AHL Morning Skate: June 14, 2024

Photo: Mike Zitek

A1-Hershey Bears vs. P1-Coachella Valley Firebirds
Game 1 – Tonight, 7:00 ET, , NHL Network, SiriusXM NHL Network Radio

Game 1 – Fri., June 14 – Coachella Valley at Hershey, 7:00
Game 2 – Sun., June 16 – Coachella Valley at Hershey, 5:00
Game 3 – Tue., June 18 – Hershey at Coachella Valley, 10:00
Game 4 – Thu., June 20 – Hershey at Coachella Valley, 10:00
*Game 5 – Sat., June 22 – Hershey at Coachella Valley, 9:00
*Game 6 – Mon., June 24 – Coachella Valley at Hershey, 7:00
*Game 7 – Wed., June 26 – Coachella Valley at Hershey, 7:00
*if necessary... All times Eastern

For the first time in 33 years, the Calder Cup Finals feature a rematch from the previous season as the Hershey Bears host the Coachella Valley Firebirds in Game 1 tonight... The Bears’ seven-game win to capture the 2023 championship included victories in all three games at Giant Center, where Hershey has gone 7-1 this postseason... Hershey advanced to its 25th Calder Cup Finals with a Game 7 win over Cleveland on Wednesday as Garrett Roe (6-4-10) scored the clinching goal 7:38 into overtime... Hendrix Lapierre (4-11-15), one of 12 players on the Bears roster who played in last year’s Finals, leads the team in scoring this postseason... Hunter Shepard (10-4, 2.16, .920) made 42 saves in Wednesday’s win for Hershey, and has now stopped 46 of 47 shots (.979) during sudden-death in his eight career playoff overtime games (7-1)... The Firebirds have been off since closing out the Western Conference Finals with a Game 5 win over Milwaukee six days ago... They are the fourth club in American Hockey League history to reach the Calder Cup Finals in each of its first two seasons of play, joining the Syracuse Stars (1937-38, the first two years of the league’s existence), the Nova Scotia Voyageurs (1972-73, in their first two seasons after relocating from Montreal) and the Maine Mariners (1978-79)... Coachella Valley is 10-2 through the first three rounds, averaging a league-leading 3.58 goals per game... Devin Shore (5-6-11) is tops on the Firebirds with 11 points, while John Hayden (7-3-10) ranks first in goals including his hat trick in the series clincher against the Admirals last round... Chris Driedger (10-2, 2.31, .927) has gone the distance in net for Coachella Valley this postseason... Firebirds defenseman Ryker Evans (3-4-7) led all scorers with 10 points during last year’s Finals... The Springfield Indians defeated the Rochester Americans in 1990 and again in 1991, the last time the same two teams played in consecutive Finals... This series marks the fourth time that Firebirds head coach Dan Bylsma and Bears head coach Todd Nelson have gone head-to-head in the Calder Cup Finals; they faced off as players in the 1994 Finals between the Portland Pirates and Moncton Hawks and as assistant coaches in 2008 between the Chicago Wolves and Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins before last year’s meeting as head coaches... The Game 1 winner in the Finals has gone on to win the Calder Cup 74.1 percent of the time (63 of 85), but the last three championships have been won by the team that dropped the series opener (Hershey, Chicago, Charlotte)... This is the first time since 2015 (Manchester vs. Utica) that the teams with the two best records in the regular season have met in the Calder Cup Finals... The on-ice officials selected to work the Calder Cup Finals are referees Cody Beach, Beau Halkidis, Justin Kea, Morgan MacPhee and Jordan Samuels-Thomas, along with linespersons Brandon Grillo, Mitch Hunt, Ryan Jackson, Justin Johnson and Joe Mahon.

A1-Hershey Bears vs. N1-Cleveland Monsters
(Hershey wins series, 4-3)

Game 1 – Thu., May 30 – HERSHEY 5, Cleveland 4 (OT) | Recap/Highlights
Game 2 – Sat., June 1 – HERSHEY 3, Cleveland 2 (OT) | Recap/Highlights
Game 3 – Tue., June 4 – Hershey 6, CLEVELAND 2 | Recap/Highlights
Game 4 – Thu., June 6 – CLEVELAND 3, Hershey 2 | Recap/Highlights
Game 5 – Sat., June 8 – CLEVELAND 5, Hershey 1 | Recap/Highlights
Game 6 – Mon., June 10 – Cleveland 3, HERSHEY 2 (OT) | Recap/Highlights
Game 7 – Wed., June 12 – HERSHEY 3, Cleveland 2 (OT) | Recap/Highlights

P1-Coachella Valley Firebirds vs. C1-Milwaukee Admirals
(Coachella Valley wins series, 4-1)

Game 1 – Wed., May 29 – COACHELLA VALLEY 2, Milwaukee 1 | Recap/Highlights
Game 2 – Fri., May 31 – COACHELLA VALLEY 3, Milwaukee 1 | Recap/Highlights
Game 3 – Tue., June 4 – Coachella Valley 5, MILWAUKEE 2 | Recap/Highlights
Game 4 – Thu., June 6 – MILWAUKEE 7, Coachella Valley 2 | Recap/Highlights
Game 5 – Sat., June 8 – Coachella Valley 5, MILWAUKEE 1 | Recap/Highlights

Firebirds rookie forward Shane Wright was a full practice participant yesterday at Giant Center.

