Houston, Binghamton set for Finals

See also: Full Series Preview (1.2 MB PDF, 17 pages)

SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … Two teams riding memorable and unpredictable postseason runs this spring are set to collide when the 2011 Calder Cup Finals – the culmination of the American Hockey League’s 75th anniversary season – get underway on Friday night.

The Houston Aeros have reached the Calder Cup Finals for the first time since winning the championship in 2003, and they are a battle-tested group coming off back-to-back seven-game triumphs. After disposing of Peoria in an opening-round sweep, head coach Mike Yeo’s charges outlasted first-place Milwaukee in the second round to emerge as the last club standing from a West Division in which all eight teams finished with winning records in the regular season.

The Aeros then raced out to a 3-0 series lead against Hamilton in the conference finals before needing a 4-3 victory in Game 7 on Tuesday to capture the Robert W. Clarke Trophy as Western Conference champions. Former AHL rookie of the year Patrick O’Sullivan paces Houston’s offensive attack with a 15 points (4-11-15) in 18 playoff contests while 2007 first-round draft choice Colton Gillies has scored a team-high seven postseason goals, and rookie Matt Hackett – whose uncle Jeff was MVP of the 1990 Calder Cup Playoffs with the Springfield Indians – has collected all 12 victories in the Aeros net.

Making their first playoff appearance since 2005, the Binghamton Senators crossed over to the Atlantic Division’s playoff bracket and rallied from a 3-1 series deficit to oust Manchester in the division semifinals, collecting each of its four wins in overtime. The Senators knocked off division-champion Portland in six games and then made quick work of Charlotte, sweeping the Checkers in four straight to claim their first Richard F. Canning Trophy and advance to Calder Cup Finals in their first season under head coach Kurt Kleinendorst.

Ryan Potulny, whose fifth-overtime goal for Philadelphia three years ago ended the longest game in AHL history, has continued his postseason heroics in 2011 and leads all AHL scorers in both goals (14) and points (25). Bobby Butler is the top-scoring AHL rookie with 10 goals and 13 points, and 19-year-old goaltender Robin Lehner boasts an impressive 10-2 record (2.41, .932) and has two shutouts to his credit through the first three rounds.

The best-of-seven 2011 Calder Cup Finals begin on Friday and Saturday at Toyota Center in Houston, which will also host Games 6 and 7, if necessary. The middle three games of the series are scheduled for the Broome County Veterans Memorial Arena in Binghamton, N.Y. Stay connected to theahl.com for live scores, broadcast and webcast information and the latest news from the AHL’s championship series, and be sure to follow the AHL on Facebook (www.facebook.com/TheAHL) and Twitter (@TheAHL) as well.

In operation since 1936, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 87 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and this season marks the 10th consecutive year in which more than 6 million fans have attended AHL games across North America.

ETC. … Houston and Binghamton both reached the 2011 Calder Cup Finals after missing the postseason entirely in 2010… The Aeros’ only prior Finals appearance ended with a seven-game victory over Hamilton in 2003, which was the AHL’s last championship series to go the distance… With its wins over Milwaukee and Hamilton in the last two rounds, Houston improved to 6-0 all-time in AHL Game 7’s… Binghamton finished last in the AHL with four shorthanded goals during the regular season, but has already struck for a league-high five through 17 playoff games… The Senators led the AHL in power-play efficiency during the regular year (22.8 percent) and have cashed in on 21.7 percent of their opportunities (18-for-83) in the postseason… This is the first Finals match-up to not feature at least one regular-season division champion since Chicago defeated Bridgeport in 2002… Binghamton is the eighth consecutive East Division team to represent the Eastern Conference in the Calder Cup Finals, following Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (2004, ’08), Philadelphia (2005) and Hershey (2006, ’07, ’09, ’10)… David Banfield (second Finals), Ghislain Hebert (first), Jean Hebert (first), Terry Koharski (fourth) and Marcus Vinnerborg (first) have been named the referees for the series.

2011 Calder Cup Finals – Series “O” (best-of-7)
W2-Houston Aeros vs. E5-Binghamton Senators
Game 1 – Fri., May 27 – Binghamton at Houston, 8:35
Game 2 – Sat., May 28 – Binghamton at Houston, 8:35
Game 3 – Wed., June 1 – Houston at Binghamton, 7:05
Game 4 – Fri., June 3 – Houston at Binghamton, 7:05
*Game 5 – Sat., June 4 – Houston at Binghamton, 7:05
*Game 6 – Tue., June 7 – Binghamton at Houston, 8:05
*Game 7 – Thu., June 9 – Binghamton at Houston, 8:05
   *if necessary… All times Eastern