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P-Bruins end long journey as champs
Journal Sports Writer

PROVIDENCE -- A loud and festive sellout crowd of 11,909 at the Civic Center last night went bonkers over their Providence Bruins, who capped a historic American Hockey League season by capturing their first ever Calder Cup with an impressive 5-1 win over the Rochester Americans.

When it was over, the P-Bruins threw gloves and sticks into the air, leaped off the bench and mobbed winning goaltender John Grahame. On the bench, the coaching staff of Peter Laviolette and Bill Armstrong hugged everyone in sight. The long, tiring season was finally over and the team of destiny during the 1998-99 season was Calder Cup champions.

All the players took a turn skating around the Civic Center holding the Cup above their heads, playing to a huge crowd that had been roaring its approval since their were two minutes left in the game.

``I thought we played terrific tonight,'' said Laviolette. ``We played smart defensively. We took advantage offensively. Everybody contributed.''

And, for the first time this season, Laviolette wasn't afraid to say that his team was, indeed, the best in the league.

Arguably, by some, this is the greatest team to ever play in the American Hockey League,'' he said. ``The greatest players to ever play the game in this league. They did everything that could be asked. No one is going to hang that statement on the wall in the locker room and say they're cocky.''

P-Bruins forward Peter Ferraro was named winner of the Jack Butterfield Award as the MVP of the playoffs. Ferraro was the leading postseason scorer with nine goals, including one last night, and 12 assists for 21 points.

Providence, a team that finished in the AHL basement last season, eliminated the second best team in the league in five games and beat the Amerks in six of their seven meetings this year, further emphasizing exactly how dominant this team was.

When checking line center Marquis Mathieu banged in Providence's third goal at 13:18 of the second period, P-Bruins fans were ready to celebrate the first Calder Cup for the city of Providence since the Providence Reds won it 43 years ago. By then, the odds of Providence coming out on top were pretty
good because. The P-Bruins were 47-2-1-2 this season when leading after two periods.

First-period goals by Landon Wilson and Joel Prpic had given Providence a jump start toward winning the Cup.

One Providence player who shined brightly throughout this championship series was Grahame, who was outstanding in the five games, allowing the Amerks only nine goals. He recorded one shutout. It was Grahame's best goaltending effort of the year. Last night he finished with 26 saves.

Prior to the start of the championship series, it appeared that Rochester, with All-Star goalie Martin Biron (30 saves last night), had a goaltending advantage. Biron had the best goaltending numbers of anyone in the league during the regular season. Grahame, while winning a league high 37 games, wasn't listed among the top 10.

The Providence netminder took that as a personal challenge, and he answered it by backstopping his team to the AHL's biggest prize. Grahame entered last night's game with a 1.50 goals-against-average and a 950 save percentage.

In a season chocked full of individual, franchise and league records, Providence finished with a 10-0 playoff record at home, another record, and were 15-4 overall in the postseason. The P-Bruins also ended their longest season ever with an astonishing 71 victories in 99 games, another record. It likely will be a long time before another AHL team comes close to putting together as sensational a season as Providence achieved under first-year head coach Laviolette.

Prior to the start of last night's championship finale, Laviolette said he was sure of one thing: ``I don't know if we'll win or not, but I do know my team will work its heart out on every shift.''

It did. Wilson got the P-Bruins off and flying when he beat Biron from low in the slot at 5:48 of the first period. Eric Nickulas had first driven a shot at Biron, and Wilson flicked in the rebound.

Then Providence's checking line of Prpic, Mathieu and Aaron Downey accounted for the next two Providence goals. The 6-foot-5 Prpic scored his fourth postseason goal thanks to his long reach. Mathieu skated out from behind the Amerks cage to Biron's left and delivered a pass that skimmed through the
crease. Prpic, at the far post, stretched out and tucked the puck into the left side for a 2-0 Providence lead at the 17:53 mark.

After the teams traded ineffective power plays in the second period, Providence swarmed all over the Amerks in front of Biron. Mathieu eventually knocked in Providence's third goal with Prpic and Downey assisting.

Amerks defenseman Dean Melanson avoided a shutout when he went in alone on Grahame after coming out of the penalty box and beating the Providence netminder at 9:01 of the final period. However, seventeen seconds later Providence's three-goal lead was restored when Ferraro grabbed a long lead
pass from Jeremy Brown, moved across the Rochester blue line and whipped a drive that beat Biron to the near side.

And when Cameron Mann scored Providence's fifth goal into an empty net at 19:22, the celebrating started.

Copyright 1999 The Providence Journal Company

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