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Monday, May 28, 2007

Wolves out of Calder Cup finals; Bulldogs advance to face Hershey

The Chicago Wolves are out of the Calder Cup playoffs, after losing game five of the best of seven series to the Hamilton Bulldogs at the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton, Ontario Saturday by a score of 3-1.

The Bulldogs played the Wolves nine times combined in the regular season and the playoffs, losing just one game in the regular season and one game in the playoffs. Fred Brathwaite played a brilliant game four 1-0 shutout of the Bulldogs on Friday.

Rookie Cary Price played in each of the games in the series. Although he was shelled out of the net in the first game of the series, better defense choked the Chicago first line starting in game two, keeping the score low. The speed shown by the Bulldogs in game one was abandoned in games two through five, to concentrate on keeping the Chicago sharp shooters in line. Not only were the games low scoring following game one, the number of shots on goal declined too.

The Chicago defense too worked better in games two through five, keeping the Hamilton shots on goal down. Hamilton’s power play special units were almost nullified in the series, with Chicago going seven periods of power plays without giving a goal up. Hamilton had three 5:3 power plays in the Wednesday game, plus a five-minute major. On Friday, the night it was shut out, it had a 5:3 it couldn’t convert again. The only goal of the game was on a Chicago 5:4.

On Saturday, the Wolves had two 5:3 power play opportunities that it couldn’t convert. The short-handed, empty-net goal at the end of the game occurred while Chicago was on its own power play, 6:4. In sum, Hamilton scored three goals on 37 power plays, including five 5:3 advantages and a five-minute major for an 8.12 percent effectiveness. While the Penalty Kill was operating at 16.67 percent. A disappointing special teams effort by both the Wolves and the Bulldogs. On Friday, too, the final stat, Hamilton out shot the Wolves 37 to 14 in the 1-0 loss. The Bulldogs should be especially alarmed, heading into Calder Cup final.

Moreover, the games were close, with Hamilton ending only one game, game five, with more than a one-goal lead. That short handed empty net goal occurred during a Chicago 6:4 man advantage in the final two minutes of play, when Chicago pulled Brathwaite to attempt a final tying of the score.

Chicago may have made the series tighter. Boat loads of penalties, particularly in game three and a very questionable call by referee Steve Kozari, these things all may have led to a different result for that game. However, in the end, a seven game series is proof.

The other Calder Cup finalist is the Hershey Bears who swept the Manchester Monarchs 4-0. The Bears are in their second consecutive Calder Cup final, having defeated the Milwaukee Admirals in last year’s championship. Teams from Pennsylvania have appeared in the Calder Cup finals each year since 2004.

The exit of the Wolves leaves no former International Hockey League teams in the playoffs, that is the first time that has happened since the six IHL teams joined the American Hockey League in the 2001-2 season.

Hamilton has not appeared in the Calder Cup since 2003 when the Houston Aeros won the Cup. A Canadian team has not won the Calder Cup since Saint John beat the Wilkes Barre/ Scranton Penguins in 2001.

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