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Next October, the Hamilton Bulldogs will have a new banner raised to the rafters of their Dog Pound home at Copps Coliseum to honour them as the 2010 American Hockey League North Division Champions. Of course, though, the banner that they really want to see raised up is another Calder Cup Championship banner to go beside the big white one which already hangs there from the Bulldogs 2007 Calder Cup Championship.

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves yet. Sixteen teams qualified for the 2010 AHL Playoffs. Four teams now remain. And the Hamilton Bulldogs are one of those final four teams.

The Dogs defeated the Abbotsford Heat by a final score of 4-0 at Copps Coliseum on Monday night. Curtis Sanford, playing in his second game since coming back from his late-season injury, made 30 saves in the shutout win and was a major factor in the Bulldogs eliminating the Heat in the series 4 games to 2.

With the victory, Hamilton advances to the Western Conference Finals, where they will face off against the Texas Stars (affiliate of the Dallas Stars).

During the regular season, the Bulldogs and the Stars faced off against each other only twice, with both teams winning one game each.

The Bulldogs are in the Conference Finals for the fourth time in nine years; Texas for the very first time, as this is their inaugural season in the AHL as a new team under the “Texas” name after the franchise relocated from the American Mid-West where they were known as the Iowa Stars.

There are some names listed on the Stars roster that Hamilton fans will recognise, including a few former Bulldogs players…..Dan Jancevski, Tyler Shelast, Maxime Fortunus (who used to play for the Manitoba Moose), and Garrett Stafford.

If some of you are scratching your heads, thinking that you know of Stafford’s name but cannot exactly place it, he was the victim of the infamous Alexander Perezhogin stick-swinging incident. On April 30, 2004 Stafford was playing for the Cleveland Barons against the Bulldogs when he got into an altercation with Perezhogin. Stafford cross-checked Perezhogin in the face resulting in them both falling to the ice. As they were getting up Stafford took another swing with his stick, this time making contact with the back of Perezhogin’s helmet. In response, Perezhogin swung his stick into Stafford’s face as he was getting up. The slash knocked Stafford unconscious resulting in a concussion and sending him into convulsions on the ice as well as causing severe facial wounds which required 20 stitches to repair. Perezhogin was charged with assault by the Hamilton Police and was given a one year probation as well as being ordered to cover Stafford’s medical expenses and donate a further $5000 to charity. Perezhogin was also suspended for the entire 2004–05 season, the longest suspension in AHL history.

Coming into this year’s playoffs, the Texas Stars finished the 2009-2010 regular season with a 46-27-3-4 record and 99 points which was good enough for 2nd place in the West Division and 3rd place overall in the Western Conference. They defeated the Rockford Ice Hogs in the 1st round of the playoffs 4-0; and then took out the Chicago Wolves in seven games, winning 4-3.

The Series between the Texas Stars and the Hamilton Bulldogs gets underway on Friday May 14 at Copps Coliseum in Hamilton.

Here is the complete schedule:

Game #1 – Friday, May 14th – 7:30 PM – Texas at Hamilton (Copps Coliseum)

Game #2 – Sunday, May 16th – 2:00 PM – Texas at Hamilton (Copps Coliseum)

Game #3 – Wednesday, May 19th – 8:30 PM – Hamilton at Texas (Cedar Park Center)

Game #4 – Friday, May 21st – 8:30 PM – Hamilton at Texas (Cedar Park Center)

*Game #5 – Saturday, May 22nd – 8:00 PM – Hamilton at Texas (Cedar Park Center)

*Game #6 – Monday, May 24th – 7:30 PM – Texas at Hamilton (Copps Coliseum)

*Game #7 – Wednesday, May 26th – 7:30 PM – Texas at Hamilton (Copps Coliseum)

* If necessary