HERSHEY, PA. – Two themes emerged early in the 2009-10 American League season as the Hershey Bears tore up opposing defenses and threatened to completely rewrite the league’s record book:
1. The Bears seemed a solid bet to bring the Calder Cup final back to the Keystone State for the seventh season in a row.
2. Anything short of a second consecutive Calder Cup championship for the Bears would be considered a severe disappointment. Even with a rookie coach and a re-tooled roster, the Bears set out to prove dynasties can exist in the modern-day AHL.
The Bears took care of the first theme, winning a thrilling six-game series from the Manchester Monarchs and Baz Bastien Award-winning goaltender Jonathan Bernier to reach the Calder Cup final for the fourth time in the past five seasons.
And Part 2?
With Game 1 of the final now behind us, it is clear the Texas Stars pose a large threat to Hershey’s aspirations of keeping the Cup in Chocolatetown.
All four of Hershey’s recent final appearances have come during a wildly successful affiliation with the Washington Capitals. Hershey has won two Calder Cups since 2005, including a championship haul in six games last year against the Manitoba Moose. But the Bears are encountering a different sort of foe in the Stars.
Texas marched into Hershey Thursday night and churned out a 2-1 win in Game 1 of the series, putting the Bears in their first series deficit this spring.
The Stars mixed goals from Greg Rallo and Scott McCulloch, with a 26-save effort from Matt Climie, to steal the win from a Bears club that had won 37 of its past 38 home games dating back to November.
Climie's calm bodes well for the Stars against an offensively rambunctious Hershey team.
"He has been that way all year," Texas coach Glen Gulutzan said of Climie. "We talk about Brent Krahn a lot, but Matt (played 43 regular season games this year). We're comfortable either way.”
Gulutzan has used Jamie Benn's phenomenal offensive production, Climie's solid goaltending in relief of Krahn – who was injured in the second round – and a solid veteran core to reach the first Calder Cup for a Dallas AHL affiliate. Texas has taken two Game 7 victories on the road this playoff season and did so against powerhouses Chicago and Hamilton. The Stars are the fourth club in AHL history to take two Game 7 road wins in one post-season.
Texas is led by perhaps the best top-four defense corps in the league, with the steady Dan Jancevski and Max Fortunus providing backline support to the more offensively adventurous Andrew Hutchinson and Garrett Stafford. In Game 1, Texas gave Hershey’s top-ranked offense its proper respect, but the Stars did not show the sort of panic that has plagued Hershey opponents all season. Texas mixed solid down-low reads and clogged shooting lanes, forcing the Bears to play a little too cute in the attacking zone.
But the come-from-behind work this post-season by coach Mark French's Bears has become the latest chapter in Hershey hockey lore. Prior to Game 1 of the final, Hershey had erased nine of its 11 third-period deficits this post-season.
Coming from behind in a game is one matter, but now the Bears will test their ability to come from behind in a series. The clubs meet again Saturday night in Hershey for Game 2 before the series heads south to Texas for Games 3, 4 and 5 in suburban Austin.
THIS & THAT
Mired in rumors of dressing-room turmoil, Rochester coach Benoit Groulx resigned and took over behind the bench with the Quebec League's Gatineau Olympiques. A replacement has not yet been announced for the Amerks, who will have a new NHL GM in Florida's Dale Tallon.
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 weekend only on TheHockeyNews.com.