Friday will see the start of the conference finals in the Calder Cup with the winners of each series going onto face off for the chance to lift the trophy. The Eastern conference division finals saw the Toronto Marlies triumph over the Cleveland Monsters in a straight 4-0 series. Hershey Bears were defeated by the Charlotte Checkers, in the same manner, setting up the Eastern division final. Whilst the Western conference division finals saw the Iowa Wild beaten 4-2 by the Chicago Wolves and Bakersfield Condors miss out; 4-2 to the San Diego Gulls.
Eastern Conference Final Preview
The raining Calder Cup champions, the Toronto Marlies continued to look strong in the postseason as they defeated the Cleveland Monsters in an emphatic 4-0 series. Monsters came into the contest looking strong and seeming to have hit form at the perfect time; entering this next round off the back of having defeated the division champions, Syracuse Crunch in a 3-1 series.
Toronto Marlies are the affiliate team of the NHL Toronto Maple Leafs who have a number of injuries at present; many of which do not look to be returning in the immediate future. Therefore the doors have been thrown wide open for a number of current Marlies players to become part of the Maples Leafs training camp in a few months time. It has been suggested that up to seven current Marlies players could not only attend camp but crack the Maple Leafs line up next year; players will be keen to showcase their best as the AHL season draws to a close.
Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe also makes no secret of his passion and drive to succeed, he too has a desire to one day be a part of the NHL. Although it would appear for now he is happy to stay with the Marlies, he is also keen to demonstrate his abilities.
You can’t help but feel how this combination of factors adds up, the current Marlies team looks very tough to beat and the Calder Cup could end up staying put in Toronto. Marlies seem more than capable of going all the way…. again.
The Checkers look set to head into the conference finals well rested following a quick 4-0 series sweep over the Hershey Bears. Head Coach Mike Vellucci allowed players two full rest days during the nine-day break before the next round. This break has allowed for injured players such as Tomas Jurco and Andrew Poturalsk to return back to training. Clark Bishop and Roland McKeown are also said to have joined practice wearing yellow no-contact jerseys.
The current team has a winning combination, experience, and youth in the dressing room. Alongside this when you watch the team, they seem to have confidence in each other as well as a desire to play for each other.
Charlotte went 0-1-2 against Toronto in the regular season. Both teams are playing good postseason hockey, therefore the teams match up well with Charlotte holding the slight goaltending advantage. This next round will be possibly the hardest challenge to date for the Checkers but its not an impossible task.
(A1) Charlotte Checkers vs. (N3) Toronto Marlies
|May 17||Toronto Marlies||7:00 p.m.||Charlotte Checkers|
|May 18||Toronto Marlies||6:00 p.m.||Charlotte Checkers|
|May 21||Charlotte Checkers||7:00 p.m.||Toronto Marlies|
|May 23||Charlotte Checkers||7:00 p.m.||Toronto Marlies|
|May 24||Charlotte Checkers||7:00 p.m.||Toronto Marlies|
|May 26||Toronto Marlies||7:00 p.m.||Charlotte Checkers|
|May 28||Toronto Marlies||7:00 p.m.||Charlotte Checkers|
|Fixture dates in italics only to be played if necessary.|
Western Conference Finals Preview
(C1) Chicago Wolves vs. (P3) San Diego Gulls
|May 17||San Diego Gulls||8:00 p.m.||Chicago Wolves|
|May 18||San Diego Gulls||8:00 p.m.||Chicago Wolves|
|May 22||Chicago Wolves||10:00 p.m.||San Diego Gulls|
|May 24||Chicago Wolves||10:00 p.m.||San Diego Gulls|
|May 25||Chicago Wolves||10:00 p.m.||San Diego Gulls|
|May 27||San Diego Gulls||8:00 p.m.||Chicago Wolves|
|May 29||San Diego Gulls||8:00 p.m||Chicago Wolves|
|Fixture dates in italics only to be played if necessary.|
This Chicago team is built to go far, with superior veteran leadership, great youth in guys like Kolesar, Glass and Hague and the ability to play well on both sides of the puck; previous injuries of Carr and Kolesar seem to no longer be an issue. Tye McGinn, Curtis McKenzie and Tomas Hyka are all in the top fifteen in scoring through the second round of the playoffs with eight points. Cody Glass, Vegas’ No. eight overall pick from the 2017 NHL Entry Draft, is not far behind with seven points, and Daniel Carr is tied with him.
With Oscar Dansk between the pipes, who has played for the Wolves NHL affiliate Vegas Golden Knights this season, and he has been a constant performer; even in the previous round losses, Dansk only conceded four goals in total. The defense has played a large part in this with wolves averaging only 24.5 shots against per game going into the next round. Wolves also boast the best penalty kill in the Central Division with a 79.3% success rate – this may be key when San Diego Gulls are running the hottest power play in the postseason.
San Diego Gulls
The Gulls beat division winners the Bakersfield Condors 4-2 over the six-game series to gain a place in the conference finals. The Gulls continued to post high goal numbers with a total of 25 goals scored for them in the previous six games.
Adam Cracknell and Sam Carrick are shining in the postseason both boasting healthy goals and assists, putting them as the points scorers from the four teams left in the competition. Cracknell has played nine games with 12 points from six goals and six assists. Whilst Carrick has played 10 games also with a total of 12 points from five goals and seven assists.
Head coach, Dallas Eakins and his team will head into the conference finals for the first time in the clubs history following a 4-2 series victory over division winners the Bakersfield Condors. In the ten games played in the first two rounds, the Gulls have a collective total of 42 goals. Netminder Jeff Glass has a 2.25 GAA, SV% of .920%; the team seems to have the complete package to challenge the Wolves.
With the Gulls NHL affiliate team Anaheim Ducks not progressing into the Stanley Cup playoffs, the Gulls seem to be growing an ever-increasing fan base as many Ducks fans turn to the Calder Cup for their postseason hockey fix. This is the first appearance by an Anaheim Ducks affiliate at this stage of the Calder Cup since 2008 when the previous affiliate Portland Pirates appeared. Heading into game six of round two the club had already set a new record for postseason wins.
My Predictions for the Calder Cup Conference Finals
Eastern Conference, my heart and my head say the Toronto Marlies, the team is coming into top form when it matters following a reasonably consistent season. For a large number of players, it may be the end of their time in the AHL as they are given a chance to progress into the top flight NHL. After this year it may take the team a long time to again challenge for a chance of back to back cup wins.
Western Conference, my heart says San Diego Gulls but my head says the Chicago Wolves. I have developed a growing affiliation to the Gulls as the season has progressed, they narrowly missed out on home ice advantage in the first round of the Calder Cup to the San Jose Barracuda when they beat them in the death of the regular season but the team are plucky and just seem to have something about them. Chicago, however, is the division champion and for good reason, they have defeated strong teams already to be in the conference final and seem to have the edge.
Feature image credit: www.theahl.com