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Former Admirals Square Off in Calder Cup Finals

From 2002-2006 Todd Richards and Darren Haydar were two important cogs in the machine that brought unprecedented success in the 30-year history of the organization. During their four seasons in Milwaukee the Ads posted three 100-point campaigns, won the West Division crown two times, went to the Calder Cup Finals twice, and captured the 2004 Calder Cup Championship, the first professional title in the team’s history.

As is often the case in the American Hockey League players and coaches, especially assistants, don’t stay in the same place for too long. To be sure, the four years in Milwaukee for both Richards and Haydar is certainly longer than the average tenure of a player or assistant coach in the AHL.

So it wasn’t surprising that after the 2006 season when the Admirals came within a pair of wins of capturing their second Calder Cup in three years, that the two left the Nashville/Milwaukee organization to pursue their ultimate goals of making it to the NHL. Richards was hired as the head coach of the team that the Admirals beat in the 2004 finals, the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins, and Haydar signed a two-year contract with Atlanta Thrashers.

The two will share the same ice again, but this time as foes, when Richards’ Penguins square off against Haydar and the Chicago Wolves in the Calder Cup Finals beginning Friday night at the All-State Arena in Chicago. The best-of-seven series will continue in Chicago for game two on Saturday before switching to Wilkes-Barre for games three through five. If necessary, games six and seven will be back in Chicago on June 10th and 12th.

Unfortunately for the Admirals, the Wolves route to the finals went right through Milwaukee as Chicago topped the Ads 4-2 in the first round. After tying the series at two games apiece, the Admirals mustered just one goal in the final two contests as the Wolves earned the right to play Rockford in the second round.

The IceHogs put a scare into the Chicago’s playoff lives when Rockford went up three games to two over their intra-state rival, but the Wolves pulled out a 4-3 game six victory and then won handedly, 4-1, in game seven. Chicago cruised past Toronto in the conference finals four to one with Haydar scoring the series clinching goal in game five.

The Admirals all-time leader in playoff scoring, Haydar will undoubtedly become the most prolific scorer in Calder Cup history at some point during the finals. He is already tied for first in AHL post-season history with 51 goals and needs just three points to break the all-time scoring record of 119 set by Willie Marshall. What is most impressive about those stats is that he played in just 89 playoff games, tied for 17th all-time.

Richards and the baby Pens path to the finals was similar to the Wolves in that they clashed with their two biggest rivals in the first two rounds, but unlike Chicago they had a relatively easy time of it dispatching Hershey 4-1 in the opening round and then downing Philadelphia by the same result in the second.

The Eastern Conference Finals, however, was a different story. Facing a red-hot Portland squad, Wilkes-Barre fell behind two games to one and also three games to two before pulling out a 4-3 OT win in game six and a 3-2 win at home in game seven.. Tim Brent broke a 2-2 tie with just 30 seconds left in the third period to give the Penguins the game seven victory.

Because of the AHL’s unbalanced schedule Chicago and Wilkes-Barre didn’t play each other this season and have faced-off just four times total: twice in the 2001-02 season and two more in the 2006-07.

The Wilkes-Barre/Chicago match-up is also interesting because each team starts a rookie goaltender: the Wolves Ondrej Pavelec and the Penguins John Curry. Pavelec is 12-6 with a 2.17 GAA and a .928 save percentage, while Curry has posted a 12-5 record with a .908 save percentage and a 2.47 goals against.

As a matter of fact, aside from the 17 minutes that Chicago’s Robert Gherson played, Pavelec and Curry have been in net for each of their team’s games, which segues nicely to another Admirals tie-in: regardless of which team hoists the trophy, the winning goalie will probably tie an AHL record for most wins in one post-season .

The current holder of that record: none other than the Admirals Wade Flaherty, who was in net for all 16 of the Admirals’ victories in their 2004 Calder Cup win.

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