The Bulldogs win the Calder Cup
On a team with no superstars, it's only fitting that the Hamilton Bulldogs' championship-winning goal came from one of their checking fowards.Hey, I know just as well as anyone where the AHL's championship ranks on the sports hierarchy, but it's not every day a 'friend of the blog' nets the winner in a big game like this (or has any athletic accomplishment, come to think of it).
Ajay Baines scored a short-handed goal at 9:33 of the third period, giving the Bulldogs their first American Hockey League title Thursday with a 2-1 win over the Hershey Bears.
It's great to see that fans in Hamilton came out en masse tonight — more than 14,000 were on hand — after the team drew poorly through the early rounds, as there are an awful lot of good people in the Bulldogs organization.
I was able to chat with head coach Don Lever earlier in the week, and he strikes me as a sharp hockey man and a guy utterly committed to developing the Canadiens prospects into solid pros. The Bulldogs were an extremely young team this season, even by AHL standards, and at 29, Ajay is the second-oldest player on the team.
At the other end of the scale, Hamilton has the likes of Carey Price (19), Matt D'Agostini (20), Kyle Chipchura (21), Maxim Lapierre (22), Cory Urquhart (22), Ryan O'Byrne (22), Michael Lambert (23), Andre Benoit (23), Mikhail Grabovsky (23), Corey Locke (23) and Duncan Milroy (24) who are in that 25-and-under group, and more than a few of these kids will be in the NHL in the next couple of years.
Price, in particular, sounds like a real winner, as he won the MVP of the AHL playoffs despite the fact he only played two regular season games before taking over the starter's role. Both Lever and Baines had nothing but good things to say about Price, and the head coach even intimated that a role with the Canadiens next season for the youngster is not out of the question.
Chipchura, meanwhile, is the other prized pup on the Bulldogs and will get a look at training camp in the fall, while O'Byrne is positively enormous on the blue line (6 foot 5, 235 pounds) and has developed well since leaving Cornell.
It's a real shame that minor-league hockey hasn't been more of a success in Canadian markets, as what's happened with the Marlies here in Toronto is a travesty. The Manitoba Moose have consistently been one of the top drawing teams in the AHL over their existence, a testament to the strength of the Winnipeg market, but here's hoping the league can make more inroads with franchises in medium-sized cities north of the border.
In any event — a Calder Cup is good news if you're a Canadiens fan.
And with that, I think we've reached the end of the on-ice portion of the hockey happenings for the year. Finally.
- Hamilton's catalysts no surprise [The Patriot-News]
- He 'came to win' and he did [Hamilton Spectator]
- Baines helps teach Bulldogs' young pups [The Globe and Mail]