Moose best of the West; Finals begin Saturday

mtb_200.jpgSPRINGFIELD, Mass. … The Manitoba Moose have won the Robert W. Clarke Trophy as the American Hockey League’s Western Conference champions for 2008-09, advancing to the Calder Cup Finals with a 3-1 victory over the Houston Aeros at the MTS Centre in Winnipeg on Monday night.

It is the first conference championship in franchise history for the Moose, who began play in Winnipeg in 1996 and joined the AHL in 2001.

The top affiliate of the NHL’s Vancouver Canucks, Manitoba finished first overall in the AHL during the regular season with a record of 50-23-1-6 and 107 points, capturing its second North Division title. The Moose, featuring AHL goaltender of the year Cory Schneider and AHL coach of the year Scott Arniel, defeated the Toronto Marlies in the division semifinals (4-2), the Grand Rapids Griffins in the division finals (4-0) and the Aeros in the conference finals (4-2).

Manitoba will take on the Hershey Bears in the 2009 Calder Cup Finals beginning Saturday night.

Michael Grabner notched the game-winning goal for the Moose on Monday, breaking a 1-1 tie on the power play at 9:46 of the third period with his seventh postseason tally. Defenseman Nolan Baumgartner picked up the lone assist.

Matt Pope and Mark Fistric also netted goals in the win, and Schneider finished with 16 saves as the Moose held a 36-17 advantage in shots.

The Aeros initially took a 1-0 lead when Corey Locke potted his league-leading and career-high 12th goal of the playoffs on the power play 12:52 into the contest.

But Houston, which had staved off elimination four previous times this postseason and twice in this series, could not beat Schneider again and were ultimately unable to overcome an early 3-0 series deficit.

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.

2009 Calder Cup Finals (best-of-seven)
N1-Manitoba Moose vs. E1-Hershey Bears

Game 1 – Sat., May 30 – Hershey at Manitoba, 8:30
Game 2 – Tue., June 2 – Hershey at Manitoba, 8:30
Game 3 – Sat., June 6 – Manitoba at Hershey, 7:00
Game 4 – Sun., June 7 – Manitoba at Hershey, 5:00
*Game 5 – Tue., June 9 – Manitoba at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 6 – Fri., June 12 – Hershey at Manitoba, 8:30
*Game 7 – Sun., June 14 – Hershey at Manitoba, 8:30
    *if necessary… All times Eastern