(Photos: Texas Stars Facebook)
Last night, the Texas Stars lifted their first Calder Cup trophy in the team’s history. You would be hard pressed to find someone out there saying they did not deserve it. They showed, through the playoffs, an incredible perseverance and an unwillingness to give up when they were down.
The Texas Stars finished the regular season with the best record in the league, but that did not mean their path to the Finals was an easy one. In the first round, they faced division opponents, the Oklahoma City Barons. Although the Barons finished in the final spot of the playoffs for the Western Conference, they made a late season surge to secure that spot. After meeting 12 times during the regular season, they met three more times during the postseason.
Although the Stars swept the Barons, it could not be seen as an easy series. The first two games of the series went to overtime. In a storyline that the IceCaps will recognize all too well, the Stars got down but managed to come back and force overtime, ultimately winning the game. Travis Morin emerged early to continue as the hero of postseason as he had been a hero of the regular season. After being the AHL MVP in the regular season, it was no surprise he continued that into the playoffs.
After a first round sweep, the Texas Stars moved on to take on the defending Calder Cup Champs, the Grand Rapids Griffins. Texas took the first two games (in Texas) but knew it would not be that easy. The series went to six games, with the Stars taking game 6 in an impressive 7-1 win. One thing was certain coming out of that series, the Stars had a lot of fire power at their disposal. They scored 23 goals from 9 different skaters over the six games.
As if the first two rounds had not been enough of a challenge, the Stars faced off against the Toronto Marlies in the Western Conference Finals. The Marlies came into the Conference Finals having not lost a single game yet.
But the Texas Stars battled through the first three rounds and made it to the Calder Cup Finals. They proved that they had what it took to continue their regular season success into the postseason. During the regular season, they had six different skaters register over 20 goals. They finished with the most goals for in their conference, and second most in the league, during the regular season.
Of all the possibilities coming into the 2014 Calder Cup Finals, the match-up between the Texas Stars and the St. John’s IceCaps was the second longest distance possible. The longest would have been had the Abbotsford Heat (no longer a team for next season) faced off against the IceCaps. The distance between St. John’s and San Antonio is also longer, but the Rampage did not make the playoffs.
This late in the season, teams also can face a struggle with arena availability. That was exactly what happened in this series. The first two games were in Cedar Park, TX on Sunday, June 8th and Monday, June 9th. The teams then had to hop a plane and quickly get to St. John’s for game 3 on Wednesday, June 11th. After game 3, the teams had a five day break until game 4 on Monday, June 16th. Game 5 followed right on the heels on Tuesday, June 17th. And that was all the Texas Stars needed.
Game 1 started off strong for Texas. With all the fire power they had, especially in that first game, you had to feel a little bad for IceCaps goalie Michael Hutchinson. The Stars won 6-3 despite being outshot 29-23. Travis Morin had two goals in the win. One of those goals was one of the three scored in the middle frame on just four shots. It was clear that this game belonged to the Stars from start to finish.
Game 2, the very next night, was a much more evenly matched game. Texas came out strong, but Hutchinson came out stronger. They peppered him with 50 shots and he only let one get by. Stars goalie Cristopher Nilstorp faced 35 shots and let two of them get by. With that, the IceCaps sent the series back to their home ice evened up at one game a piece. Brendan Ranford scored the lone goal for Texas and it was team-leading (at the time) 8th goal of the playoffs.
The teams had to hurry back to St. John’s for game 3. It was the third game in four days, but these are two teams that are very familiar with long travel schedules. The Texas Stars were not going to let the fact that they were playing in another country, on the other team’s home ice, stop them from bringing their best. Once again, the final score was 2-1. However, this time it was Texas topping St. John’s in the first overtime game of the series with Travis Morin acting as the hero for the Stars.
There were five days between games 3 and 4, which gave the teams a chance to rest and regroup if necessary. The IceCaps seemed to come out with a renewed sense of drive. They scored the first three goals of the game over the first 30 minutes of the game. But Texas had something to prove. They scored two goals late in the second period to cut the lead down to 3-2. They controlled the shots in the third period 15-4 and it paid off. With just over two minutes to go, Brett Ritchie tied it up as the Stars held on for overtime. Morin was once again the overtime hero, as he scored on the first shot of overtime.
That brought the Texas Stars into game 5 with a 3-1 series lead. The Stars came out strong in game 5, taking a 2-0 lead with goals by Mike Hedden (8th) and Brett Ritchie (7th). Facing elimination, the IceCaps were down but not out. They scored the next three goals. Those three goals came from some unlikely places: Jordan Hill (2nd), Josh Lunden (2nd), and Blair Riley (3rd). Texas, however, showed their incredible perseverance. Hedden notched his second of the game and 9th of the postseason. His 9 goals ended up being enough to tie him for the league lead in postseason goals.
Goals can come from the unlikeliest of places and that was just what happened in overtime of game 5. It was the third straight game that the teams had taken to overtime and it was the third straight overtime win for the Texas Stars. Defenseman Patrik Nemeth, who missed the first round series while playing with the Dallas Stars in their first round, scored his first ever postseason goal. That goal won the series for Texas and it was the perfect time for a first goal.
This was the first Calder Cup for the Texas Stars in their five seasons in the league. The Stars made it to the finals in their first season but came up short. It was something veteran captain Maxime Fortunus, who has been with the team since that first season, remembers well. Travis Morin, who has also been with the team the whole time, raised his first Calder Cup and also earned honors at the MVP of the postseason to match his regular season MVP honors.