AHL Morning Skate: June 20, 2024

Photo: Tori Hartman

A1-Hershey Bears vs. P1-Coachella Valley Firebirds
Game 4 – Tonight, 10:00 ET,
(Coachella Valley leads series, 2-1)

Game 1 – Fri., June 14 – Coachella Valley 4, HERSHEY 3 | Recap/Highlights
Game 2 – Sun., June 16 – HERSHEY 5, Coachella Valley 2 | Recap/Highlights
Game 3 – Tue., June 18 – COACHELLA VALLEY 6, Hershey 2 | Recap/Highlights
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

Coachella Valley brings a 2-1 series lead into Game 4 of the Calder Cup Finals tonight following Tuesday’s 6-2 victory over Hershey... The Firebirds are now 7-0 at home this postseason and have trailed for a total of only 15 minutes and 46 seconds, outscoring their visitors 29-14... Max McCormick (8-3-11) scored twice in the opening 6:03 of Game 3 to give Coachella Valley a quick 2-0 lead, and added an empty-netter late in the third period to complete the first hat trick in a Calder Cup Finals game since Game 2 of the 2009 series, when Jason Jaffray scored three times for Manitoba in a 3-1 win over Hershey... It was McCormick’s fifth career AHL hat trick, the third in postseason play... Shane Wright (3-6-9) tallied a goal and two assists for the Firebirds, his second three-point game of the postseason... Lleyton Roed (1-0-1) and Ryan Winterton (4-5-9) also scored, and defensemen Cale Fleury (4-8-12) and Ryker Evans (3-5-8) each notched two assists in Game 3... Chris Driedger (12-3, 2.46, .917) made 22 saves for the Firebirds, who have not lost consecutive games (excluding shootouts) since a three-game slide from Dec. 17-23... The Bears got goals from Henrik Rybinski (5-4-9) and Alex Limoges (4-5-9) to pull even early in the second period of Game 3 before Coachella Valley scored the final four goals of the contest... Hershey is 2-for-10 on the power play in the series, while Coachella Valley is 1-for-10... The Firebirds have a 99-64 advantage in shots on goal in the series, including 46-14 in the second period... Coachella Valley’s 23 shots in the middle frame of Game 3 were the most in a Finals period since Rochester took 24 shots in the second period of Game 5 against Hartford in 2000... The Firebirds have now outscored the Bears, 22-7, in five games at Acrisure Arena over the last two championship series... The Bears, who have been without defensemen Lucas Johansen (eight games), Aaron Ness (seven games) and Vincent Iorio (three games), have lost five of their last seven outings averaging 3.57 goals against per contest... Since 2022, Hershey is 5-1 in games when trailing a playoff series.

Even in going down 2-0 on the road in the opening minutes of Game 3, Bears captain Dylan McIlrath felt that his team had emerged relatively unscathed.

“I thought that we were fine, to be honest, in the first,” McIlrath said during the post-game press conferences on Tuesday night. “I thought our compete, everything that we wanted to talk about in our pre-game, we tried to accomplish. Their building was rocking. Their fans, when they get an early goal, they’re right into it.

“I thought we weathered it as best we could, and I thought our first was solid.”

The Bears eventually tied the contest 1:29 into the second period, but the Firebirds did not let up and rolled to a 6-2 win, taking a two-games-to-one lead in the best-of-seven series. The four unanswered goals left Hershey with lots to ponder and correct before tonight; the Bears repeatedly lost defensive-zone battles for loose pucks and rebounds that cost them dearly.

“I think our execution is a little off,” McIlrath continued. “It’s something we have to address. We need to simplify some things. For our team, we’ve got to stick to what we do well. We don’t want to try to play their game because they will out-skill us. We just definitely have to get the work boots on next game and play to our strengths.”

Firebirds head coach Dan Bylsma credited assistant coach Stu Bickel, a 10-year pro defenseman in the AHL and NHL, for his work with the club’s blue line and its penalty kill.

Two defensive prospects, Ryker Evans and Ville Ottavainen, were taken in Seattle’s inaugural 2021 draft class and are already established producers for the Firebirds.

Evans, a second-round pick, has already made contributions in Seattle, playing 36 games for the Kraken this season. Ottavainen, who plays a quiet, reliable game, has been praised by Bylsma for his work all year; the fourth-round choice had 34 points and a plus-27 rating in 70 games in 2023-24.

“He’s done a great job of working with our defense and developing our defense,” Bylsma said of Bickel. “You see it not just in the young guys, but the older guys as well. He’s a big part of how our ‘D’ play.”

There were no lineup changes heading into Game 3. Coachella Valley remained without Andrew Poturalski and Hershey was missing Garrett Roe, both injured in Game 1 of the series.

Bears goaltender Hunter Shepard got a rare breather as he was pulled following the Firebirds’ fifth goal on Tuesday. Clay Stevenson finished up for Shepard, playing the final 13 minutes. Shepard, who has started all 37 of Hershey’s playoff games over the last two springs (25-12, 2.36, .913), has a 4.39 GAA and an .865 save percentage in five starts at Acrisure Arena.

― with files from Patrick Williams

Edmonton kept its season alive on Tuesday with a 5-3 win at Florida in Game 5 of the Stanley Cup Final... 2015 AHL All-Star Connor Brown scored a shorthanded goal to open the scoring, and his former Toronto Marlies teammate Zach Hyman added his league-leading 15th goal of the postseason... 2020 AHL All-Star Evan Bouchard recorded three assists... Game 6 is set for Friday night.

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.