AHL Morning Skate: June 21, 2023

P2-Coachella Valley Firebirds vs. A2-Hershey Bears
Game 7 – Tonight, 10:00 ET,
TV: NHL Network, NBC Sports Washington, Root Sports Northwest
Satellite Radio: SiriusXM 91 NHL Network Radio
(Series tied, 3-3)

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

The 2022-23 hockey season wraps up tonight with the coronation of a new American Hockey League champion, as the Coachella Valley Firebirds and Hershey Bears square off in Game 7 of the Calder Cup Finals... The 1,237th and final game of the AHL season comes after the Firebirds staved off elimination for the fifth time this postseason, taking a 5-2 decision in Game 6 on Monday night... Kole Lind (9-21-30) scored twice, becoming the 11th player ever to reach 30 points in a single Calder Cup postseason... Joey Daccord (15-10, 2.21, .926) made 20 saves and recorded his third assist of the postseason in the win... Daccord has set a league record for minutes played in a postseason (1,571), and would tie another mark if he picks up his 16th win tonight... Cameron Hughes (4-19-23), without a goal through the Firebirds’ first four series, has scored four times in the Finals... Connor McMichael (5-4-9) opened the scoring 1:33 into Game 6, Hershey’s first goal of the series at Acrisure Arena... Beck Malenstyn (4-4-8) also scored for the Bears on Monday, his first goal in 10 games... Firebirds rookie defenseman Ryker Evans (4-20-24) leads all scorers with 1-7-8 in the Finals... Joe Snively (2-12-14) and Logan Day (3-11-14) share the Bears’ playoff scoring lead, while no Hershey skater has scored more than five goals this postseason... Monday’s game was the second time this postseason that Hunter Shepard (13-6, 2.32, .910) was lifted from a start; after being pulled in Game 1 of the conference finals against Rochester, he responded with a shutout in Game 2...

Coachella Valley has won seven straight home games, scoring a total of 35 goals, and has outscored Hershey 14-2 in three games at Acrisure Arena... The Bears are 0-3 on the road in the Finals after going 6-0 away from home in their first three series... The Firebirds, who are setting a record tonight with their 26th game of the postseason, are also the first team in AHL history to play four winner-take-all games in a single playoff... The Firebirds are 7-for-25 (28.0 percent) on the power play in the series, including 5-for-15 at home... The Bears are 3-for-23 in the series (13.0 percent), including 0-for-8 on the road... With a seventh sellout tonight, the 2023 Finals will be the second-most attended championship series (72,484) in league history, behind only the 2009 Finals between Hershey and Manitoba (77,038)...

This is the eighth series in Calder Cup Playoffs history in which the home team has won each of the first six games; those home teams are 4-3 in the previous Game 7’s... All five Coachella Valley wins when facing elimination have come on home ice, by a cumulative score of 25-11... The 2001 Providence Bruins are the only team in AHL history to win six elimination games in a single postseason, doing so over three rounds before falling in the conference finals...

The last team to win the Calder Cup in its inaugural season was the 1993-94 Portland Pirates; Bears head coach Todd Nelson was a defenseman on that team, and Firebirds head coach Dan Bylsma was a forward on the Moncton Hawks squad that fell to Portland in the Finals... Bylsma, who won the 2009 Stanley Cup championship with Pittsburgh on a Game 7 victory over Detroit, is bidding to become the ninth head coach ever to win titles in both the AHL and NHL... Nelson, who led Grand Rapids to a championship in 2017, is looking to join AHL Hall of Famers Bun Cook and John Paddock as the only head coaches to win Calder Cups with two different teams... The Bears are vying for their 12th Calder Cup, and their fourth since affiliating with the Washington Capitals in 2005-06...

In addition to streaming free on AHLTV, tonight’s game will air live on NHL Network, NBC Sports Washington and Root Sports Northwest, and can be heard on SiriusXM NHL Network Radio.

Tonight’s game is the 193rd winner-take-all game, the 97th playoff Game 7 and the 12th Calder Cup Finals Game 7 in AHL history... Home teams are 55-41 (.573) all-time in Game 7’s, including 8-3 in the Finals... Teams are 76-20 (.792) in Game 7’s when scoring first... Eighteen Game 7’s have gone to overtime, most recently the 2016 Atlantic Division Finals when Hershey defeated Wilkes-Barre/Scranton... The only Calder Cup Finals Game 7 to go to overtime was in 1953, when the Cleveland Barons defeated the Pittsburgh Hornets, 1-0, on a goal by Bob Chrystal... This is the Firebirds’ fourth winner-take-all game this postseason, but their first Game 7... The Bears are 9-9 all-time in Game 7’s.

