivi looked decidedly better in the Hershey net, rebounding from a poor performance in Game 4, in which he allowed five goals on 25 shots. He stopped 24 of 26 shots and came up big for the Bears in the latter part of the second period, keeping the game scoreless with a few timely saves as Hamilton pressed to establish a lead.
The defending champion Bears were clearly frustrated with their performance in the three games in Hamilton.
“I played two years on almost the best team I ever played on,” said Fleischmann. “I had so much fun. I think these guys deserved it but we can’t do anything about it.
“We lost three games in here. We needed to win just one and we didn’t do that.”
With both teams fighting to secure the crucial first goal of the game, it was Lapierre that opened the scoring at 14:37 of the second period. Hamilton defenceman Andre Benoit, who helped set up three goals Wednesday, skated behind the Bears’ net and tried a wraparound on Cassivi, who made the stop but gave up a rebound that Lapierre tucked in.
“We knew we had a hard working team,” Lapierre said. “We played as a team and it paid off.”
Hershey didn’t take long to respond as Klepis scored his seventh of the playoffs and fifth of the series at 18:42, depositing a rebound with a one-timer from the bottom the circle just seconds after Biron had left the penalty box.
“The three games here, only one line scored a goal,” said Hershey head coach Bruce Boudreau. “You’re not going to win when that happens. It wasn’t through lack of effort. They just played very good defensively and their goaltender, you can tell he’s going to have a future.
“I truly believe that if we had have won one (in Hamilton), I don’t know if we would have won but it would have been a seven-game set for sure.”
Notes: Hamilton never trailed in a single series in the 2007 post-season, defeating the Rochester Americans in six games, the Manitoba Moose in six and the Chicago Wolves in five… Benoit, who has four assists in the last two games, entered the night leading the Bulldogs with a plus-13 rating in the post-season…. The paid attendance of 14,205 was the second largest crowd ever to watch a Bulldogs game at Copps Coliseum… The Bulldogs were 0-for-9 on the power play, while Hershey also failed to score on its six chancesa. The City of Hamilton and HECFI will honour the champion Bulldogs at City Hall, June 8 at 12:00 noona. The Dogs’ win marked the first ever professional hockey title for Hamilton.