Remembering The Last Affiliation Championships

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As the AHL season wraps up, the two teams that are in it– Manchester and Utica– won’t be a co-champion with their parent club, as neither Los Angeles and Vancouver are in the Stanley Cup Final– thus it’s another season without the NHL and AHL teams winning their respective championships. In fact, this year marks the 20th season since a NHL and AHL affiliated team have won the Stanley and Calder Cup.

In 1995, during the first shortened season in the NHL; the New Jersey Devils were able to go ahead and win the Stanley Cup in a sweep of the Detroit Red Wings and won the Stanley Cup in a short 20-game playoff run. Their AHL affiliate at the time, the Albany River Rats, were getting through the Calder Cup playoffs with as much ease as their NHL counterpart.

During that 1994-95 season, the River Rats were running roughshod over the AHL, taking the North Division title and having the best record in all of the AHL. They were the only team to give up less than 220 goals (219) and were 6th out of 16 teams in goals for (293). With a list of future NHLers on their roster– the Rats were stacked. Lead by Steve Sullivan, the Rats had three 30+ goal scorers (Sullivan, Bill Armstrong, Rob Conn), as well as three guys with PIMs over 200 (Cale Hulse, Reid Simpson, Matt Ruchty); proving they had grit along with finesse under the tutelage of Robbie Ftorek.

There was a strong NHL connection in the River Rats, as you could tell. Not only were Sullivan, Hulse, and Ftorek on the squad– but the amount of players on the roster who made it to the NHL for more than a cup of coffee is pretty solid: Scott Pellerin, Sergei Brylin, Brad Bombardir, Brian Rolston, Jaroslav Modry, Corey Schwab, Mike Dunham, Chris McAlpine, and Krzysztof Oliwa. While it was more common that AHL teams back in those days to produce NHLers at a rapid pace– this was a nice crew of serviceable NHL players.

The playoff system was different in those days. The AHL only had three divisions for the 16 teams and the top four teams in each division got to the playoffs. At the end of the divisional rounds, the team with the most points of the three playoff winners got an automatic bid into the Calder Cup Finals, while the other two played a best-of-three series to see the other team in the finals. With that format, the Rats just needed to get through the North Division to get that bye into the finals; which would give them a nice upper-hand.

The first round, despite a couple of one-goal games in Albany, the River Rats swept the Adirondack Red Wings, taking advantage of the 35-point differential in the regular season. The second-round looked like it could go the same way, with the Rats taking the first three games of the series, but the Providence Bruins outscored the Rats 11-0 in Games 4 and 5 before the Rats woke up and won Game 6 to advance to the Calder Cup Finals. When all was said and done, the Rats took on the Fredericton Canadiens in the finals. Much like the first round, there were two one-goal games in Albany for the opening of the series– both by the count of 4-3 for the Rats. When they got to Fredericton, the Rats turned on the offense and outscored the Canadiens 7-1 in those two games to take their first (and last) Calder Cup. Goalies Corey Schwab and Mike Dunham split the Jack A. Butterfield Trophy for playoff MVP.

Aside from the Calder Cup and Butterfield Trophy, the hardware for the Rats were pretty abundant. Robbie Ftorek took home Louis A. R. Pieri Memorial Award for Coach of the Year, Doug Burch took home the James C. Hendy Memorial Award for the top executive, while the team also got the F. G. “Teddy” Oke Trophy and Richard F. Canning Trophy for winner of the North Division in the regular season and playoffs, respectively.

With the depth of talent in the AHL and the talent already in the NHL, who knows when’s the next time that the NHL and AHL teams affiliated with each other will win their respective trophies. It’s a bit of a shock that the River Rats were only the second team to win the Calder Cup with their parent team won the Stanley Cup (Montreal Canadiens and Nova Scotia Voyageurs in the ’70s). Whether we will see it again any time soon is up in the air, but for it to be 20 years since the last time it happened; it’s hard pressed to think that next year will be any change to this trend.

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