After having an extremely exciting and grueling, regular and post seasons, it all comes down to this: The Texas Stars will play the defending champion Hershey Bears in the 2009-10 Calder Cup Finals. Although it is very cliché, this series truly will be a David vs. Goliath battle. The series begins in Hershey, PA, on June 3, where the big, bad Bears will play host to the ‘Cinderella’ Stars. Although, most expected Hershey to be in this position (myself included), besides their fans, no one could have predicted Texas getting to the finals. Even in my previous Calder Cup Playoff preview, I picked the Stars to get bounced in the first round by the Rockford Icehogs. Yet, before I eat all the humble pie, the Stars still have to climb one final mountain to reach that glorious summit. That mountain is Hershey.
HERSHEY: HOW THEY GOT HERE
Now, I’m not going to say that Hershey had it easy but it seemed to be a ‘stroll through the park’ with these first few rounds. The Bears were the highest scoring team in the regular season, so why wouldn’t they be able to continue their steady-handed sniping through the playoffs? When you can net 51 goals through the first three rounds of the playoffs, you must be doing something right.
Round 1: Hershey VS Bridgeport
Hershey takes the series 4-1. It was expected that the Sound Tigers had no chance. I picked them to get swept by the Bears but they were able to squeak out a victory in Game 4, to help keep their hopes (and morale) alive.
Round 2: Hershey VS Albany
Hershey sweeps the series 4-0. After Albany thoroughly dismantled the W.B. Scranton Penguins in four games, the Bears did exactly the same to them in the second round. Hershey swept the River Rats in four straight games by scoring 21 goals over the course of the series. To their credit, Albany did put up quite a fight, keeping it close by losing three of the four games by a one-goal margin.
Round 3: Hershey VS Manchester
Hershey takes the series 4-2. Now, if there was any team that had the ability to knock out the defending champs, it would have been the Monarchs. With the exception of the first game, every subsequent game was decided by one goal, with four of those games going to overtime. That series should give hope to Stars fans because it shows us that good goaltending in the difference between moving on or packing up when it comes to the playoffs.
TEXAS: HOW THEY GOT HERE
The Stars have a lot to be proud of this post-season because they have been the giant killers during this playoff run. Just like the Montreal Canadiens did before getting beaten by the Flyers this year; the Stars have taken down some of the would-be, top contenders for the Calder Cup. The Bears better be ready because Texas has a very high-powered offense as well and has the ability to score 4+ goals in a game.
Round 1: Texas VS Rockford
Texas sweeps the series 4-0. Yeah, I know that I said Rockford would win in seven games and that Texas would get beat…I may be embarrassed but not surprised. The Stars played very solid defense in this series and followed it up with a stellar counter attack, helping to put every game away early against the Icehogs.
Round 2: Texas VS Chicago
Texas wins in seven games 4-3. Now, the events of this series did shock me. Texas went toe-to-toe with the Chicago Wolves and after going to the seventh and final game, were able to knock out on of the favorites in this tournament. This back and forth series made for a lot of excitement for hockey fans, especially when game seven goes to overtime, winner takes all. Again, solid defense and the ability to put pucks in the net helped Texas seal this series.
Round 3: Texas VS Hamilton
Texas wins yet another seven game series 4-3. If Chicago was a lackey, Hamilton was the big boss. Hamilton was the second highest scoring team in the league this year and practically destroyed any team they played this regular or post-season. But, people (including myself) keep underestimating Texas and they took it to Hamilton like no one could have expected. After going down 0-2 in the series, Texas stormed back to tie the series at 2-2. The next three games were back and forth until the Stars took Game 7, 4-2.
WHO TO WATCH?
With offense aplenty, LW Alexandre Giroux leads the Bears with 12 goals and 9 assists through 15 games played during the playoffs. LW Chris Bourque has tallied 7 goals and 16 assists through the 15 games that the Bears have played. Other notable players: C Keith Aucoin has only 1 goal but 18 assists and RW Andrew Gordon has racked up 10 goals and 5 assists.
Much of the success that Texas has been having is due to the play of a few of their rookies. Rookie forward Jamie Benn leads the playoffs in points with 14 goals and 10 assists. Another rookie who is turning some head this post season is C Travis Morin. Morin has 3 goals and 10 assists during his first playoff run. Other notable players: D Andrew Hutchinson has been on lockdown mode when it comes to his defensive play but still has found that scoring touch, marking 4 goals and 11 assists.
WHO WILL WIN?
As I predicted from the beginning of the season and throughout the year, there has been no team that could touch the Hershey Bears and I believe this year is no different. The Bears are too deep and too powerful a force when it comes to offense. Texas has to hope that rookie G Michal Neuvirth gets caught up in the bright lights and doesn’t show up in the finals. Texas can score goals in bursts but Hershey can score at will.
Calder Cup Finals: Hershey wins the series 4-2, earning the Bears their 11th championship in team history.