Admirals, Bears ready for Finals

cc06mil-her_150.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … After knocking off the top two teams in the AHL in the conference finals, the Milwaukee Admirals and the Hershey Bears are set to collide for the 70th Calder Cup championship beginning Friday night.

Milwaukee won the Robert W. Clarke Trophy and the Western Conference title with an impressive four-game sweep of the league-leading Grand Rapids Griffins. The Admirals’ second consecutive sweep extended their winning streak to nine games heading into the Finals. Hershey captured the Richard F. Canning Trophy and the Eastern Conference crown by prevailing in an epic seven-game clash with the Portland Pirates, capped by a memorable overtime win in Tuesday night’s Game 7.

The teams have identical 12-3 postseason records entering the Finals, getting this far with a combination of potent offense and stellar defense. They are the top two scoring clubs during the 2006 Calder Cup Playoffs, and Hershey’s Frederic Cassivi has anchored the league’s best defensive team this postseason while Pekka Rinne has won all eight of his playoff starts for Milwaukee.

Darren Haydar brings a 10-game scoring streak into the Finals for the Admirals, tallying 12 goals and eight assists in that span. Tomas Fleischmann recorded a point in each of Hershey’s seven games in the last round (6g, 8a), as did Kris Beech, who played 48 games for Milwaukee this season before being acquired in a deal between parent clubs Washington and Nashville.

Under head coach Claude Noel, who played on Hershey’s 1980 Calder Cup championship squad, Milwaukee is seeking its second Calder Cup title in the last three years. The Bears, meanwhile, are looking to tie the original Cleveland Barons’ AHL record with their ninth championship (and first since 1997). Bruce Boudreau has his club in the Calder Cup Finals in his first year behind the Hershey bench.

The best-of-seven 2006 Calder Cup Finals series gets underway on Friday and Saturday at the Bradley Center in Milwaukee, which will also host Games 6 and 7, if necessary. The middle three games of the series are scheduled for the Giant Center in Hershey.