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Bears and Bulldogs to square off for Calder Cup

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SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The Hershey Bears find themselves four wins away from repeating as Calder Cup champions, but in their way are the upstart Hamilton Bulldogs, who are looking to make a little history of their own when the 2007 Calder Cup Finals get underway Friday night.

Hershey won the Richard F. Canning Trophy and the Eastern Conference championship with an impressive four-game sweep of the Manchester Monarchs. It was the Bears’ seventh consecutive series triumph, tying an AHL record, and leaves them on the brink of their record-setting 10th Calder Cup title. Hamilton captured the Robert W. Clarke Trophy and the Western Conference crown by shutting down the Chicago Wolves and their top-ranked offense in five games. The Bulldogs will be the lower seed for the fourth time in as many series this postseason, but boast a sparkling 7-1 record on the road to date.

Hershey has lost just seven games total in seven series over the last two postseasons (28-7, .800), and is bidding to become the AHL’s first back-to-back champion since the Springfield Indians turned the trick in 1990-91. Hamilton is making its third appearance in a Calder Cup Finals since joining the AHL in 1996-97; the Bulldogs lost to the Bears in five games in their inaugural season, and dropped a seven-game epic to Houston in 2003.

Frederic Cassivi has gone the distance in net for Hershey again in these playoffs, posting a 2.27 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage to go with his 12-2 record. On the other end, 19-year-old wunderkind Carey Price, the fifth overall pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft by Montreal, is 11-5 with a 2.13 GAA and a .929 save percentage in 17 playoff appearances for Hamilton.

The best-of-seven 2007 Calder Cup Finals begin on Friday and Saturday nights at the Giant Center in Hershey, which will also host Games 6 and 7, if necessary. The middle three games of the series are scheduled for Copps Coliseum in Hamilton. Stay connected to caldercup.com, the official Web site of the Calder Cup Playoffs, for live scores, broadcast and webcast information and the latest news from the AHL’s 71st championship series.

In operation since 1936, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 83 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and this season marks the sixth consecutive year in which more than 6 million fans have attended AHL games across North America.

ETC. … Hershey is playing in the franchise’s 20th Calder Cup Finals… Bears forwards Scott Barney (5g, 4a) and Kyle Wilson (5g, 3a) both carry five-game scoring streaks into the series… Tomas Fleischmann, Hershey’s leading playoff scorer in 2006 with 32 points, is tied for the team lead with 17 points in 14 games this spring… Hershey outscored Manchester, 18-5, in its conference final sweep… Thirteen players on the Bears’ roster were on last year’s championship team… Hamilton enters Game 1 with a six-game road winning streak… Each of the Bulldogs’ last 11 games has been decided either by one goal or by one goal plus an empty-netter… Corey Locke leads Hamilton with eight goals and 16 points on the postseason… Six of the AHL’s top 12 players in playoff plus/minus rating are Bulldogs, led by Kyle Chipchura (+9)… Hamilton is a perfect 4-0 in overtime games during these playoffs… The lower seed has won four of the last five Calder Cup Finals… Hershey assistant coach Bob Woods was a defenseman for the Bears when they won the Calder Cup in 1997, although he did not play in the Finals vs. Hamilton… Hamilton’s Kyle Chipchura will enter the AHL Chat Room on caldercup.com to answer fans’ questions today; Hershey’s Mike Green will step in to do the same on June 5.