Firebirds ready for biggest challenge yet

Photo: Mike Zitek

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

Kole Lind passed along a quick story following Game 5 of the Calder Cup Finals on Saturday night.

A 3-2 loss at Acrisure Arena had put Lind and the Coachella Valley Firebirds on the brink of elimination for the first time this postseason. The Firebirds must win two games in Hershey in order to win the Calder Cup.

It’s a clear-cut, albeit highly demanding, ask for the Firebirds.

Minutes after that Game 5 loss, Lind told reporters, head coach Dan Bylsma poked his head into the dressing room.

“[He said,] ‘We’re going there and grabbing two,’” Lind related.

A visiting team has not skated the Calder Cup in Hershey since Springfield did so in 1961. No team has ever won Games 6 and 7 of the Calder Cup Finals on the road.

“No one said it was going to be easy.” Lind said.

And don’t the Firebirds know it. Last season they lost to the Bears in overtime of Game 7. This time they will have to go into Giant Center – where the Bears are a combined 37-9-0-0 this season – and win twice if they are to wrestle away the Calder Cup from Hershey. But the Firebirds have shown that they can get the job done on the road, where they went an AHL-best 26-5-3-2 (.792) in the regular season; they also took Game 1 of this series at Giant Center. They are a team that makes itself comfortable in uncomfortable environments.

Hershey managed to slow down the up-tempo Coachella Valley attack in Games 4 and 5, holding the Firebirds to an average of 25 shots on goal. Still, Bylsma came away pleased with his team’s play on Saturday, the result notwithstanding.

“I liked a lot of what we did,” Bylsma said in his post-game press conference. “I thought it was a good effort, a complete effort. For this group, our journey has been with a lot of bumps [at] different times. We’ve always responded. We’re going to Hershey to win 6 and 7.”

Bylsma also told his players to pack for their trip to Hershey as if they will be staying there for two games. Tonight will be Coachella Valley’s 90th game of the season. Last year’s team played 98 games. The Firebirds’ core has been through a lot together. And with Bylsma’s promotion to Seattle and the reality that AHL clubs usually undergo substantial offseason change, this week will likely be the final time that much of the group is together.

“I’m really confident in our group that we’re going to come out with a lot of energy and fire for Game 6,” Lind said. “I have no doubt. We grabbed Game 1 there. We’re going to go there, focus on Game 6, grab that one, and move from there.”

“We’ve got nothing to save it for. We’re going to put it all on the line. If we do that, I know our group’s going to come out on top.”