by Patrick Williams | for TheAHL.com
This is it.
For the AHL, 1,182 video games come all the way down to Game 7 of the Calder Cup Finals between the Texas Stars and Toronto Marlies.
For Texas, the Stars are attempting to win their second Calder Cup. For the home-standing Marlies, a victory would crown an distinctive season and in addition make them the first Toronto Maple Leafs affiliate to elevate the Calder Cup since the New Brunswick Hawks did so in 1982.
A 5-2 Texas win on Tuesday arrange tonight’s date, the first Game 7 in a Finals since 2003. That 12 months, the Houston Aeros defeated the Hamilton Bulldogs.
For the gamers and coaches concerned, there shall be all types of feelings concerned and classes to attract from tonight.
For Texas Stars goaltender Mike McKenna, after 461 regular-season AHL video games and 66 extra in the postseason in a professional profession relationship to the 2005-06 season, all of it comes all the way down to tonight.
A Calder Cup championship would conclude a implausible two-month run for the 35-year-old veteran. His wonderful work in the first spherical in opposition to the Ontario Reign allowed the Stars to iron out a number of workforce wrinkles and set the stage for the relaxation of this run.
He has performed an AHL-leading 21 playoff video games this spring and in addition tops all goaltenders in minutes (1,312) and wins (14). He has a 2.29 goals-against common to go along with his .929 save share.
This is McKenna’s first alternative at Cup-clinching recreation. Last season with the Syracuse Crunch, he went to Game 6 of the Calder Cup Finals trailing Three-2 in the sequence in opposition to the Grand Rapids Griffins, who closed out the sequence.
On Tuesday evening, McKenna’s 43-save effort pulled the Stars into Game 7. The Marlies buzzed by way of the Texas protection in the first interval, taking a 16-Four lead in photographs on the Stars, however McKenna held them scoreless.
That set the stage for a three-goal second interval for Texas that despatched them on their manner.
Toronto received the Macgregor Kilpatrick Trophy with 112 factors, 22 greater than Texas posted. But the Stars have taken three video games – two of them at Ricoh Coliseum – from this Marlies workforce and relished the underdog function alongside the manner.
“I think we’ve definitely embraced it,” McKenna mentioned. “I believe we prefer it.
“We’ve clearly hit our stride here. [There is] a ton of grit, a ton of determination with our guys. We play for each other. We’re so close in that room.”
What would Calder Cup imply for McKenna?
Even McKenna, all the time exceptionally considerate in interviews, couldn’t fairly outline that potential feeling.
“Ask me afterwards,” he replied. “I believe I do know, however I’ve by no means received it. It’s one of these issues the place I believe you may solely dream of what it might really feel like.
“A championship would mean everything.”
The Texas captain has a league-leading 11 playoff targets, however Curtis McKenzie has additionally led the manner with a relentlessly bodily model.
He was a component of the 2014 workforce together with linemates Justin Dowling and Travis Morin.
“We’ve done it before,” McKenzie mentioned. Morin, Dowling, and I’ve actually tried to push one another this playoff sequence as a result of we’re the guys who’ve received in Texas.
“You’ve been through different situations and seen different things, and you just have to make sure that you’re playing the right way and saying the right things to make sure that the guys are following.”
Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe is rarely one to delight in victory or wallow in defeat.
He hit those self same notes Tuesday after Game 6 and shared that message along with his dressing room.
“We let an opportunity get away from us, but it’s over,” Keefe mentioned.
Throughout the postseason, Keefe has virtually welcomed the alternative to see his gifted workforce confront challenges and discover options. But now the time has come to only win.
“We’re done growing,” Keefe mentioned. “It’s time to play and get it completed.
“We’re excited for the chance to play. We earned the opportunity to have two cracks at this.”
Marlies veteran defenseman Vincent LoVerde captained the Manchester Monarchs to a Calder Cup in 2015.
Now he’s attempting to duplicate it, and he has some classes to attract from that have.
“I learned that every shift you have to be ready to compete, ready to go, ready to win your shift,” LoVerde mentioned. “I learned that the compete level has to be very, very high every single shift. No shifts off.”
Marlies goaltender Garret Sparks had a really uncommon off evening in Game 6.
Texas chased him Three:08 into the third interval after middle Sheldon Dries completed a shorthanded breakaway for a Four-1 lead.
Sparks confirmed no indicators of shaken confidence after the recreation, nevertheless.
“Extremely high,” he replied — moderately emphatically — to reporters when requested about his confidence stage.
Sparks has ample motive to be assured. The Aldege “Baz” Bastien Memorial Award winner as the AHL’s high goaltender in the common season, he has gone 13-5 in the playoffs with a 2.29 GAA and .912 save share.
“We’re a resilient team, and I like our odds in Game 7.”