The Calder Cup returned to Chocolate Town for the first time since 1997 and the victory couldn’t have been sweeter for the Hershey Bears, as their ninth title win means they’ve tied the original Cleveland Barons for most championships in league history.
While hockey is a team game, there were some standout individual performances for both the victors and the vanquished during the Bears six-game ousting of the Milwaukee Admirals in the American Hockey League’s best-of-seven game championship series.
The Bears, in their first season as an affiliate of the National Hockey League’s Washington Capitals, were led by a pair of prospects obtained in recent trades – including one who enjoyed a successful homecoming with the Caps organization.
Tomas Fleischmann, a second-round pick (63rd overall, 2002) by the Detroit Red Wings, paced the Bears with 32 points in 20 games, including 21 assists. The forward, who was obtained along with a 2004 first-round (Mike Green) and 2006 fourth-round draft picks for Robert Lang on Feb. 27, 2004, broke out in the Conference finals against Portland with 14 points in seven games.
The Lang deal paid huge dividends for the Bears this year as Green also chipped in 18 points in 21 playoff games from the blue line as a rookie. With 15 assists, the rookie forward showed promise and cool under fire, as well as an ability to create offense from the back end.
Kris Beech, who had played 48 games with Milwaukee prior to being traded back to the Capitals organization and finding a spot on the Bears’ roster, was an impressive force for the boys from Hershey. Beech, who was originally selected by the Capitals seventh overall in the 1999 Entry Draft, led the Bears in goal scoring with 14 and matched that number in assists for a 21-game total of 28 postseason points.
The well-traveled Beech was originally traded to the Penguins organization as part of the deal that brought Jaromir Jagr to the Capitals in 2001, returned to Washington’s fold on deadline day along with a Nashville first-rounder in the trade for Brendan Witt. Beech became Nashville’s property as a result of a September 2005 trade for a conditional draft pick.
Also chipping in at a point-per-game clip was Bears’ Graham Mink. Signed by Washington as a free agent in 2002, the hulking center netted 21 points in 21 games, including eight goals. Beech, Mink, and Green didn’t just lead the Bears offensively — they also displayed the physical presence that’s so key to winning in the playoffs. Beech and Green both finished the playoffs with 30 penalty minutes apiece, and Mink was just shy of that total with 29.
Highly-touted Capitals prospect Jakub Klepis, a first-round pick (16th overall, 2002) of the Ottawa Senators, netted the Calder Cup-winning goal in the sixth game. Only his second of the playoffs, it’s safe to say that the young Czech winger hasn’t scored many larger. Klepis, who came to Washington by way of a 2004 trade with Buffalo for Mike Grier, only played in 15 games, but registered eight points – along with the all-important series-clinching goal.
Fittingly it was Darren Haydar who netted the final goal of the Admirals’ season in the 5-1 deciding-game loss. Haydar, a ninth-round pick of the Nashville Predators (248th overall, 1999) propelled the Admirals to the finals with a stunning 35 points paced by 18 goals in 21 postseason contests to lead all players in playoff scoring.
Although Milwaukee netminder Pekka Rinne was chased from the final game after just under six minutes, he was key to the team’s postseason success. The rookie goaltender came up big for the Admirals, ending the playoffs with a 2.86 GAA and .905 save percentage en route to winning 10 of his 14 post-season appearances. The 2005-06 playoffs were a coming-out party of sorts for the unheralded Finnish netminder who was picked 258th overall by Nashville in the eighth round of the 2004 entry draft.
The final round was an up-and-down experience for Rinne as he was chased from two of the six games, but also managed to pitch a shutout in Game 3 that left the Admirals in control of the series 2-1. Alas, that would be the last time Milwaukee was in control of the series as the boys from Hershey rattled off three straight wins to lay claim to their ninth Calder Cup.
During the playoffs Rinne was spelled by former first-round pick Brian Finley who saw action in eight games and posted a respectable 3-2 record and a 2.96 GAA in his limited appearances. Finley was selected sixth overall by the Predators in the 1999 Entry Draft.
Haydar wasn’t alone providing an offensive spark for the Admirals during their run. He was joined on the attack by Simon Gamache, a former ninth-round pick (290th overall, 2000) of the Atlanta Thrashers, who finished fifth in overall playoff scoring with 28 points in 21 games. The 25-year-old center returned this year to the Nashville organization as a waiver claim from the St. Louis Blues who had made a similar waiver claim to obtain his services the year previous.
Scottie Upshall only played in 14 games due to the fact that he was still up with the NHL parent club in Nashville during the Predators’ postseason run, but he was more than productive when he returned. The 2002 first-rounder (sixth overall) added 16 points in his limited engagement, including six goals.
Former Ottawa Senator, Colorado Avalanche, and Thrasher goaltender Frederic Cassivi built upon his regular-season performance, which saw him lead the league with 34 victories, by capturing the Jack Butterfield Trophy as Calder Cup MVP. The journeyman goaltender played every minute of the postseason for the Bears.
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