The Chicago Wolves have won the Robert W. Clarke Trophy as the AHL’s Western Conference champions for 2007-08, advancing to the Calder Cup Finals with a 4-2 victory over the Toronto Marlies in Rosemont, Ill., on Friday night.
It is the third conference championship in seven AHL seasons for the Wolves, who won the Calder Cup in 2002 and were runners-up in 2005.
The Marlies, looking to win for the sixth time when facing playoff elimination, jumped out to a 2-0 first-period lead in Game 5 on goals by Brent Aubin and Andy Wozniewski. But the Wolves’ vaunted power play struck twice in a 16-second span during the middle stanza, as Joel Kwiatkowski scored at 9:38 and rookie Bryan Little followed at 9:54 to tie the game.
It remained 2-2 until Darren Haydar‘s goal with 5:08 left in the third period, tying AHL Hall of Famer Jody Gage’s league record with his 51st career Calder Cup Playoff goal. Kevin Doell added a late empty-net goal and rookie goaltender Ondrej Pavelec secured the victory with 23 saves on 25 shots.
Chicago, the top affiliate of the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers, won the West Division championship and finished second overall in the AHL standings during the regular season, amassing 111 points with a record of 53-22-2-3. The Wolves defeated the Milwaukee Admirals in the division semifinals (4-2) and the Rockford IceHogs in the division finals (4-3) before dispatching Toronto, and will face either the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins or the Portland Pirates in the 2008 Calder Cup Finals.
Established in 1990, the AHL’s Western Conference championship trophy honors the late Robert W. Clarke. Mr. Clarke served as the Chairman of the AHL’s Board of Governors from 1967-94, and in 1956, he played an instrumental role in the formation of the Rochester Americans, one of the most successful franchises in AHL history and themselves a seven-time recipient of the Clarke Trophy.