AHL Morning Skate: June 13, 2023

P2-Coachella Valley Firebirds vs. A2-Hershey Bears
Game 3 – Tonight, 7:00 ET,
TV: NBC Sports Washington Plus, Root Sports Northwest Plus
(Coachella Valley leads series, 2-0)

Game 1 – Thu., June 8 – COACHELLA VALLEY 5, Hershey 0 | Recap
Game 2 – Sat., June 10 – COACHELLA VALLEY 4, Hershey 0 | Recap
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 Coachella Valley Firebirds bring a 2-0 series lead into Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals tonight as the scene shifts to Giant Center, home of the 11-time champion Hershey Bears... Joey Daccord (14-7, 2.15, .930) has stopped all 58 shots he has faced in the series, becoming the first goaltender in 84 years to post shutouts in the first two games of the Calder Cup Finals... Daccord has won each of his two career starts at Giant Center, including a 26-save effort for a 3-1 victory in his AHL debut on Nov. 30, 2019, with Belleville... Cameron Hughes (1-18-19) had gone 22 games without a goal before he scored in Saturday’s 4-0 Firebirds victory... Kole Lind (7-20-27) and Alexander True (7-11-18) both enter Game 3 with five-game scoring streaks for Coachella Valley... The Firebirds have scored 26 first-period goals in 21 playoff games, and are 11-2 when scoring the game’s first goal... The Bears have scored five first-period goals in 15 games this postseason, including one in the last nine contests... Aliaksei Protas (5-7-12), Mason Morelli (5-4-9), Logan Day (3-6-9) and Joe Snively (1-9-10) share the Hershey team lead with five points apiece on home ice during the postseason... Hershey, 4-3 at Giant Center during the playoffs, had the best home record in the Eastern Conference during the regular season (23-9-2-2)... Coachella Valley has lost three of its last four road games and is 3-4 away from home on this postseason... With tonight’s game, the Firebirds become the first team in AHL history to play in four different time zones in one postseason... Overall, the Bears have scored two goals in their last four games, none over their last 147:20 of play... Hershey has also been blanked over its last 222:18 of Finals action, going back to Game 3 of the 2016 series against Lake Erie... Before the Firebirds, the most recent first-year team to reach the Calder Cup Finals was the 2010 Texas Stars, who took a 2-0 series lead on Hershey before dropping the next four... The 2010 Bears, 1991 Springfield Indians and 1972 Nova Scotia Voyageurs are the only teams to win the Calder Cup after losing the first two games of the Finals... With tonight’s game, league-wide attendance will top 500,000 in the Calder Cup Playoffs for the first time ever, and will eclipse 7 million for the entire season for the third time in league history.

The Coachella Valley Firebirds touched down on Sunday night and quickly acquainted themselves with their new base.

Head coach Dan Bylsma put most of his players through a lengthy practice session at Giant Center on Monday afternoon in advance of tonight’s Game 3.

With a league-high 21 games played already this postseason, Bylsma has largely adapted a “get-what-you-need” approach to postseason practice time and morning skates. But with as many as three games ahead of them this week in Hershey, one of the AHL’s most difficult buildings for visiting teams, Bylsma is all too wary of what the Firebirds can expect.

Bylsma spent parts of three seasons with the archrival Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as both an assistant and head coach in an era in which the Bears won the Calder Cup three times in five seasons. Last season, Bylsma was an assistant with the Charlotte Checkers, an Atlantic Division rival of the Bears.

“It’s a place where some of us have never played before,” Bylsma said after practice Monday. “So [we’re] getting a little acquainted with the Giant Center, and it’s going to be a full one.”

As an assistant in Wilkes-Barre, Bylsma faced the Bears in the playoffs in both 2007 and 2008. The teams split the two series, with the winner eventually going all the way to the Calder Cup Finals both times.

“Some good memories,” Bylsma said of his visits to Hershey. “Some hard memories. But for me, playing the Hershey Bears in the Finals is just kind of how it should be. You know, it’s an old foe. It’s one I’ve butted heads with many times over the years, they’re usually the best team, and so it’s kind of a familiar feeling for me. It’s always fun stepping back into this building.”

Bylsma has hit on another point with his players as well. They won the first two games of the Western Conference Finals against Milwaukee only to hit the road and see the Admirals come back and even the series. Having already played four elimination games this postseason, the Firebirds know how quickly a series can change.

“You kind of get a little surprised, a little shocked, and a little awed with the change of venue,” Bylsma said, “and we can’t have that be repeated in this series.”

Despite outscoring the Bears 9-0 over the first two games, Bylsma doesn’t see that as a true indication of how the games have gone.

“I think they’re a dangerous team,” he said. “I think they’re an explosive team. I think they’re quick in transition. We can’t be looking at the scores and think that’s how the series is going to go. I think we got this lesson in our last series, and hopefully we can learn from it.”

When Cameron Hughes became a free agent after five seasons in the Boston Bruins organization, the Seattle Kraken quickly turned out to be a fit for the forward. Hughes had an advocate in Kraken assistant coach Jay Leach, his head coach in Providence for four seasons.

With the Firebirds set to begin to play this season as Seattle’s first sole AHL affiliate, they had roster spots to fill. The Kraken only have two classes of NHL draft picks so far, and most of those players have not advanced to the AHL level yet.

“I had a few places to look through,” Hughes said of going into free agency. “I had the connection with [Leach], so we had kind of reached out. He said it would be a good spot to be. It was a great opportunity, new rink, pretty cool place to play.”

Hughes got himself a two-year deal with the organization, and ended up reaching career highs in goals (19), assists (37) and points (56) with the Firebirds in 2022-23. That performance has carried into the postseason, where he is fourth in scoring with 19 points (one goal, 18 assists) through 21 games.

The Firebirds have been the beneficiary of the work that Leach and Hughes put in back in their P-Bruins days.

“He was awesome,” Hughes said. “He was my first coach coming into pro and he was so good for me. He kind of taught me how to be a pro, the ins and outs, so I can’t thank him enough. It was good to reunite.”

“You know what? We’re on home ice now. Let’s take care of business here at home.”

Hershey head coach Todd Nelson shared those words with the media Monday at Giant Center after the Bears had arrived at Harrisburg International Airport on Sunday night needing to change the series quickly.

Hershey’s first order of business will be to try to solve Firebirds netminder Joey Daccord, who shut them out in back-to-back games at Acrisure Arena to open the Finals. Going back to conference finals against Rochester, Hershey has scored only two goals in its past four contests.

Nelson did not rule out juggling his lines tonight in a bid to rustle up some production.

“We’ve got to start by scoring a goal,” Nelson said. “Come on, it’s been two games. Certain guys that have done it all year, they have to come to the party [tonight]. They have a good hockey team. But with that being said, we’re not playing our best hockey right now. And it’s one of those situations where, hey, this is it. We’ve got to make sure we bring it.”

Patrick Williams

In Game 4 of the Stanley Cup Final on Saturday night, Chandler Stephenson scored twice to lift Vegas to a 3-2 win over Florida... Stephenson played 216 games in the AHL with the Hershey Bears, including a trip to the Calder Cup Finals in 2016 where he lost to current Golden Knights assistant coach Ryan Craig and the Lake Erie Monsters... Nic Hague, who reached the Calder Cup Finals as a Vegas prospect with the Chicago Wolves in 2019, registered a pair of assists in Game 4... Adin Hill made 29 saves in the win.

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