The Hershey Bears captured their 11th Calder Cup in franchise history by dispatching the Texas Stars in game 6 of the Calder Cup finals. Despite dropping the first two games of the series at home, the Bears were able to win the next four games.
The Bears have now repeated as champions of the American Hockey League and have now won three of the last five Calder Cups. This year’s Hershey team was quite literally the best AHL team in history. The Bears finished the 2009-2010 season with a record of 60-17-0-3. The best record in league history, and the only team to reach 60 wins in a single season. Anything less than a Calder Cup would have been a major disappointment.
Keith Aucoin and Alexandre Giroux once again were the Bears’ offensive juggernauts. Aucoin finished the season atop the league in points 106 points. Giroux wasn’t far behind with 103 points. Giroux hit the 50 goal plateau once again for the Bears.
Capitals GM, George McPhee has to be sitting at home with a big smile on his face, as he has been the architect of this Bears team by building this team through the draft. Key players such as John Carlson, Karl Alzner, Matthieu Perreault, and Michal Neuvirth all played key roles in this year’s championship. These four players are anticipated to pay big dividends next year in the NHL. The much talked about Caps’ blueline will get a healthy boost of youth and skill as Alzner and Carlson are expected to regulars with the Caps next season. Both Alzner and Carlson scored in tonight’s game – a fond farewell to their days in the AHL. Both will play pivotal roles in the Caps’ journey for a championship of their own next season.
What an amazing year it has been for John Carlson. Carlson has earned his “Captain America” nickname - a nickname coined by his growing fanbase here in DC. Recall the World Junior Championships in early January. Carlson scored the gold medal winning goal against arch rival Canada in overtime. Carlson then went on to play in the NHL with the Caps. Carlson played in 22 regular season games as a 19 year old and managed a goal and five assists. But most importantly to Caps management and Carlson’s development as an NHL defenseman was his +11 rating. But Carlson made his biggest mark in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Not many would’ve thought at the beginning of the year that a 19 year defenseman would be playing in playoffs, and end up being the teams best defenseman. Carlson scored the game tying goal in game 2 against the Montreal Canadiens, just his second career goal in the NHL. And similarly to his goal in the World Championships, this goal couldn’t have come at a better time.
Carlson clearly has a nack for scoring big goals, in big games. In game four of the Calder Cup series, Carlson broke a 2-2 tie with 2:10 left in the game. This enabled the Bears to tie up the series at two, after being in an 0-2 hole.
But Carlson wasn’t finished, he scored the game winning goal in tonight’s final game. A slapper from the point that Caps’ fan are nothing short of giddy about seeing regularly next season.
One piece of the Capitals’ goaltending tandem next season played a stellar series, and AHL playoffs in general. Michal Neuvirth will most likely back up Semyon Varlamov when the 2010 NHL season begins. The Caps have parted ways with Jose Theodore, so one can expect an healthy competition for the starting job next season. Varlamov will begin the season as the starting goalie, most likely. But it is comforting to know that waiting in the wings is a 21 year old netminder who now has two Calder Cups under his belt. Neuvirth was calm, cool, and collected during this year’s run. Nothing but composure. Most will point to the youth of the Caps goalies next year, but both Varlamov and Neuvirth have had valuable experience in gut-wrenching games. Varlamov in the Stanley Cup finals, and Neuvirth with two Calder Cups. There is still the possibility that the Caps may try to find a veteran goalie on the free agent market. Perhaps a guy like Dan Ellis or Chris Mason. I think money would be much better spent on a second line center, a position the Caps desperately need.
With the Bears repeating as Calder Cup champions, it is once again showcasing the Capital’s organization and their dedication to a winning tradition. Caps fans should take comfort knowing that the organization as a whole is stacked, and the future is bright. Hopefully these Bears’ stars can rub off their winning ways on the parent club down in DC.
About the Author: Jeremy is a life time hockey fan currently living in Washington DC. Jeremy also runs a Capitals blog called The Nation's Capitals where he frequently posts blogs about the state of the Caps. His other interests include music and politics. Jeremy has a degree in Political Science. Being from DC, politics kind of comes with the territory.