2014 Calder Cup Finals
St. John’s IceCaps vs. Texas Stars
St. John’s IceCaps: 46-23-5-8, 11-5-0 in playoffs, 258 goals scored & 47 in playoffs; 207 goals against & 28 in playoffs. Texas Stars: 48-18-3;11-5-0 in playoffs, 274 goals scored & 53 in playoffs; 197 goals against & 39 in playoffs.
The Calder Cup semifinals wrapped up last night in stunning blowout fashion as Eastern Conference champion St. John’s and Western Conference champion Texas each scored convincing knock out victories over their opponents. The IceCaps took Game Six 5-0 over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, while Stars stormed through Game Seven 6-2 over Toronto, which had yet to lose prior to the conference finals.
Heading into the championship series both franchises have short histories in the American Hockey League. Texas arrived in the Austin area for the 2009-2010 campaign, as the new incarnation of the Iowa Chops. Meanwhile, St. John’s joined the AHL for 2011-2012 as the minor league affiliate of Winnipeg. The city had been home to the Manitoba Moose, but that franchise needed to skip town after the arrival of the Jets. Despite incredible success on the ice and at the ticket office during its first three years, the AHL’s only Atlantic Canada franchise is likely on the move soon. Winnipeg would prefer to relocate the team to Thunder Bay, Ontario, and other teams would prefer not making the trip to St. John’s.
All season I have been grossly underestimating Texas, the highest scoring team in the west and arguably the most veteran team in the league. A couple of familiar former Admirals, Chris Mueller and Kevin Henderson are key contributors for the club. Mueller, who played in nine games for Dallas, including four playoff games this spring, has five goals and eight points in 14 post season contest, while Henderson has six points in 16.
Travis Morin is still the key cog, who along with fellow veteran Mike Hedden lead the team with 15 playoff points each. Two others with plenty of NHL games on their resume are also key contributors, defenseman Derek Meech (notably with Detroit) and forward Dustin Jeffrey (notably with Pittsburgh). Goaltending duties have been shared by prospect Jack Campbell and veteran Christopher Nilstorp, but the big Swede (9-4-0, 2.14 G.A.A., .914 S.P.) was the team’s go-to option against the Marlies.
With a roster also light on rookies, St. John’s most dangerous trio has been recent Chicago Wolves forward Andrew Gordon (team-leading 16 points), top prospect Eric O’Dell (team-leading nine goals) and 32-year-old Jason Jaffray (10 points). Much like Toronto, the IceCaps really excel in their transition game, with three pace pushers in Will O’Neill (team-leading 11 assists), Zach Redmond and 2013 first-round pick Josh Morrissey starring on the blue line. Former Boston Bruins third-rounder Michael Hutchinson has been dynamite in goal for the Newfoundlanders (11-5-0, 1.61 G.A.A., .946 S.P.), and could easily be the playoff’s MVP.
If the Stars have enough in the tank, they should be favored in this series considering their goal scoring prowess, veteran roster and home dominance in the playoffs — six wins in eight games on home ice this post season. The IceCaps also went 6-2-0 on home ice during the playoffs, and could turn around the series with two or three wins on the island in front of its rabid fan base. Hutchinson could be the key in a potential upset.
So far I’ve been wrong about the Stars in the first round and wrong about them in the Western finals. I don’t think I will be here. I see Texas winning its first ever Calder Cup, four years after losing in the finals, with a six-game decision this June.
Bonus Stanley Cup Finals Prediction
So Roundtable . . . Who do you have in the Calder Cup and Stanley Cup Finals? Who are your MVPs? Are you rooting for Texas due to the Mueller/Henderson connections?