SPRINGFIELD, Mass. … After 1,140 regular-season games and 66 more through three playoff rounds, the 2013 Calder Cup Finals are ready to get underway on Saturday night featuring two franchises making their long-awaited debuts in the AHL’s championship series.
The Syracuse Crunch are in the Finals for the first time in their 19-year history, looking to bring the city its first AHL title since the Syracuse Stars won the championship in the league’s inaugural season of 1936-37. The Crunch are also bidding for a second consecutive Calder Cup for the Tampa Bay Lightning organization; the Bolts were affiliated with the Norfolk Admirals when they won last spring.
Under rookie head coach Rob Zettler, who took over after Jon Cooper was promoted to Tampa Bay on Mar. 25, Syracuse won the East Division during the regular season and has gone 11-1 in the playoffs, sweeping Portland and Springfield in the first two rounds and ousting Wilkes-Barre/Scranton in five games in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Second-year pro Ondrej Palat (5-15-20), one of 18 players who skated for both the Crunch and the Lightning in 2012-13, leads the AHL in assists and points (tied) during the playoffs, while regular-season AHL MVP Tyler Johnson has 9-8-17 and a plus-13 rating. Cedrick Desjardins, who has started all 12 playoff games for Syracuse, shows a 1.86 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage in the postseason.
The Grand Rapids Griffins survived two winner-take-all games – including Wednesday’s 5-4 victory over Oklahoma City in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals – to earn the right to play for the Calder Cup for the first time in their 12 seasons in the AHL. The Griffins are the first affiliate of the Detroit Red Wings to reach the Calder Cup Finals since the Adirondack Red Wings won their fourth and final championship in 1992.
Tomas Tatar (11-5-16) and rookies Tomas Jurco (7-6-13) and Luke Glendening (5-8-13) lead the Griffins’ offense through three rounds, while first-year goaltender Petr Mrazek (11-7, 2.18, .921) has recorded a league-leading four shutouts, helping Grand Rapids to series victories over Houston (3-2), Toronto (4-2) and Oklahoma City (4-3).
The Griffins are guided by bench boss Jeff Blashill, who is in his first season as a professional head coach. Blashill, a Michigan native who played (1994-98) and was an assistant coach (1999-2002) at Ferris State and was later head coach at Western Michigan University in 2010-11, joined the Griffins last summer after a season serving as an NHL assistant with the parent Red Wings.
The best-of-seven 2013 Calder Cup Finals begin on Saturday and Sunday at the Onondaga County War Memorial Arena, which will also host Games 6 and 7, if necessary. The middle three games of the series are scheduled for Van Andel Arena in Grand Rapids, Mich. The entire series will be streamed free on AHL Live (www.ahllive.com).
Stay connected to theahl.com for live scores, broadcast information and the latest news from the AHL’s championship series, and be sure to follow the American Hockey League on Facebook (facebook.com/TheAHL) and Twitter (@TheAHL) as well.
In operation since 1936, the AHL continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. More than 87 percent of today’s NHL players are American Hockey League graduates, and this season marks the 12th consecutive year in which more than 6 million fans have attended AHL games across North America.
QUICK HITS … Grand Rapids is the first team to reach the Calder Cup Finals without playing a single overtime game in the playoffs since the Milwaukee Admirals in 2006… The Griffins’ Petr Mrazek, who has four shutouts in 18 playoff starts after notching one whitewash in 42 regular-season outings, is the first goalie with four playoff shutouts since Hershey’s Michal Neuvirth in 2009… After Gustav Nyquist and Joakim Andersson rejoined the lineup for Game 4 of the conference finals, Grand Rapids went 3-1 (had lost two of previous three in the series), scored 15 goals in four games (had scored five goals in first three games of the series), and went 6-for-14 on the power play (had gone 0-for-9 to start the series)… Syracuse’s Cedrick Desjardins stopped 101 of 109 Wilkes-Barre/Scranton shots in the Eastern Conference Finals (1.62, .927), and enters the Calder Cup Finals with a career AHL playoff record of 17-5… Sixteen different Crunch players recorded a point vs. the Penguins… Syracuse defenseman Mark Barberio (0-6-6), Grand Rapids defenseman Chad Billins (1-5-6) and Oklahoma City forward Jonathan Cheechoo (1-5-6) tied for the AHL’s third-round scoring lead with six points each… Crunch skaters are scoring on 13.1 percent of their shots on goal this postseason… Syracuse is the 10th consecutive East Division team to represent the Eastern Conference in the Calder Cup Finals, following Wilkes-Barre/Scranton (2004, ’08), Philadelphia (2005), Hershey (2006, ’07, ’09, ’10), Binghamton (2011) and Norfolk (2012)… Grand Rapids reached the Turner Cup Finals once in its five seasons in the International Hockey League, falling to the Chicago Wolves in 2000… Darcy Burchell (first Finals), Jean Hebert (third), Terry Koharski (sixth), Mark Lemelin (first) and Graham Skilliter (second) have been named the referees for the series; John Grandt, Jared Hoffmeyer, Fraser McIntyre, Kiel Murchison, Jud Ritter and Jim Scarpace will be the linesmen.
2013 Calder Cup Finals (best-of-seven)
E3-Syracuse Crunch vs. W3-Grand Rapids Griffins
Game 1 – Sat., June 8 – Grand Rapids at Syracuse, 7:00
Game 2 – Sun., June 9 – Grand Rapids at Syracuse, 6:00
Game 3 – Wed., June 12 – Syracuse at Grand Rapids, 7:00
Game 4 – Fri., June 14 – Syracuse at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sat., June 15 – Syracuse at Grand Rapids, 7:00
*Game 6 – Tue., June 18 – Grand Rapids at Syracuse, 7:00
*Game 7 – Thu., June 20 – Grand Rapids at Syracuse, 7:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern