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The finals are full of stories |

Patrick Features Writer

Dan Bylsma he knows a good story when he sees one.

It’s mid-June, and Bylsma’s Coachella Valley Firebirds are battling their new cross-country rival, the Hershey Bears, for the Calder Cup.


The AHL’s top franchise is pitted against its juniors. Two fans ranked in the top five in the regular season. Exciting new prospects and accomplished veterans. Stanley Cup champion Bylsma – who will leave the Seattle Kraken head coaching job after the series – was compared to his teammate Hershey. Todd Nelson, a four-time Calder Cup winner. Last year’s MVP Hunter Shepard again Chris Driedgertop two goals in the AHL.

The story of last year’s Finals is well written. The Firebirds opened with back-to-back wins on home ice, shutting out the Bears 5-0 and 4-0. Hershey rebounded to take three straight at home, including two overtime victories. Coachella Valley responded with a Game 6 victory back at Acrisure Arena and opened up a 2-0 lead in Game 7. Then came the goals of the first-round pick Washington Capitals. Connor McMichael again Hendrix Lapierre tie the game, too Mike Vecchione clinched the streak at 16:19 of overtime.

It was the Bears’ league record 12th Calder Cup title. The Firebirds are only in their second season, but they aren’t hungry for a championship of their own.

Choose a story. This series has one for all hockey fans. Game 1 is tonight at the Giant Center, and opens the next chapter of this Firebirds-Bears rivalry.

“The reporters can tell you that,” Bylsma said yesterday following a quick practice at the Giant Center. “Looking at history…it feels like the writers brought us back here after a year.

“We’re getting a rematch.”

The Firebirds, who finished second in the AHL to Hershey in the regular season with 103 points, advanced to Calgary, Ontario and Milwaukee to return to the finals. After dropping their playoff opener against the Wranglers, they have rattled off nine straight and enter this series having won 10 of their last 11.

Hershey took a very different approach, however. After posting a 53-win regular season and a .771 hitting percentage, the second-best such mark in AHL history, the Bears rolled to a 9-1 start with series wins over Lehigh Valley and Hartford and a 3-0 lead in the East. Conference Finals against Cleveland. But the Monsters pulled Hershey into a battle that nearly ended the Bears’ bid for repeat champs, taking the next three games and rallying to force overtime in Game 7 (their fourth third-period comeback at the Giant Center in the series). Garrett Roe eventually defeated the Monsters in OT to set up a rematch with Coachella Valley.

“I can honestly say that no matter how it went, we were doing well by going to overtime in Game 6 and overtime in Game 7,” Bylsma joked. “That’s a journey they have to take [here], and that is their story. We’ve been hanging on…but when the goal went in, you know our team was watching and we knew we were going to play Hershey.”

Both clubs look different from last season. For one, he has an outstanding goalkeeper Joey Daccord moved from the Firebirds to a starting role in Seattle. His replacement is Driedger, who has been outstanding this postseason. Forward Shane Wright, the fourth overall pick in the 2022 NHL Draft, went through a breakout season last season before starting his rookie pro season in the fall. Rookie goes forward Logan Morrison again Ryan Winterton they followed the regular seasons with playoff offerings. Devin Shorethe Firebirds’ leading scorer, was in Edmonton last season, and a defenseman Cale Fleury he played in just 12 games for Seattle last year.

For Hershey, protector Chase Priskieforward Pierrick Dube again Alex Limogesand a first-round pick Ivan Miroshnichenko have been important additions. They’ve heard all the stories about last season’s championship, and they want to see for themselves.

The series with Cleveland was a seven-game battle, but for Dube, who spent last season with the Laval Rocket, his biggest struggle may have come after Game 7. Speaking is not easy after losing “five or six” teeth, after all. .

Dube had missed the last three games after taking the game Ethan Frank shot in the face, he was forced to sit and watch each painful loss to the Beasts. The outcome was dire, including major oral surgery. But he wasn’t ready to watch his season slide without being able to help out on the ice, and after Game 6 Dube went to Todd Nelson and told him he was playing Game 7. It seems like a small request from the undrafted 23-year-old, who had to work from in the ECHL, overcame some doubts about him (he’s 5-foot-9, 172 pounds), and played his first three NHL games this season with Washington.

“I wanted to make a difference,” said Dube, struggling not to hide his words amid the damage to his teeth that was still very visible. “We play hockey these days.”

Firebirds ahead Andrew PoturalskiCalder Cup finalist for the fourth time, he was not surprised to draw the Bears again.

“We still have a bitter taste in our mouth from last year, but we don’t think about it,” said Poturalski. “But it feels like we’ve got a little unfinished business with this team, and we’ve had a great season so far, but nothing really matters other than the trophy.

“We’re all busy and ready to go.”

Protector of the Firebirds Connor Carrick looking for his first Calder Cup title. Drafted by Washington in 2012, he spent parts of his first three seasons with Hershey and then with the Bears while playing for the Toronto Marlies in the 2016 Eastern Conference Finals.

“We are very happy,” said Carrick. “Personally, I have some great memories here at Hershey.”

Carrick wasn’t a part of last year’s trip, but he had to do his part this year for the Firebirds to be able to repeat and face Hershey.

“It was really difficult. I think as a team we knew we had a good team, a lot of similarities. We talked about how high our expectations were, and we didn’t hide it from them. We just knew. The program we had was really high quality. The players we have to kill are very high quality.

“At the end of the day, (last year’s finals) came down to Game 7 and a loose puck. He wants those opportunities as well, and I think you’re seeing it in the NHL a lot over the last few years. Your job is to show up. You just increase the face of your luck. Maybe it goes your way. Maybe it doesn’t. I think there is freedom in that.”

Said Wright, “We’re expecting a long series. We are waiting for a new series from these guys. They are here for a reason. They are an unbelievable team, so it will be a battle. We are very happy about it.”

Fifty-two weeks later, these elite clubs are on one another’s calendars. The Calder Cup is on the line. Either the Bears get their titles back, or the Firebirds snatch them away. Either way, those storylines will only build.

Said Poturalski, “I think it’s a fitting end.”

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