BY: COLLIN SCHUCK
It’s all about the playoffs in the waning editions of the IceRays Alumni Report, and in this 26th edition we’ll preview the Calder Cup Playoffs in the American Hockey League (AHL) and also our continued traverse through the United States Hockey League (USHL) and Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL) postseason action.
The Hershey Bears finished their 2014-15 season on a high-note, winning their final two games and claiming the East Division with a 46-22-5-3 record and one of four teams in the AHL to reach 100 points through 76 games. They just edged the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins by three points while outpacing the Northeast Division Champion Hartford Wolf Pack by five points to grab the second-seed in the Eastern Conference. The Bears have recorded points in seven of their last ten games and go up against a Worcester Sharks team that not only limped their way into the postseason but also could see their final year in Massachusetts end early. Hershey is 2-1-0-1 this season against the Sharks and will start their best-of-five series on Friday in Worcester. With the promotion of goaltender Philipp Grubauer to the Washington Capitals in their Stanley Cup run, Pheonix Copley (’10-’11) is expected to take the helm in net following a very convincing rookie season, earning a 17-4-3 record with a 2.17 goals-against average and a .925 save percentage as a back-up netminder. In his lone game against Worcester on Nov. 1, he picked up his first loss of the year after stopping 23 of 28 shots.
A name you won’t hear in postseason competition is the Lehigh Valley Phantoms, who dropped seven of their last ten games en route to a 33-35-7-1 record to finish out their 2014-15 campaign. The Phantoms haven’t made the Calder Cup Playoffs since their final season in Philadelphia before moving the franchise to Glens Falls, N.Y. That season, they squeezed in as the four-seed from the East Division and were swept by the eventual Calder Cup winners, the Hershey Bears. This also marks the end of the first professional season for goaltender Anthony Stolarz (’11-’12), who finished off the year in a 5-1 loss against Copley’s Bears on Saturday. Both former IceRays netminders started the game, but Stolarz stopped 39 of 44 shots while Copley only needed to turn away 21 of 22 shots. The former second-round selection ended his first season with a 9-13-4 record with a 3.28 goals-against average and a .905 save percentage.
The Clark Cup Playoffs have been intriguing throughout all four matchups in the USHL, with the lower seeds (Dubuque & Muskegon) in the Eastern Conference triumphing over the higher seeds (Youngstown & Cedar Rapids) to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. However, the Western Conference is still waiting for one series to conclude this evening: Sioux City vs. Sioux Falls. The two sides are the only teams to take their series to a decisive game five, and each team has exchanged wins leading up to tonight. The Stampede has a slight edge, winning games one and three and outscoring the Musketeers 12-8, but the Musketeers will host the final game at 7:05 p.m. Central Time. Forward Jake Durflinger (’13-’14) has been held off the scoreline in all four games thus far and has kept his penalty minutes down with just four. He hopes to aid his squad to their second-straight Western Conference Finals appearance and third since 2005.
The winner of that game will take on the second-seed Tri-City Storm in the Western Conference Finals beginning this weekend after sweeping the Omaha Lancers 3-0. No game was separated by more than two goals, and neither team could eclipse more than three goals in a single game, but with Tri-City holding their two home games in games two and three, the higher-seed proved to hold the advantage following an opening game win. Defenseman Jalen Schulz (’12-’13) earned a plus-one rating and four penalty minutes in three games against the Lancers and will see his final USHL season continue with a chance to earn his way to a Clark Cup Finals appearance. This will be just their third time in the semifinal round since 2004.
Baie-Comeau Drakkar had a chance to sweep the Val d’Or Foreurs after going up 3-0 in their QMJHL Quartefinal series, but an overtime win on the road and two more regulation wins send this series to a decisive game seven, something that not many teams across hockey can say they’ve done. With Val d’Or back at the Air Creebec Centre, this series could see forward Chad Pietroniro (’11-’12) bow out of the President Cup Playoffs. He is without a point in the quarterfinals but sits in the top-five among QMJHL rookies in penalty minutes and minor penalties in postseason play. Game seven takes place tonight at 6:30 p.m. Eastern Time.
Read the IceRays Alumni Report every Tuesday on www.GoIceRays.com and hear the audio version on the IceRays Broadcast Network.
Collin Schuck is the Director of Broadcasting & Media Relations for the Corpus Christi IceRays. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @CollinDSchuck.