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Sweet success

The American Hockey League’s 70th anniversary season is in the books, thanks to the Hershey Bears’ six-game victory over the Milwaukee Admirals to add another chapter in the franchise’s storied history.

This year’s finalists proved themselves to be the top two teams in the league by storming through the postseason. But in the end the Bears proved to be too powerful, too potent, just too good for the rest of the AHL.

Hershey finished 16-5 in the playoffs after putting up 103 points in the regular season. They scored at least five goals in 12 of those 21 games, an impressive feat even with today’s new rule standards. And for the first time ever in a four-division AHL, the Bears knocked off three division champions en route to the Calder Cup.

Frederic Cassivi, an AHL soldier for the last decade, won his second Cup in five years, but his first in a starring role. He shined all season long, leading the league with 34 victories in the regular season and then capturing the Jack Butterfield Trophy as the MVP of the Calder Cup Playoffs after playing every minute of the postseason. His overall record ended up at 50-24-6 for the year.

Tomas Fleischmann emerged as a bona fide top prospect, leading the Bears in playoff scoring with 32 points and dazzling with his puck-handling prowess. The 22-year-old Fleischmann, a second-round draft pick by Detroit acquired by Washington in the Robert Lang deal two years ago, came into his own during Hershey’s conference final series against Portland, when he notched 14 points in seven games.

Kris Beech, a deadline-day pickup by the Capitals in exchange for Brendan Witt going to Nashville, scored 14 goals for the Bears in the playoffs, including six in the Finals against Milwaukee, the team for which he played 48 games during the 2005-06 regular season.

It proved to be a group effort for the Bears, with all 18 skaters contributing every night, from players like Mark Wotton and Colin Forbes, winning their first championships after more than a decade pro, to rookies like Mike Green and Eric Fehr, all-stars whose promising young careers are already stamped with a title.

There was Boyd Kane, the former Philadelphia Phantom captaining a team to the Calder Cup for a second straight spring. Graham Mink and J.F. Fortin, veterans of the Capitals system who spent several seasons in Portland before the affiliation shifted to Hershey. Jakub Klepis, Boyd Gordon, Dave Steckel, all among the eight first-round draft picks on the Bears roster.

And leading them all was Bruce Boudreau, a year removed from his controversial dismissal as head coach of the Manchester Monarchs after four highly successful regular seasons but four disappointing first-round playoff exits.

The 2006 Bears won their first 10 playoff games, drawing comparisons to the 1988 squad that went 12-0 en route to the crown. They survived a third-round scare by edging Portland in a memorable Game 7 overtime victory to win the Eastern Conference. And facing a 2-1 series deficit to Milwaukee, they played some of their most dominating hockey of the season to bring the Cup back to Hershey.

For the first time since 1997, and the record-tying ninth time in franchise history, the Hershey Bears are Calder Cup champions. And life is sweet in Chocolatetown once again.