Playoffs a relatively new test for Firebirds’ Shore

Photo: Mike Zitek

Patrick Williams, Features Writer

Devin Shore’s road back to the NHL goes through the Calder Cup Playoffs.

The longer the Coachella Valley Firebirds’ postseason goes, the more opportunity Shore has to make a case for a National Hockey League return.

For Shore, who is in his ninth pro season, this has been his first real extended playoffs. After three seasons at the University of Maine, he turned pro with the Texas Stars in the spring of 2015. He was a full-time NHL player by 2016, playing every game for Dallas over the 2016-17 and 2017-18 seasons. He has since moved on to play for Anaheim, Columbus, Edmonton and Seattle, but Shore spent most of this season with the Firebirds, collecting 25 points (seven goals, 18 assists) in 39 regular-season games.

Shore, who had played only seven playoff games in his career before this spring, has nine points in 10 games this postseason heading into tonight’s Game 4 of the Western Conference Finals, where Coachella Valley will be seeking to wrap up their second consecutive conference championship. In addition to the three games with Texas, Shore played two games for Columbus in the 2020 Toronto bubble and two more with Edmonton in 2021 with no fans in the building due to the pandemic.

But Shore is in a good place now. The Firebirds are a win away from the Calder Cup Finals – and a chance to lift the Calder Cup is increasingly coming into view. He has found strong chemistry skating on a line alongside Marian Studenic and John Hayden; Studenic brings speed to the trio, Hayden offers heavy play and some goal-scoring touch, and Shore can create. It’s a trio that works for head coach Dan Bylsma, combining for 22 points on the postseason.

Through 443 NHL games, there have been plenty of ups and downs. It would be easy for him to look at those shifts from a macro level. Instead he views the game from a game-to-game, period-to-period, shift-to-shift perspective. Nowhere are those swings in fortune more pronounced than in playoff hockey.

“It truly is the most fun time of the year to be playing,” Shore said.

After a loss at Calgary opened their postseason, the Firebirds have spun off nine consecutive wins. But significant obstacles remain between them and the Calder Cup. For one, they still have to find a way to eliminate the always-stubborn Admirals, who have already avoided elimination four times this postseason.

Then if the Firebirds do advance, they would face the winner of the Hershey-Cleveland battle from the Eastern Conference Finals, currently led by the Bears three games to none. If it’s Hershey, the team that ended the Firebirds’ Calder Cup bid in a most painful fashion last year, Coachella Valley would be up against the AHL’s regular-season champions who possess considerable playoff savvy. And if it’s the Monsters? That would mean an opponent that would have fought back to defeat Hershey four times in a row.

“You can get hung up on results pretty quickly,” Shore explained, “and you can draw your confidence from that. It’s something that if you [base] your confidence strictly off results it’s usually not the best plan. And when things go wrong, you have a tough time trying to recenter yourself and get back after it.

“It’s a very emotional game, and momentum is important. There are going to be swings in momentum throughout a game and throughout a series. A lot of times it’s easier said than done. You could try to stay even-keeled and think all the right things, but the teams that put the stuff that doesn’t go right behind them the quickest are usually the guys that experience the most success.”

Shore and the Firebirds will have to put those beliefs to the test again tonight in Milwaukee.

“It’s just having that mindset every day,” Shore added. “Not expecting things to go bad, but knowing that they inevitably will, and you don’t know when they will. Just remembering to believe in the group that we have, believe in yourself, and just keep getting after it.”