Pride of Philadelphia
Calder Cup AHL Champions
In what was arguably the most exciting season in the history of the franchise, the Philadelphia Phantoms’ 2004-05 campaign resulted in the team’s second Calder Cup championship. A couple of record-breaking winning streaks in the regular season and playoffs, a playoff comeback for the ages, the emergence of two future NHL stars in the postseason and a goaltender that was as steady and impressive as any other in the American Hockey League — all contributed to a season that will not soon be forgotten by Phantoms fans and hockey fans in the Philadelphia area.
It all began with an inauspicious start back in October of 2004, when the team opened up the season with a pair of losses on the road. First, the team suffered a 2-1 loss to the Hartford Wolf Pack that was followed by a 4-2 defeat at the hands of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. It didn’t take long after that for the team to get it together, however.
The longest winning streak in the history of the American Hockey League began with the team’s home opener at the Wachovia Center when the Phantoms defeated the Hamilton Bulldogs, 5-3. The streak, which began on October 22, lasted late into November before the club finally lost at Syracuse on Nov. 28. The mark of 17 consecutive victories eclipsed the old record of 16 set by the Baltimore Skipjacks, which stood for almost 20 years. The streak also vaulted Philadelphia into first place in the East Division, where it would stay for most of the season.
One of the key acquisitions for the Phantoms occurred midway through the winning streak, on Nov. 14. On that day, Philadelphia sent packing its all-time leading scorer in Peter White in exchange for Jon Sim. The 5-10, 190-pound left wing proved to be an invaluable addition to the club, leading the team in goals with 35 and providing a strong presence in the locker room.
Seeing the majority of the playing time between the pipes was goaltender Antero Niittymaki, in his third season with the team. Niittymaki improved dramatically from his first season to his second, and was even better in his third. The Finland native was one of the best netminders throughout the AHL season, and broke the club record for most wins in a season with 33 when all was said and done.
Philadelphia compiled a 16-7-1 record over the final two months of the regular season. The Phantoms never looked back as they continued down the stretch and into the playoffs, finishing just a point behind Binghamton for second place in the division.
While the team was already playing well come playoff time, the roster improved drastically with the addition of two former NHL first-round draft picks of the Flyers. Jeff Carter, chosen 11th overall in 2003, and Mike Richards, who was taken 24th overall that same year, both joined the Phantoms after the conclusion of their junior seasons. Carter joined the club in time for the final week of the regular season and ended up leading the AHL in playoff scoring while Richards came aboard following the Phantoms first round series victory over regular-season nemesis, Norfolk.
Next up for the Phantoms after Norfolk was a team that had been a playoff nemesis of theirs in recent history, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. It was the Penguins who ended the Philadelphia’s season in 2004, and the Phantoms were out to seek revenge this time around.
They would get their vengeance in a most impressive fashion. After winning the first two games at home, the series shifted back to Wilkes-Barre. The Penguins won Game Three, but then dropped Game Four, setting up one of the most memorable games in Phantoms history. Trailing 4-1 almost midway through the third period, the Phantoms scored an amazing six unanswered goals en route to a 7-4 victory and a berth in the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Providence Bruins were the next opponent, with a trip to the Calder Cup Finals on the line. Once again, the Phantoms won the first two games of the series on home ice and then dropped Game Three. The teams split the next two games before the series shifted back to Philadelphia, and the Phantoms were once again able to clinch a series in front of their home fans in Game Six.
The victory over Providence meant it was back to the Calder Cup Finals for the Phantoms for the first time since 1998 against a Chicago Wolves team that up until that point had breezed through the playoffs, including a sweep of the Manitoba Moose in the Western Conference Finals. It was expected to be a battle of the goalies as the Phantoms’ Niittymaki and the Wolves’ Kari Lehtonen had both been stellar all season long.
The first three games were just that – very tight checking and low scoring, with both goaltenders playing about as well as could be expected. It was Niittymaki, however, who was just a little bit better in leading the Phantoms to a 1-0 win in Game One, and then a 2-1, double overtime victory in Game Two before the series shifted to the Wachovia Center for Game Three. It was more of the same in that game, as Niittymaki and the Phantoms squeaked past Chicago with another 2-1 victory, giving Philadelphia a 3-0 series lead heading into Game Four.
With an AHL playoff-record crowd of 20,103 on hand all donned in "Purple Reign" t-shirts, the Phantoms captured the Calder Cup with a 5-2 victory on June 10 to set off a party inside the Wachovia Center unlike none the league had ever seen.