SPRINGFIELD, MA … The Bridgeport Sound Tigers and Chicago Wolves will tangle in a best-of-seven series for the 66th Calder Cup championship, beginning tonight in southern Connecticut.
The Sound Tigers advanced to the Calder Cup Final with a thrilling seven-game victory over the Hamilton Bulldogs to clinch the Richard F. Canning Trophy as the AHL’s Eastern Conference champions. Game 7 was scoreless for more than 58½ minutes before Bridgeport rookie Raffi Torres finally broke through, helping Bridgeport to a 3-0 victory. The Chicago Wolves have been off since eliminating the Houston Aeros on Sunday, capturing the Robert W. Clarke Trophy and the AHL’s Western Conference championship. After going the distance in each of their first three series, the Wolves disposed of Houston in five games, outscoring the Aeros 13-2 over the last three contests.
The Calder Cup 2002 Final series pits two of the top goaltenders in the American Hockey League this postseason. Bridgeport’s Rick DiPietro, who made his professional debut with Chicago in October 2000, brings a league-leading 1.80 goals against average into the finals, while his counterpart, 2002 Finnish Olympian Pasi Nurminen, ranks second in the league with a .935 save percentage. Both goaltenders finished off the conference finals with a shutout.
On offense, Wolves right wing Rob Brown, who is looking for the first championship of his 15-year professional career, leads all AHL playoff scorers with 17 assists and 21 points entering the Calder Cup 2002 Final. Steve Maltais, whose pro resume includes four 50-goal, 100-point seasons, has 15 points this spring; 24-year-old Dan Snyder has recorded 13 points, four game-winning goals and a team-leading plus-10 rating; and 2002 AHL All-Star Game participant J.P. Vigier has 12 points in 16 games since returning from Atlanta at the end of the regular season.
After Brown, the rest of the AHL’s top five scorers are Sound Tigers, led by 1999 Hobey Baker Award winner Jason Krog (8+11=19). Juraj Kolnik (7+10=17) helped lead Rimouski to the Memorial Cup championship in 2000, and Justin Mapletoft (7+9=16) did the same with Red Deer in 2001. Raffi Torres (8+8=16), the fifth overall pick in the 2000 NHL Entry Draft, scored the winning goal in Game 7 against Hamilton and has recorded a point in 11 straight games. Trent Hunter has 15 points in 12 playoff games with Bridgeport after a 30-goal regular season, and the 21-year-old winger made his NHL debut with the N.Y. Islanders last month during their Stanley Cup Playoff series against Toronto.
On defense, the Wolves balance experience with youth. Native Chicagoan Bob Nardella has played 86 career playoff games in the burgundy and gold, and leads all AHL rearguards in playoff scoring with 10 points. Chicago’s “D” also features 24-year-old Mike Weaver, rookies Garnet Exelby and Kurtis Foster, and a trio of young mid-season acquisitions in Joe DiPenta (23), Francis Lessard (22) and Kirill Safronov (21), a first-round pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft.
Bridgeport boasts a talented defensive corps as well, led by 1999 Eddie Shore Award winner Ken Sutton, who reached the Calder Cup Finals with Rochester in 1990 and 1991 and the Stanley Cup Finals with New Jersey in 2001. Also manning the blue line are Ray Schultz, who leads all AHL defensemen with a plus-13 rating this postseason; Branislav Mezei, the 10th overall pick in the 1999 NHL Entry Draft; and Ray Giroux, who played his college hockey up the road from Harbor Yard at Yale University. The Sound Tigers are coming off a conference final series in which they allowed 143 shots on goal, including just 14 in the decisive Game 7.
Behind the benches, Chicago head coach John Anderson and Bridgeport assistant coach Dave Baseggio were AHL teammates in New Haven in 1991-92, the year Anderson was named the league’s MVP. Wolves assistant Marty Howe, also a former teammate of Anderson’s, played in the Calder Cup Finals with Binghamton in 1982, and Sound Tigers head coach Steve Stirling helped Rochester to the Finals back in 1977.
Bridgeport’s Dave Roche, a member of the 2001 Saint John Flames, is trying to become the 13th player in AHL history to win a Calder Cup with two different teams in successive seasons. Meanwhile, 13 players on this year’s Chicago Wolves team played in the 2001 Turner Cup final series: J.P. Vigier, Ben Simon, Dan Snyder, Bryan Adams, Mike Weaver, Brad Tapper and Norm Maracle (as well as the Sound Tigers’ Scott Ricci) all won the final IHL championship with Orlando, defeating a Wolves team that featured Rob Brown, Steve Maltais, Bob Nardella, Guy Larose, Dan Plante and Dallas Eakins in the final.