Winner-take-all games in Calder Cup Finals history:

Game 7 – June 14, 2018 at Toronto – Toronto Marlies 6, Texas Stars 1
Game 7 – June 12, 2003 at Hamilton – Houston Aeros 3, Hamilton Bulldogs 0
Game 7 – June 13, 1996 at Rochester – Rochester Americans 2, Portland Pirates 1
Game 7 – May 29, 1992 at St. John’s – Adirondack Red Wings 5, St. John’s Maple Leafs 2
Game 7 – May 23, 1987 at Sherbrooke – Rochester Americans 4, Sherbrooke Canadiens 2
Game 7 – May 1, 1963 at Buffalo – Buffalo Bisons 6, Hershey Bears 2
Game 7 – April 16, 1953 at Cleveland – Cleveland Barons 1, Pittsburgh Hornets 0 (OT)*
Game 7 – April 21, 1951 at Cleveland – Cleveland Barons 3, Pittsburgh Hornets 1
Game 7 – April 17, 1949 at Providence – Providence Reds 4, Hershey Bears 2
Game 7 – April 15, 1947 at Hershey – Hershey Bears 5, Pittsburgh Hornets 0
Game 7 – April 14, 1946 at Buffalo – Buffalo Bisons 5, Cleveland Barons 2
Game 5 – April 5, 1942 at Indianapolis – Indianapolis Capitals 8, Hershey Bears 3
Game 5 – April 10, 1941 at Cleveland – Cleveland Barons 3, Hershey Bears 2 (OT)*
*overtime period was not sudden death

The Calder Cup is named for Frank Calder, the first president of the NHL (1917-43) and one of the driving forces behind the formation of the American Hockey League.

While the AHL’s history dates back to the fall of 1936, the Calder Cup trophy was first awarded in 1938 to the Providence Reds for winning the second International-American Hockey League championship. In 1996, George Parsons of the Syracuse Stars was presented the Calder Cup in a ceremony at the Onondaga County War Memorial; it is believed the Stars never received a trophy for their 1937 championship.

In 2001, the trophy’s base was changed to include two tiers of plaques, which feature the rosters of each of the last 20 Calder Cup champions; the plaques from the first 64 champions are on display in the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. The entire trophy now stands 24 inches tall and weighs 25 pounds. The bowl, made of sterling silver, is 12 inches high and eight inches in diameter; the base is made of Brazilian mahogany.

Bears head coach Todd Nelson always wants more, win or lose.

So the three-time Calder Cup champion offered no conciliatory words for his players following Hershey’s 5-2 loss in Game 6 on Monday night. Nelson is an easygoing, player-friendly coach, but only so long as the on-ice standard remains high.

Nelson knows that the Bears can — and must — give more tonight if they are to lift the Calder Cup. They have gone 0-3 at Acrisure Arena and been outscored 14-2. As was the case in Games 1 and 2, ill-timed penalties and defensive-zone breakdowns doomed the Bears’ chances in Game 6.

“We weren’t very good,” Nelson said, shooing away any excuses. “Look at their fifth goal. Our coverage was horrible. Once again, it’s a wake-up call. We can’t be giving up four or five goals.

“We need more guys paying the price. Some guys didn’t, and it’s evident. Against a team like this, you can’t have passengers.”

Fortunately for the Bears, they defended their own home ice with three wins at Giant Center, meaning it still takes just one road win to take the series. And this is not the first time that they have found themselves in a bind. After all, they trailed the Finals two games to none before they even scored their first goal of the series. They have shown that they can extract themselves from these situations.

“We have to learn to overcome some adversity,” Nelson said. “We have all year.”

Even one win at Hershey, and the Firebirds could have already been going home for the summer after hoisting the Calder Cup. That did not happen, of course, but they saw the silver lining.

The Firebirds have a chance to win the Calder Cup at home tonight, in front of their fans. Typically head coaches do not go into the dressing room following a loss, but Dan Bylsma changed course following a 1-0 overtime defeat in Game 5 that put the club’s season in peril.

“I want to go back to Game 5 on the road,” AHL leading playoff scorer Kole Lind said following Game 6. “[We] all were obviously hanging our heads. [Bylsma] was the first one into the room telling us to keep our chins up. Three hard road games, and they played well, but we’re winning this thing at home.

“That’s the attitude we’ve had ever since then. We executed our game plan. I think everyone was excited, but the job’s not finished.”

Indeed it is not. Lind and the Firebirds have a Bears-sized obstacle standing between them and the Calder Cup tonight. But just as they have done five times already this season when facing elimination, they expect to emerge victorious.

“It will be the most electric game in my life,” Lind said.

Patrick Williams