Daccord, Firebirds in familiar spot tonight

Photo: Daniel Stopani

📝 by Patrick Williams

Do-or-die hockey is not only familiar to the Coachella Valley Firebirds, goaltender Joey Daccord says that it is comfortable.

“It’s been great to feel like our backs are up against the wall and then come out on top,” said Daccord, who is 3-0 in elimination games this postseason. “I think when you go through those experiences, that’s when you really see what your team’s made of.”

Well, Daccord and the Firebirds will be back on the brink tonight when they settle the best-of-five Pacific Division finals with the Calgary Wranglers. And just like their three previous win-or-go-home tests, Coachella Valley will be in front of their home fans at Acrisure Arena, where they are 29-8-1-2 since opening the building in December.

The Firebirds have responded well to high-pressure hockey this postseason. They stared down elimination in their best-of-three first-round series with Tucson and buried the Roadrunners with four goals in the opening 7:22 en route to a 5-1 victory. In the division semifinals against Colorado, they eked out a 4-3 decision in Game 4 before Daccord led them to a 5-0 shutout win in Game 5.

The AHL’s two newest clubs quickly built a rivalry this season, splitting their eight regular-season meetings and fighting until the last game of the regular season for first place overall in the league.

“So far we’ve done an incredible job of being resilient and playing well at the right times, and I think that’s shown through our success so far,” Daccord said.

Daccord, who ranked fifth in the AHL in both GAA (2.38) and save percentage (.918) in posting a record of 26-8-3 during the regular season, has been even better in the playoffs. Starting all 12 of the Firebirds’ games so far, Daccord owns a 1.88 GAA and a .942 save percentage and in this series, he has given Coachella Valley a goaltender capable of matching up with Calgary counterpart Dustin Wolf, who was the AHL’s most valuable player and named the league’s top goaltender for the second consecutive season.

But Daccord says that he does not pay much thought to who is in Calgary’s net.

“Honestly, I don’t really think about it,” Daccord said. “I just try to focus on myself and our team. I’m just trying to do my part to help the team win.”

A 2015 draft pick by Ottawa, Daccord came to the Seattle Kraken via the 2021 NHL expansion draft after beginning his pro career in the Senators organization. The Boston native spent last season with the Charlotte Checkers, where current Firebirds head coach Dan Bylsma served as an assistant in a shared affiliation with the Florida Panthers.

“He’s an interesting guy,” Daccord said of the former Jack Adams Award winner and Stanley Cup champion. “He’s very genuine. He’s honest. He’s up front with us. He also expects a lot from us, demands a lot, holds us accountable. I think a big thing with him is he just puts us in the right mindset to go out and play our best every night, and that’s a huge part of being a coach.

“He has instilled a lot of belief in ourselves and our group. We have a lot of confidence that we can play with anyone. He cares so deeply about all of us and our team, our success, and our individual success. He’s one of my favorite coaches I’ve ever had, and I am just really grateful to have him on our team.”

Bylsma and the Firebirds have developed a tight bond between themselves, as well as with the club’s fervent fan base getting its first taste pro hockey in the area. Tonight’s game represents an opportunity to further that bond, and the club will need some of Daccord’s best work yet to keep their inaugural season moving along in their pursuit of the Calder Cup.

“It’s been so much fun this year,” Daccord said. “It’s been so fun competing night in and night out with this group.”