With things quiet silent in our own camp -for now- let’s look back at our league. The 2018 AHL Calder Cup Finals begin tomorrow night and it will feature the Toronto Marlies and Texas Stars. The Marlies have home ice advantage for the occasion and are looking to claim their first Calder Cup trophy. The Stars will be looking to claim their second Calder Cup in five seasons.
For the Marlies? This has been a long time coming. It feels they have long been a master class during the regular season for seasons now but just manage to fall short of reaching the Finals.
This is the Marlies second Calder Cup Finals appearance and first since the 2012 Calder Cup Finals when they were swept by the Norfolk Admirals. From the 2013-14 season forward the Marlies have had a 0.658 points percentage and won the North Division three times – once while it was in the Western Conference and twice since it shifted to the Eastern Conference.
The Stars won the Calder Cup in 2014 and this is their third Calder Cup Finals appearance. Since winning the Calder Cup it hasn’t really been the greatest of times for Texas. They made the playoffs that following season only to get swept out of the opening round by the Rockford IceHogs, made the playoffs the season after that and lost in four-games to the San Diego Gulls in the opening round, and -the season after that- they didn’t make the playoffs at all. So, looking at the path they’ve been on, major credit can and probably should be given to head coach Derek Laxdal on getting the ship pointed in the right direction and seeing good player development along the way.
For those wondering. Both Andrew O’Brien and Tyler Kelleher have yet to play a game during this playoff run for the Stars. In fact, neither have played since the second to last game of the regular season. I suspect that happens when the parent club doesn’t make the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
Kelleher’s entry to the Stars on the trade that sent Mark McNeill our way was a tough one for him. He had missed more than a month’s worth of action prior to being traded due to a lower-body injury sustained in practice. He got one game back with the Admirals and was traded the very next day. His time with the Stars saw him getting only 3 points (2 goals, 1 assists) in 13 games. His shooting percentage falling from 21.9% in Milwaukee to 10.5% in Texas.
There was already a decent amount of forward depth as is for the Stars. They were already sitting McNeill out due to the veteran minimum upon his departure from the Stars. But, as for Kelleher getting involved in the playoffs, once a guy like Remi Elie shows up from the NHL the depth has improved to the point it’s not really likely he’ll get a game. Elie had only played 4 games in the AHL this season but logged 72 games in the NHL where he recorded 14 points (6 goals, 8 assists). He has tallied 7 points (2 goals, 5 assists) in 12 appearances in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
O’Brien played 16 games with the Stars in the regular season and was able to produce 6 points (3 goals, 3 assists) in that time. He only managed 3 assists from 21 games with the Admirals prior to being traded. The Stars have had Dillon Heatherington back for the playoff run and the parent club signed 21-year old defenseman John Nyberg ahead of the playoffs. It just made things that much trickier for O’Brien to factor in.
Texas isn’t the lone team in the Finals with former Admirals on the roster. Toronto has a pair.
Chris Mueller, who won a Calder Cup with the Stars in 2014, has enjoyed yet another productive AHL season. In 73 games the 32-year old provided the Marlies with 52 points (19 goals, 33 assists). So far in these playoffs he has 10 points (2 goals, 8 assists) in 13 games.
Rich Clune, who was an alternate captain for the Marlies in the regular season, hasn’t played a game in the playoffs. Clune had 4 points (3 goals, 1 assist) in 47 games this past season. He has yet to win a Calder Cup in his career.
If I were forced to take a pick on this year’s Calder Cup Finals? I would be shocked if Toronto doesn’t win. I wouldn’t be shocked if it was a sweep, but I also wouldn’t be shocked after the way the Stars battled through the IceHogs if this series runs deep. I’d go Marlies in six-games -but- it would be fun to see our friends at 100 Degree Hockey have something big to write about for the coming weeks.
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