The 78th AHL Calder Cup was one of the most entertaining series going five games as the Texas Stars won their first-ever title in the franchise’s second Calder Cup final. The game-winning goal against the St. John’s IceCaps was scored by Swedish defenceman Patrik Nemeth. The goal was a thing of beauty surprising his coach and teammates alike.
Nemeth, who scored four goals in the regular season in just 37 games coming down from the NHL’s Dallas Stars, came up the right wing side on a rush, cut to the middle reversing his play by faking St. John’s defenceman Jordan Hill, then went to his backhand, had body position on Will O’Neill and lifted the puck perfectly over the outstretched glove of IceCaps goalie Michael Hutchinson’s into the top corner of the net at 14:30 to give Texas their championship.
It was Nemeth’s only goal of the playoffs.
“I thought it was (Travis) Morin when he went to the backhand like that, I thought it had to be Morin since I knew he was on the ice, too,” Stars head coach Willie Desjardins said. “That’s such a good move I didn’t even think it could be him at first,” he told the Austin-Statesman
The Jack A. Butterfield playoff MVP was Travis Morin, who had two overtime-winning goals and 22 points in 20 post-season games – and assisted on Nemeth’s game winner. Morin won the regular season league scoring title and was regular season MVP too. The Minnesotan had a hand in all four game-winning goals in the final series.
“This one is obviously more special than the regular-season MVP award. All my teammates, they contributed to this. I didn’t think (Nemeth) had that in him. I was just in disbelief,” Morin said.
The IceCaps nearly sent the series back to Texas but for the acrobatic goaltending of Swedish-born Cristopher Nilstorp in overtime.
A wide open Eric O’Dell at 4:12 of overtime thought he had the game winner from 15 feet out, but Nilstrop’s glove hand said otherwise. They also got some big defensive help when Finnish defenceman Jyrki Jokipakka took out St. John’s Jason Jaffray on a bid coming off the right wing getting his stick on the puck before flipping him over nullifying what looked at first as a potential penalty-shot situation.
The two teams played a furious overtime period. First Texas’ Dustin Jeffrey was denied by Hutchinson at 1:26, then Texas 6’7 Jamie Oleksiak ripped a shot off the knob of Hutchison’s goal stick that just went over the crossbar at 3:27.
After an O’Dell’s chance Blair Riley was denied by Nilstorp’s blocker pad at 5:05 and Adam Lowry’s left wing corner feed for Andrew Gordon just missed connecting with the wide open St. John’s right winger.
Hutchison, who arguably could have been named playoff MVP despite his team not winning the title, rejected the Texas Stars attempts by Mike Hedden on what would have been a hat trick championship winner at the 7:00 mark not once, but twice the second. At 12:48 Justin Dowling’s right point shot was snared away by Hutchison’s glove.
St. John’s last quality chance came off a give and go with a wide open Jerome Samson, who took the pass back from Kyle MacKinnon, but lost his footing and semi-fanned on his shot as some fans behind the net stood anticipating the game winner.
The starting goalies were a battle of pair who weren’t the team’s starting goalies at the start of the season.
Nilstorp, who finished with a 13-5 record in 19 playoff games and had a 2.17 GAA, stepped into the Texas Stars number one role when the highly touted Jack Campbell, a former Team USA goalie for the U20 and U18 national teams, went down with an injury in Game 5 of the series against the Grand Rapids Griffins.
St. John’s Michael Hutchison, a backup in Providence a year ago, was in Ontario, California (ECHL) when he was recalled on February 8th as St. John’s saw starting goalie Eddie Pasquale opt for a season-ending hip surgery, pushing Hutchinson to the starting role. St. John’s then sent Finnish goalie Jussi Olkinuora to Ontario.
Hutchinson has played so well he got three games in the NHL with the parent Winnipeg Jets at the end of the season. He has been lights out for most of the playoffs finished with a record of 12-9 in 21 games played and a sterling 1.95 GAA. NOTES:
- Texas head coach Willie Desjardins will reportedly be interviewed for the head coaching vacancies in Pittsburgh and Vancouver.
- Morin, Hedden and Nilstorp might be heading to Europe next year. Morin, an eight-year veteran, seems the most likely to go.
- During Game 1 intermission on Leafs TV, AHL President Dave Andrews said the AHL All-Star game next year will again feature an international team. This year it was Sweden’s Farjestad Karlstad with those great dark green uniforms who came to play the AHL All Stars in St. John’s, Newfoundland. This time he is in talks with the Finnish Liiga to send over a team. No venue was announced, but St. John’s or Toronto seem likely candidates and from the U.S. Hershey, Chicago and the newly renovated Cumberland County Civic Center in Portland.
- Four of the last six AHL Calder Cup Finals have been won by the road team.
- St. John’s was in their second final (first as the St. John’s Maple Leafs in the Memorial Auditorium) – all sellout crowds (6,287) each night at the Mile One Centre in Newfoundland that has had 138 straight sellouts.
- The two teams combined for the greatest distance in Calder Cup history of 3,404 miles (5,479 kilometers) covering four time zones: Newfoundland, Atlantic, Eastern and Central.
- St. John’s is 0-7 at home in their two Calder Cup appearances (4-11 overall) in two different buildings 22 years apart. It’s the worst record in the Calder Cup Finals without winning. The defunct New Haven Nighthawks were 2-16.
- The Syracuse Crunch and Binghamton Senators announced they will conduct their AHL training camp in Lyons, France, October 1-5. The local club, Lyon Lions, was promoted to the top tier, Ligue Magnus, this year. A slate of four exhibition games is scheduled to be played at Patinoire Charlemagne.
- Syracuse also announced they will have a regular-season contest to be played at the Carrier Dome arena on the campus of Syracuse University November 22nd against Empire state rival Utica Comets. The all-day event will also feature an NCAA Division III matchup between the Utica College Pioneers team against the Oswego State Lakers.
- Calgary announced minor league head coach Troy G. Ward’ and assistant Robbie Ftorek’ contracts were not renewed. Glens Falls will coach the Flames’ new farm team, the Adirondack Flames.
- Springfield head coach Brad Larsen has been promoted to the assistant coach opening with the Columbus Blue Jackets. Jared Bednar, one his of his assistants, has been named to replace him. Nolan Pratt will remain as an assistant coach and a new assistant will be named this summer.
- AHL players heading to Europe have picked up and will increase with the playoffs now over. The NHL Draft will be held in Philadelphia in a week followed by the free agency and contract renewal process.
- The biggest name so far is one-time AHL MVP Keith Aucoin, who has left the Chicago Wolves and will play for HC Ambri-Piotta in Switzerland. Others include Alexander Urbom (from Albany to Severstal), Darryl Boyce (from Springfield to Jyvaskyla), Andrew Joudrey (from Springfield to Mannheim), Mark Flood (from Charlotte to Zagreb), Mike Murphy (from Charlotte to Dornbirn), Joonas Nattinen (from Hamilton to MODO), David McIntyre (from Grand Rapids to Lappeenranta), Peter LeBlanc (from Hershey to Rogle) and Andre Pettersen (from Norfolk/Binghamton to Sochi).