Wright, the fourth overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, missed the entire Western Conference Finals against Milwaukee being injured in Game 3 of the team’s division final with Ontario on May 17. He has a pair of goals to go with three assists through six playoff games.

“We got some good time off,” Firebirds head coach Dan Bylsma said after practice. “[Wright] was pushing to get back in Games 4 and 5 of the last series, and he was close. You see him skate out there the last few days with us, and [he] looks pretty comfortable out there, and hopefully we can get him in the lineup.”

Named to the 2023-24 AHL Top Prospects Team yesterday, Wright finished with 47 points (22 goals, 25 assists) in 59 games during the regular season. He also earned eight games with the Seattle Kraken and put up four goals and an assist.

Said Wright, "I hate watching games. Any athlete can relate to that. You always want to be playing, so definitely a little more motivation for me going out there."

After finishing the Western Conference Finals in Milwaukee last Saturday, the Firebirds headed directly to Hershey.

Bylsma said that plan was by design. With the outcome of the Eastern Conference series still in doubt at the time, the Firebirds opted to go to Hershey and stay in the eastern part of the country rather than fly back to the West Coast and wait out the rest of the matchup between the Bears and Monsters. If Cleveland had won, the Firebirds would have headed home to host Game 1.

They used the week productively. Along with on-ice work, the coaching staff took in Games 6 and 7 at Giant Center. To break up the week for the players, the team rented a vacation home approximately 45 minutes away from Hershey. The players worked together there to prepare a team dinner, did some fishing and got to explore the Pennsylvania outdoors. The home also featured a sauna and cold tub, and the itinerary also included watching Game 2 of the Stanley Cup Final.

“I think it was actually a pretty productive week,” Andrew Poturalski, a two-time Calder Cup champion, said. “We made the most out of it. It was a unique situation, but we had fun, and now we’re ready to go.”

Bylsma and Hershey head coach Todd Nelson have a Calder Cup history that dates back 30 years.

As players, they met in the Finals in 1994 when Nelson’s Portland Pirates bested Bylsma and the Moncton Hawks in six games.

They then faced off as assistant coaches in 2008, with Nelson and the Chicago Wolves winning the Calder Cup against Bylsma and the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins.

Then last spring, they met as head coaches in the classic seven-game series between the Bears and Firebirds.

“Nelly is a guy I know more personally from back when we were playing, and he was in Grand Rapids and summered in Grand Rapids,” said Bylsma, a West Michigan native. “[We] played summer hockey together, the occasional golf game, and whatnot.

“He’s got the upper hand in every situation so far that I bumped into him. I certainly know that, but this is not about Nelly and [me]. Good luck on him, and we’ll be shaking hands (at the end of the series) one way or another.”

Nelson did not have an immediate update on defenseman Vincent Iorio after Game 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals.

Iorio exited during the game and did not return, and Hershey’s blue line was already without veterans Lucas Johansen and Aaron Ness. To supplement the roster, the Bears added defenseman Colin Swoyer from South Carolina, their ECHL affiliate, on Thursday. Swoyer, 26, played four regular-season games with the Bears and had three assists. He also logged 36 games with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last season and registered a goal and 10 assists.

With the quick turnaround between series, the Bears opted to rest yesterday.

The Eastern Conference Finals between Hershey and Cleveland were the most attended series in Calder Cup Playoff history.

Total attendance was 80,467 fans for the seven games between Giant Center and Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse. Cleveland finished its postseason run averaging 12,233 fans over seven home games, an AHL record for a single playoff year.

The previous record was held by the Bears and Manitoba Moose, who drew 77,038 fans to the six-game Calder Cup Finals in 2009.

― with files from Patrick Williams

Florida took a 3-0 series lead in the Stanley Cup Final with a 4-3 win at Edmonton last night... Sam Reinhart notched a goal and an assist for the Panthers, and Evan Rodrigues, Gustav Forsling and Eetu Luostarinen all got on the scoresheet with an assist apiece... Warren Foegele, Philip Broberg and Ryan McLeod scored for the Oilers.

Watch the Calder Cup Playoffs on AHLTV
Don’t miss a second on the road to the 2024 Calder Cup championship. AHLTV features live streaming of every AHL game in high definition on desktop, laptop, tablet and mobile devices, as well as OTT platforms such as Roku, Apple TV, Amazon Fire TV, and Android TV. A subscription is just $29.99 to watch every game for the entire postseason, or just $8.99 for a day pass. Visit AHLTV.com for details.