Houston Aeros (2nd West, 46-28-6) vs. Hamilton Bulldogs (1st North, 44-27-9)
After dusting off Peoria in four games, Houston had their hands full with West Division regular season champion Milwaukee, needing seven games to eliminate the Admirals. The Aeros feature a solid balance on offense led Patrick O’Sullivan, a veteran of 311 NHL games who has 10 points. He is complimented by Robbie Earl and the always dangerous Colton Gillies (team leading six goals). Houston also features a strong blueline, led by the developing Maxim Noreau (eight points) and Jared Spurgeon.
The lone weakness for the Aeros is in goal, where the always-combustible Matt Hackett mans the net between the pipes. Hackett carries an 8-3-0 record with an impressive 2.29 G.A.A., but his save percentage is an anemic .896.
After a roaring start to their second round series, Hamilton survived the longest Game 7 in AHL history to eliminate Manitoba in a classic matchup. Despite Moose goaltender Eddie Lack’s best efforts, veteran Drew MacIntyre won the goaltending matchup over the rookie. 212-game NHL veteran Nigel Dawes has carried the Bulldogs offense, with a team leading nine goals and 14 points.
But Hamilton lacks much secondary offense behind him and fellow forwards Aaron Palushaj and Dustin Boyd. The Bulldogs make up for their offensive deficiencies with a strong defense that prevents heavy shot totals against MacIntyre.
On paper this series favors the Aeros, the playoff winners of the much stronger West Division and the holders of home ice in this series. However, Hamilton is extremely well-coached and plays a stout team game. The Bulldogs discipline should be enough to win this series. BULLDOGS advance in 7 games.
My quick Calder Cup finals preview:
Hamilton over Charlotte in 6 games.