AHL Morning Skate: June 10, 2023

Photo: Kyle Mace/Hershey Bears

P2-Coachella Valley Firebirds vs. A2-Hershey Bears
Game 2 – Tonight, 10:00 ET, , NBC Sports Washington
(Coachella Valley leads series, 1-0)

Game 1 – Thu., June 8 – COACHELLA VALLEY 5, Hershey 0 | Recap
Game 2 – Sat., June 10 – Hershey at Coachella Valley, 10:00
Game 3 – Tue., June 13 – Coachella Valley at Hershey, 7:00
Game 4 – Thu., June 15 – Coachella Valley at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 5 – Sat., June 17 – Coachella Valley at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 6 – Mon., June 19 – Hershey at Coachella Valley, 10:00
*Game 7 – Wed., June 21 – Hershey at Coachella Valley, 10:00
*if necessary… All times Eastern

The Firebirds host the Bears in Game 2 of the Calder Cup Finals tonight after rolling to a 5-0 victory in the series opener on Thursday... Coachella Valley got goals from five different skaters while Joey Daccord (13-7, 2.26, .927) stopped 25 shots for his second shutout of the postseason... Kole Lind (7-19-26) and Ryker Evans (3-16-19) had three assists each in Game 1... Andrew Poturalski (3-5-8) tallied a goal and an assist, giving him 8-8-16 in 11 career Calder Cup Finals games... The Firebirds are now 5-0 in Game 1’s this postseason; they are 1-3 so far in Game 2’s... Coachella Valley has won five straight home games, averaging 5.2 goals per contest... Daccord became the first goaltender to record a Game 1 shutout in the Calder Cup Finals since Hamilton’s Carey Price blanked the Bears in 2007... Hershey lost on the road for the first time this postseason (6-1)... Hunter Shepard (10-4, 2.09, .920), who made 22 saves in Game 1, is 3-0 (0.67, .974) with two shutouts following a loss in the playoffs... The Bears are 3-0 in Game 2’s this spring... Hershey has not scored a Calder Cup Finals goal in their last 162:18 of play, dating back to Game 3 vs. Lake Erie in 2016.

Hershey Bears captain Dylan McIlrath arrived in California this week knowing that his team had a stern challenge on their hands in the Calder Cup Finals.

Seeing an opponent on video is one thing. Seeing them in person is another. The Firebirds handed the Bears a 5-0 thumping in Game 1 on Thursday night.

“Now we know what they’re about,” McIlrath said. “They know what we’re about.”

But the Bears also know that they can be much better. So a video session with head coach Todd Nelson was in order when the Bears convened at Acrisure Arena on Friday afternoon.

“It was a pretty firm meeting,” Nelson said, “and I thought it had to be.”

Said McIlrath, “We’re upbeat. A little frustrated with our effort. We definitely have a higher standard than what we showed.”

McIlrath, a Calder Cup champion on Nelson’s Grand Rapids Griffins club in 2017, has been through the ups and downs that playoff hockey can present, especially in the Calder Cup Finals. His Griffins suffered a 5-1 loss at Syracuse in Game 5 of the Finals that year before coming home to finish off the Crunch.

“You can dwell on a loss for a little bit and then clear your mind,” McIlrath explained of the bounce-back process.

Friday’s video session was part of that process as the Bears confronted their Game 1 shortcomings head-on with Nelson.

“It’s things that we can correct out there,” Bears forward Garrett Pilon said after the session. “There were obviously some mental lapses and mistakes that we made as a group that are almost out of character for us. I think for us it's just kind of nipping those in the bud and moving forward.

“We know that we have a lot more to give, and that’s where we want to go.”

Nelson’s club has shown throughout these Calder Cup Playoffs that it can adapt following a subpar performance. They struggled badly in a Game 3 loss to Charlotte and again early in Game 4 before settling down. They erased a two-goal deficit in the third period of Game 1 against Hartford. They were outplayed in a Game 1 loss to Rochester in which Hershey could not contain the up-tempo Amerks.

“Guys were doing things that are uncharacteristic,” Nelson said. “I haven’t seen us do things like that on the ice since Christmas. We have to clean a lot of areas up. We have to be a lot better.”

Nelson expressed earlier this week that he and the Bears have built a mutual trust at this point. His players believe in his plan, and he is confident that they can go on the ice and execute it.

“Absolutely,” Nelson said of his belief that his players can make the necessary adjustments tonight. “I do. It was a good video session. The guys got to see themselves, what they were doing on the ice, and [the mistakes were] really apparent.”

Friday took on a light mood for the Firebirds.

Plenty of two-touch with a soccer ball inside the practice facility that is attached to Acrisure Arena. Players mingled. The equipment staff handled its many tasks. But mostly it was a light day for a team that could use the rest.

The Firebirds have played 20 games over five series since opening the postseason 53 days ago. They had little time to prepare for Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals this week after eliminating Milwaukee on Monday night.

One of those Firebirds not on the ice Friday was goaltender Joey Daccord, who posted a 25-save shutout in Game 1. The workhorse has taken all 20 of the team’s starts this postseason. Looking ahead, after Game 2 tonight, there’s a cross-country flight and as many as three games in Hershey next week on the schedule.

“It’s just been a lot of hockey,” Daccord said after Game 1, “and we’re just trying to manage it as best we can.”

The Firebirds need Daccord rested up, both to stop pucks as well as to disrupt a forecheck that is a critical component of Hershey’s success this season: dump the puck all night long and wear down opposing defensemen. Instead, the Bears struggled to solve Daccord’s standout puck-handling skills. That ability to act as a third defenseman enables Daccord to ease the pressure on his teammates returning to retrieve pucks. Hershey forecheckers often must peel off to avoid getting caught up-ice on a quick Coachella Valley breakout.

“That was an average puck-handling game for Joey,” Firebirds head coach Dan Bylsma said following Game 1. “It’s not odd for him to get 40 puck touches in a game, and part of his strength is his ability to get to pucks and play pucks and start the breakout for us. He was all that.”

Patrick Williams

In Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final on Thursday night, Carter Verhaeghe assisted on the tying goal with 2:13 left in regulation and scored the winner 4:27 into overtime as Florida defeated Vegas, 3-2... Verhaeghe was the AHL’s leading scorer while skating for the Syracuse Crunch in 2018-19... Two-time AHL All-Star defenseman Brandon Montour also scored for the Panthers... Jonathan Marchessault and Mark Stone notched a goal and an assist each for the Golden Knights.

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