Winnipeg, Man.- A three-goal first period was more than enough as the Hershey Bears captured the American Hockey League’s 2009 Calder Cup championship with a 4-1 win over the Manitoba Moose at the MTS Centre on Friday night.
The Bears, the top development team of the National Hockey League’s Washington Capitals, defeated the Moose four games to two, winning their second AHL title in the last four years and their 10th overall, establishing a new league record.
Rookie goaltender Michal Neuvirth won the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy as the most valuable player of the 2009 Calder Cup Playoffs, finishing with a 16-6 record, a 1.92 goals-against average, .932 save percentage, and four shutouts. The 21-year-old Neuvirth was a second-round draft choice by the Capitals in 2006, and was one of 13 Bears to also skate for Washington during the 2008-09 season.
After winning the AHL scoring title and MVP honors with a 60-goal performance in the regular season, Hershey forward Alexandre Giroux led the league in postseason scoring with 15 goals and 28 points in 22 games.
Hershey did not waste much time in gaining a 1-0 advantage in Game 6. The Bears had a flurry of chances in front of the Manitoba net, and Andrew Gordon converted a second effort for his sixth goal of the postseason at 3:56 of the opening period.
The Bears made it a 2-0 game at 6:10 of the first stanza, as Kyle Wilson sent a drop-pass to Chris Bourque at center point, and Bourque fired a blistering one-timer through traffic past Moose goaltender Cory Schneider. A second-round draft pick by Washington in 2004, Bourque tallied his fifth goal of the playoffs and first since Game 5 of the conference finals at Providence on May 25.
Herhsey extended the lead to 3-0 at 11:16, as Giroux broke in on a partial breakaway and beat Schneider with a backhand shot down low for his league-leading 15th goal of the playoffs.
Mario Bliznak put Manitoba on the board at 11:03 of the second period, converting a nice centering feed from Cody Hodgson to record his third postseason goal and his first since May 20.
But Keith Aucoin sealed the Hershey victory with an empty-net tally in the closing minute of regulation, tallying his fifth goal of the postseason to secure his first-ever Calder Cup championship.
Neuvirth finished with 24 saves in net and became the fourth goaltender in AHL history to win 16 games in a single postseason.
Attendance at the MTS Centre for Friday’s game was 15,003, the fifth sellout of the series. The average (12,839) and total (77,038) attendances for the six-game Finals were both all-time league records for a playoff series. As a whole, average playoff attendance in the AHL increased 19 percent league-wide over last postseason.
Under second-year head coach Bob Woods, the Bears won the East Division with a record of 53-22-2-3 (111 points) during the regular season, then eliminated the Philadelphia Phantoms (4-0), Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (4-3) and Providence Bruins (4-1) before defeating the Moose in the Finals.
Hershey’s victory brings the curtain down on the AHL’s 73rd season. In operation since 1936, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 84 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and this season marked the eighth consecutive year in which more than 6 million fans attended AHL games across North America.