AHL Western Conference notebook, June, 2014

By Tony Androckitis

Brett Ritchie - Texas Stars

Photo: Texas Stars rookie forward and Dallas Stars prospect Brett Ritchie had a productive postseason for the Calder Cup champion Stars, posting seven goals and four assists in 13 playoff games (courtesy of John Rivera/Icon SMI)

The American Hockey League concluded its 2013-14 season Tuesday night as the Texas Stars defeated the St. John’s IceCaps in overtime for the third straight game of the Calder Cup finals, claiming the championship in five games – the AHL Stars’ first Calder Cup Championship in franchise history.

The Final Four

In the West this year, the Conference semifinals featured the Texas Stars against the defending champion Grand Rapids Griffins and the Toronto Marlies versus the Chicago Wolves.

Chicago Wolves

The Wolves squeaked past Rochester in the opening round best-of-five series, going the distance and winning Game Five, 4-2. That would be their last win of the postseason as they were swept in four games by the Toronto Marlies in the second round.

After a pair of losses – 5-2 in Game One and 4-2 in Game Two – set up an almost must-win Game Three, the Wolves forced overtime but came up on the short end of things and put themselves in a 3-0 series hole that they wouldn’t overcome. The Marlies finished them off, 4-0, in Game Four to complete the sweep.

Even though the Wolves only appeared in nine postseason games, there were still some prospects who stood out. Rookie forward Dmitrij Jaskin put up point-per-game numbers, with nine points (4G-5A) in those nine games after a 29-point (15G-14A) rookie season of 42 games.

Another rookie up front who had regular season success, Ty Rattie (31G-17A in 72 games), had a bit of trouble getting on the score sheet in the Calder Cup playoffs, managing three points (1G-2A) and a -5 rating in his first postseason action as a pro.

A pair of young but big defensemen in 6'6” Jani Hakanpaa and 6'4” Joel Edmundson also gained some postseason experience on what was a mostly veteran group in Chicago.

Grand Rapids Griffins

The defending champion Griffins gave the Stars a battle before eventually bowing out in six games. Several players from both sides made their mark in that series. Trailing the series 2-0 after two losses in Texas, the Griffins responded in Game Three in a big way.

Grand Rapids got a hat trick from Tomas Jurco and three points (1G-2A) from rookie Teemu Pulkkinen to jump out to a 5-0 lead as they went on to a 5-2 win. They evened the series at two games apiece with a 3-2 win in Game Four, essentially setting up a best-of-three in a crucial Game Five in Grand Rapids.

Unfortunately for the Griffins, their effort to defend the 2013 Calder Cup Championship ended after an OT loss in Game Five and a 7-1 rout in Texas in Game Six.

Despite the loss, the Griffins have several NHL-ready prospects in Riley Sheehan, Tomas Jurco and Teemu Pulkkinen and have brought in some blue-chip prospects on the blue line, namely 2012-13 CHL Defenseman of the Year Ryan Sproul and former St. Cloud State defender Nick Jensen.

Toronto Marlies

The Marlies tore through their postseason opponents, sweeping both their first and second round opponents and taking the first game of the conference final against the high-flying Texas Stars. The Marlies had arguably the most well-rounded team and had several players from rookies right on down to some more seasoned players making a positive impact.

It started with the veterans on defense and in net. Drew MacIntyre went 10-4 in the postseason and started off 8-0 before losing his first game in Game Two of the third round. In those first eight games, MacIntyre allowed a total of just 12 goals (1.50 goals-against per game) and stopped 255 of the 267 shots he faced (a .955 save percentage).

On defense, veteran scorer T.J. Brennan continued to lead on the back end. The fifth-year pro followed up a 25-goal regular season with 14 points (6G-8A) in 14 playoffs games. The experience gained by rookie Stuart Percy this season should pay off. Percy’s playoff numbers weren’t great, including two assists and a -7 in the 14 postseason games he played in, but he already has 85 pro games under his belt and has a lot of potential.

Up front, the Marlies had a well-balanced attack with combinations of youth and experience chipping in. Offensively, they were led by Peter Holland, who in his third full professional season tallied 15 points (7G-8A) in 11 games. Jerry D’Amigo, who made his NHL debut this season with the Toronto Maple Leafs, played a strong game and was a point-per-game player in the postseason.

Second-year pro Spencer Abbott finished up a 17-goal, 52-assist regular season and continued to be a point-per-game player in the postseason with four goals and seven assists in the 2014 Calder Cup playoffs, playing especially strong in the Western Conference finals against Texas.

Rookie forward Sam Carrick is also making strides, following up a successful first full regular season at the AHL level with five goals and four assists in the postseason.

Texas Stars

The Texas Stars had all the big guns this season. They were dominant at times in the regular season and finished with the best record in the Western Conference. The Stars showed resiliency in the postseason, notably their comeback from a 3-0 deficit to St. John’s in Game Four of the Calder Cup finals. The come-from-behind win gave them a 3-1 series lead instead of a series deadlocked at 2,and they went on to use the momentum from that win to hold off the IceCaps in overtime in Game Five.

The offensively talented forwards on the Stars this season seemed almost endless in the postseason, but they were led by playoff MVP Travis Morin, who played stellar hockey from the first drop of the puck in the fall right on through the Calder Cup finals. Morin scored back-to-back, game-winning overtime goals in Games Three and Four of the finals to lead his team to the Calder Cup Championship. He led all postseason scorers with 22 points in 21 games.

A trio of rookie forwards – Brendan Ranford, Curtis McKenzie and Brett Ritchie – already show NHL-potential. Ranford was strong in the final series, tallying six points (1G-5A) in the five games while also leading all rookie scorers in playoff scoring with 16 points (8G-8A). McKenzie, the AHL Rookie of the Year, played well in the postseason as well, tallying 14 points (3G-11A).

A third winger, the lone right handed shot of the trio, Ritchie is showing he can score goals on a consistent basis in his first full pro season. Ritchie tallied goals in each of the final three games of the Calder Cup finals, including a two-point performance (1G-1A) and water bottle-popping goal in the deciding game of the finals.

Hot List – Postseason

1. Travis Morin – C, Texas Stars

Morin led the AHL in postseason scoring with 22 points (9G-13A) in 21 games, including five goals – two of which were the overtime game-winners in Games Three and Four – and two assists in the five Calder Cup finals games.

2. Peter Holland – C, Toronto Marlies

The second-year pro led the Marlies in postseason scoring despite only appearing in 11 of the team’s 14 playoff games. Holland was a stud at the AHL level this season and it didn’t stop in the postseason when the opponents got tougher as he posted 15 points (7G- 8A) in 11 games.

3. Brendan Ranford – RW, Texas Stars

Ranford led all rookies in the postseason with eight goals while also adding eight assists for 16 points in 21 games. Overshadowed a bit in the regular season by fellow Stars' forward and AHL Rookie of the Year Curtis McKenzie, Ranford finished the regular season with 17 points (4G-13A) in his final 19 games.

4. Teemu Pulkkinen – LW, Grand Rapids Griffins

The 31-goal regular season for this rookie forward was no fluke and Pulkkinen followed it up with 11 points (5G-6A) in 10 games, including six points (3G-3A) in his final four playoff games in a second round defeat (in six games) at the hands of the eventual champion Texas Stars.

5. Spencer Abbott – RW, Toronto Marlies

Abbott finished his postseason on a high note, registering eight of his 11 points in the playoffs (4G-4A) in the final six games of the Western Conference Finals against Texas.

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