46-27-3-4, 99 pts
#2 West Division
60-17-0-3, 123 pts
#1 East Division
Series tied 0-0
June 3rd at 6:00 PM
Giant Center, Hershey, PA
After a layoff that felt like forever for both teams, the Texas Stars and Hershey Bears will play the first game between the two teams in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals. "Having this week off is good for us," Stars winger Jamie Benn commented.
For the series, the stories practically write themselves. Hershey is the oldest team in the AHL, founded in 1937, and has won 10 Calder Cups. Texas, meanwhile, is the youngest team in the AHL, just founded this year, and has obviously never gone to the Calder Cup Finals before now. "These times don't come by every year," Coach Gulutzan mused.
First of all, who are the Hershey Bears? Stars fans have heard about the Bears all year, no doubt, but Texas has never faced Hershey on the ice. The Bears, affiliated with the Washington Capitals, had a spectacular season in the East Conference, winning 60 of 80 games and setting the league record for points in a season at 123. Hershey has been in 4 of the last 5 Calder Cup Finals and won it all last year against the Manitoba Moose.
They are a high powered offense, much like their parent club, scoring 342 goals during the regular season. The next highest total was Worcester's 275. Goaltender Matt Climie reminded the media, "We've played strong defense all year so we're ready for the challenge." Unlike many high-powered offenses, Hershey doesn't suffer a lack of defensive prowess and finished the regular season tied with the Texas Stars for fewest goals against (198). Coach Gulutzan feels that the Bears are "a little bit of Chicago and a little bit of Hamilton," clearly referring to Chicago's scoring prowess and Hamilton's defensive skills.
Texas has several players who have played against the Bears in the past, most recently those who faced them in the Calder Cup Finals last year with the Manitoba Moose. Stars defenseman Maxime Fortunus, winger Ray Sawada and center Greg Rallo all played for the Manitoba team that won the West but couldn't beat the Bears in the Finals. "They haven't changed their style of play from last year," said Fortunus, who collected a goal and three assists against the Bears in last year's Finals, "I'm trying to tell players and coaches everything I can tell them [about Hershey's style of play]." As far as scouting goes on the Bear, Coach Gulutzan added, "You're just looking for increments of information that might make your team better."
With regard to players to watch, there are a lot for the Bears. Four of the top ten points scorers in the playoffs wear Hershey jerseys. Chris Bourque (7-16-23), Alexandre Giroux (12-9-21), Keith Aucoin (1-18-19), and Andrew Gordon (10-5-15) supply a huge number of points for the potent offense. Texas has the #1 and #10 spots on the same list with Jamie Benn (14-10-24) and Perttu Lindgren (6-8-14). Other names to watch for include defenseman points leader for the Bears Karl Alzner and rookie John Carlson, who scored the game winner at the World Juniors several months ago.
In net for Hershey is Michal Neuvirth, a second round draft pick by the Capitals in the 2006 draft. Neuvirth backstopped the Bears to last year's Calder Cup and played in 17 games for the Capitals this year, going 9-4-0 with 2.75 GAA. In the playoffs, Neuvirth is 10-2 with a 2.13 GAA and .917 SV%. Matt Climie will be your starter for the Stars with Bachman on the bench. Brent Krahn is just starting to recover from his injury, taking his first skate on Tuesday since his injury.
I expect Game 1 to be a bit tentative as both teams feel each other out. If Texas can get out of the first period leading or at least tied, then there's good momentum for the Stars moving forward into the second and third. Coach Gulutzan and the Stars are ready for this series, "They don't want to practice anymore. They just want the series to start."
Stars injury/call up report:
Krahn (concussion, day-to-day)
Wilson (unspecified, day-to-day)
There is "no timetable" for Krahn's return. Richard Bachman will backup Matt Climie.
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