The Sound Tigers and Wolves are the 10th and 11th teams ever to reach the Calder Cup Finals in their first season in the AHL; one of them will become the sixth club ever to win the trophy as a first-year team, joining the 1994 Portland Pirates, the 1985 Sherbrooke Canadiens, the 1978 Maine Mariners, the 1972 Nova Scotia Voyageurs and the 1937 Syracuse Stars. The only other time two first-year teams hooked up for the Calder Cup was 1937, the AHL’s first year of existence.
The Calder Cup 2002 Final series begins on Friday night at the Arena at Harbor Yard in Bridgeport. Every game can be heard live on cybercasts via caldercup.com, while Games 1, 2, 6 and 7 are scheduled be televised on AT&T Broadband in the Chicago area.
Calder Cup 2002 Final - Series “O” Bridgeport Sound Tigers vs. Chicago Wolves Game 1 - Fri., May 24 - Chicago at Bridgeport, 7:35 ET Game 2 - Sat., May 25 - Chicago at Bridgeport, 7:05 ET Game 3 - Thu., May 30 - Bridgeport at Chicago, 7:00 CT Game 4 - Fri., May 31 - Bridgeport at Chicago, 7:30 CT Game 5 - Mon., June 3 - Bridgeport at Chicago, 7:00 CT (if necessary) Game 6 - Thu., June 6 - Chicago at Bridgeport, 7:05 ET (if necessary) Game 7 - Fri., June 7 - Chicago at Bridgeport, 7:35 ET (if necessary) Regular Season Comparison Calder Cup Playoff History Bridgeport Chicago Bridgeport Chicago 43-25-8-4, 98 pts. Record 37-31-7-5, 86 pts. 1st Appearances 1st 1st, East Div. Standings 4th, West Div. 11-4 Record (games) 13-7 26-10-4 Home 19-17-4 3-0 Record (series) 4-0 17-19-4 Road 18-19-3 2-1 Overtime record 2-0 240 Goals For 250 0 Calder Cups 0 192 Goals Against 236 0 Losing Finalist 0 19.5% (3) Power Play (rank) 16.5% (13) 83.3% (14) Penalty Kill (rank) 83.7% (11) 2001-02 Regular Season Series Calder Cup 2002 Playoffs Bridgeport Chicago Bridgeport Chicago Did Not Play DNP Qualifying Rd def. CIN, 2-1 def. MTB, 3-1 Conf. Quarters def. GRA, 3-2 def. SJS, 4-0 Conf. Semis def. SYR, 4-3 def. HAM, 4-3 Conf. Final def. HOU, 4-1 vs. CHI Final vs. BRI Playoff Leaders - Bridgeport GP G A Pts +/- Jason Krog, C 15 8 11 19 +7 Juraj Kolnik, RW 15 7 10 17 +7 Raffi Torres, LW 15 8 8 16 +11 Justin Mapletoft, C 15 7 9 16 +15 Trent Hunter, RW 12 5 10 15 +10 Chris Armstrong, D 15 2 6 8 +4 Jason Podollan, RW 15 3 4 7 +3 Ken Sutton, D 15 2 5 7 +10 Pat Leahy, LW 15 2 4 6 +1 Ray Giroux, D 14 1 3 4 +6 Eric Godard, RW 15 0 4 4 +4 Dave Roche, LW 15 3 0 3 -3 Ray Schultz, D 14 1 2 3 +13 GP Rec GAA Sv% SO Rick DiPietro, G 15 11-4 1.80 .920 3 Playoff Leaders – Chicago GP G A Pts +/- Rob Brown, RW 20 4 17 21 +6 Steve Maltais, LW 20 7 8 15 +4 Kamil Piros, C 20 5 9 14 +1 Dan Snyder, C 17 6 7 13 +10 Andreas Karlsson, C 18 5 8 13 +4 J.P. Vigier, RW 16 6 6 12 +8 Bob Nardella, D 19 4 6 10 -1 Yuri Butsayev, LW 17 6 3 9 +3 Derek MacKenzie, C 20 4 1 5 -4 Brad Tapper, RW 14 2 3 5 -1 GP Rec GAA Sv% SO Pasi Nurminen, G 16 11-4 1.93 .935 1 Frederic Cassivi, G 5 2-2 2.50 .923 0