SPRINGFIELD, MA . . . In their first year of competition in the American Hockey League, the Chicago Wolves have captured the Robert W. Clarke Trophy as the AHL’s Western Conference champions for 2001-02. Chicago won the conference final series four games to one with a 7-0 victory over Houston at the Allstate Arena in Rosemont, Ill., on Sunday afternoon. The Wolves will face either Bridgeport or Hamilton in the Calder Cup 2002 Finals, beginning later this week.
The Wolves controlled Game 5 from start to finish, as Steve Maltais and Andreas Karlsson staked Chicago to a 2-0 lead just 4:42 into the contest. Karlsson, Rob Brown and Bob Nardella each recorded a goal and two assists, and 2002 Finnish Olympian Pasi Nurminen made 30 saves for his first shutout of this postseason.
Chicago, the top affiliate of the Atlanta Thrashers, finished its first inaugural AHL campaign with a record of 37-31-7-5 (.538), good for 86 points and the seventh seed in the Western Conference. The Wolves defeated Cincinnati in a best-of-three qualifying series (2-1) before eliminating Grand Rapids (3-2), Syracuse (4-3) and Houston (4-1). Along the way, Chicago became the first team in AHL history to win three winner-take-all games in one postseason.
The Wolves are led by head coach John Anderson, who won the Les Cunningham Award as the AHL’s most valuable player in 1991-92. Assistant coach Marty Howe, son of Hall of Famer Gordie Howe, played in the 1982 Calder Cup Finals.
The trophy, which was instituted in 1990, honors former league executive Robert W. Clarke, who served as the Chairman of the AHL Board of Governors from 1967-94. In 1956, Clarke played an instrumental role in the formation of the Rochester Americans, one of the most successful franchises in AHL history and a seven-time recipient (1990, ’91, ’92, ’93, ’96, ’99, 2000) of the Robert W. Clarke Trophy. Other winners include the Cornwall Aces (1994, ’95), Hershey Bears (1997), Philadelphia Phantoms (1998) and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins (2001).
Now completing its 66th season, the AHL serves as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 75 percent of all players to compete in the NHL this season have been AHL graduates, and nearly 350 players have taken the ice in both leagues in 2001-02.