The Springfield Falcons are geared up for their first playoff series in ten seasons and are happy to have been able to bring playoff hockey back to the city tonight. With the playoffs starting now, everything resets to zero. It does not matter how many games you won during the regular season. Every team is focused on the fifteen wins it takes for a team to hoist the Calder Cup. Anything can happen and any player can step up to lead their team to victory. The Falcons are fortunate to have good veteran players that have been in this situation before. Those players can help guide the players who have not seen postseason action yet in their professional careers.
“We’re expecting to win, that’s the game plan. This is what the team has worked for all year,” Cody Bass said. “We’ve all tried to lead by example and pass on words of advice to the younger guys. Our young guys this year have stepped up and are a big part of our team. It’s a new season now, though, and it’s going to be a long road and a lot of hard work.”
You cannot talk about the Springfield Falcons without talking about captain Ryan Craig. He has been a true leader on the team and someone all the players have looked to and respected. Rookie forward Michael Chaput, who finished leading all rookies on the team in points, played on a line with Craig for three months and understands the value in that.
“I played with [Ryan Craig] for almost three months and he just gives you so much good input,” Chaput said about the captain. “He’s played the game for awhile and he’s played up in the NHL. He’s seen a lot of things and he just gives you good insights on what to do and what not to do.”
Chaput had a slow start in terms of scoring before exploding in January. Since then, he has had ice time in all different situations and has been playing on the top lines. He even earned his first NHL call up to Columbus but unfortunately did not get into a game before being sent back. It is clear that he knows what to do with the puck when he is on the ice and hopes that will continue through the playoffs.
“I came in just trying to play my game. You have to earn your ice time and earn the coaches trust. I was trying to play hard and play with intensity. I’ve been fortunate to play with good players.”
Cody Bass is another player who is lending experience to the team. Although he has not been able to play many games this season, largely due to injury, he played all the games at the end of the season. The playoffs are something he is very familiar with, having won a Calder Cup Championship during the 2010-2011 season with the Binghamton Senators. He knows the tough game he plays will be important for the playoff run.
“That’s who I am. I try to bring a piece of the puzzle. I play the game hard and I like to play physical,” Bass said about his approach to the game. “Playoff hockey is a different game. It’s a mind game and it’s about drawing penalties. I’m not going to change anything, just play hard and contribute where I can with the team.”
The players also understand that you cannot underestimate a team in the playoffs or take anything for granted. The Falcons will be playing the Manchester Monarchs in a best of five series. Although Springfield won 5 of 6 against Manchester during the regular season, the Monarchs finished strong, clinching a playoff spot many did not think they could. Manchester went on a win streak at the end of the season that edged out other teams in the conference for one of the final spots. It will not be an easy series for Springfield.
The Falcons will hope that the reasons they were successful all regular season hold true for the playoffs. Curtis McElhinney was solid between the pipes, though he does not like to take credit for himself. It has been a focus on the team as a whole as opposed to singling out individual players. The team also spread out the scoring with it coming from veterans and young players alike. Towards the end of the season, Columbus assigned Boone Jenner to Springfield after his junior team, the Oshawa Generals of the OHL, finished their season. He put up 3 goals at the end of the regular season and did not seem to have any trouble adjusting.
“I was excited to come here with the great team they have and just wanted to work as hard as I can. There are some great players that have set me up for goals and I’ve been lucky to put a few of them in,” Jenner said. “I’m excited. This is my first taste of playoff hockey at the pro level. It’s going to be a step up.”
Obviously, the end goal for any team is to earn the honor of being a Calder Cup Champion. While the Falcons are no different, they understand that they have to take it one game at a time and treat each game as being important. It is impossible to miss the excitement the players feel, though. At a recent practice, it was clear they were working hard but still incredibly happy to be gearing up for postseason. They were also having a lot of fun as they fine-tuned their skills. As the players practiced odd-man rushes, four-forward power plays, and short-handed situations, their other teammates cheered for each nice goal and impressive save.
For the first best of five series, the Falcons host the Monarchs in Springfield Saturday, April 27th at 7pm as well as Sunday, April 28th at 4pm. Then they head up to Manchester for game three and four on Thursday, May 2nd and Saturday, May 4th, both at 7pm. Game five is scheduled to take place back in Springfield on Sunday, May 5th. Games four and five are only if necessary.
Photo: Springfield Falcons