At long, long last, the 2010 AHL championship tournament has arrived. The Western Conference champion Texas Stars and Eastern Conference champion Hershey B'ars will face off in a best-of-seven series for the privilege of hoisting the Calder Cup.
Scouting Report - Hershey Bears
The 2009-2010 Hershey hockey club has history and heritage in mind as it prepares to contend for a potential (and record-extending) 11th Calder Cup. Hershey's winning tradition began way back in April of 1947...
...and continues right up through June of 2009...
...and certainly most of the current Bears roster remembers that championship feeling quite well, since they were there...
...but to engrave their names on another trophy they will first have to play for it - and prevail.
The Bears arrive at the CCF in fairly good shape, having won the quarterfinals in five games, the semifinals in four, and a hard-fought goalie-duel conference final in six.
Chris Bourque leads the team and is second in the AHL in scoring with a nifty 7-16-23, and Alexandre Giroux leads the team in goals with 12-9-21. Keith Aucoin and Andrew Gordon join Roo and CBo on the League's Top Ten Scorers' list.
Darth Neuvi Michal Neuvirth is 10-2 in 12 games with a 2.13 GAA and a .917 save percentage. He has allowed 27 goals.
An eleven-day layover between the end of the conference final and the beginning of the championship round means that Mathieu Perreault (lower body strain), Patrick McNeill (shoulder), and Andrew Gordon (lower body injury) have had a chance to fully rehab their injuries and return the Bears' lines to their proper compositions. Gordon's absence was especially keenly felt as both the first and second lines experienced difficulty generating offense in the conference finals series and the previously fearsome Hershey power play machine fell nearly silent.
The Bears were able to close out five of their twelve playoff victories in regulation, but had to take seven of them to overtime. The Peerless Prognosticator took a closer look at those games, and at the seven different players who scored a game-winning OT goal:
...the identity of the seven players suggests that the experience gained in a playoff setting can’t be underestimated as a factor dealing with the high-pressure situations that overtimes bring.
The seven players have combined for 385 career playoff games in the AHL and have a combined scoring line of 59-133-192, plus-53 in those games. For the record, here they are with their AHL playoff records…
This is what an overtime, game-winning, conference title-clinching, OMG we're playing for the Calder Cup again! goal looks like:
This happens often, and not by sheer dumb luck, when you are the Hershey Bears.
Scouting Report - Texas Stars
The 2009-2010 Texas Stars have arrived at their first-ever Calder Cup Finals after a four-game sweep of Rockford in the quarterfinals and then two bruising 7-game series against #3 Chicago and #2 Hamilton. This expansion franchise has in recent years gone through several incarnations to arrive at its current status as the Austin-based AHL affiliate of the Dallas Stars.
From the Iowa Stars to the Iowa Chops to the Texas Stars, witness the evolution of a Calder Cup finalist franchise:
Though we must grudgingly admit their print ads were pretty badass:
The Stars' storied playoffs winning tradition began eighteen games ago with the assignment of parent club Dallas Stars' rookie phenom, LW Jamie Benn, following the completion of a 22-goal, 82-game season at the NHL level. His arrival had an immediate impact on the team, and NHL.com took note one game into the semifinal series:
Combining the wonderment of a newcomer and the steeliness of a bill collector, Benn, 20, has been Texas' true gift from above this postseason. After playing the full season with Dallas, where he posted 22 goals and 19 assists in 82 games, he's come to the farm team for a little spring break in the AHL.
Despite having never played a second in the league and knowing almost nothing about the competition, his adjustment period passed in the time it took to find his new rink. He scored in his first AHL contest -- Game 1 of the opening series against Rockford -- and produced 3 goals and 3 assists in the sweep. He then added a goal and an assist in the Stars' 4-3 overtime win in Game 1 of the Wolves series.
Playoff experience? Sure thing. The 6-foot-2, 207-pound Benn will experience putting up points and Texas will experience winning.
And his arrival had an immediate impact on his team's opponents as well. Here's a look at Jamie Benn undressing, out-working, out-muscling, and out-everythinging
Methuselah a wily veteran shutdown defenseman. Chris, meet Jamie.
With fourteen goals and ten assists, Benn leads the AHL in playoff goals and scoring, and has tied the AHL record for playoff goals scored by a rookie.
The Stars are far more than a one-man team. Though Texas' goal scoring drops off fairly sharply after Jamie's gaudy stats, they have 4 players on the Top Twenty Scorers' list, two of them defensemen. They had very good goaltending from their #1 netminder Brent Krahn until he got concussed in Game Six of the semifinals, and Matt Climie stepped in and backstopped them to a Game 7 OT victory (on Benn's GWG in the video above) and then on through the seven-game conference final against the Hamilton Bulldogs. In ten games, Climie is 5-3 with a 2.62 GAA and a .922 save percentage. He has given up 25 goals over the course of the playoffs, and saved 90 of 94 shots over the final two games of the Western Conference finals.
- Penalty watch - Through 18 games, the Stars have amassed 272 PIMs. Through 15 games, the Bears have amassed 252 PIMs.
- Playoff stats for the Texas Stars
- Playoff stats for the Hershey Bears
- Regular season "head-to-head" stats, compiled by the Dallas Stars.
- Texas and Hershey finished the regular season tied in second place for goals against.
- Giroux and Aucoin are knocking on the door of a combined 500 points in two years. They have played 197 games over the past two years (regular season and playoff), and have 203 goals and 290 assists between them. Seven more points in any combination will bring them to 500.
- Hershey led the AHL in attendance during the regular season with an average of 9,520 fans per game, the
league’s fifth-highest total since official numbers were first recorded in 1962-63. In its first season, Texas
ranked 10th with an average of 5,355 fans per game.
- Both teams have made a bit of a habit of trailing by a goal or two when entering the third period and coming back to win.
- The Texas Stars are big. According to their roster, the smallest man on their team is 5'11", 182.
- Jamie Benn and the AHL record book.
- Getting to know ... Perttu Lindgren
- Series preview from the Austin American-Statesman
- Series preview from the official blogger of the Hershey Bears
- Officials for the series will be Terry Koharski (third Finals), Frederic L’Ecuyer (second), Kyle Rehman (second) and David Banfield (first).
- Finally, it's been eleven days. Drop that puck already!