Stars outshine IceCaps

Texas beats St. John’s 4-3 in overtime of Game 5 to claim Calder Cup championship

Robin Short
Published on June 18, 2014
Members of the St. John’s IceCaps look on as the Texas Stars celebrate a 4-3 overtime win in Game 5 of the American Hockey League Calder Cup final Tuesday night at Mile One Centre in St. John’s. The Stars took the best-of-seven series 4-1 to claim the team’s first title. — Photo by Keith Gosse/The Telegram

It would have been easy to write off the St. John's IceCaps Tuesday night. Way too easy, really.
Not after they handed Game 4 of the Calder Cup final on a silver platter to the Texas Stars Monday night, to fall behind this series 3-1.

Those Texas Stars, the best team in the American Hockey League this year. The team with the best player (Travis Morin), and best rookie (Curtis McKenzie). The team with the deep and talented group of forwards, and a blueline that was pretty darn good, too.

And a goaltender, Cristopher Nilstorp, who made all the saves he needed to make.

Fact of the matter is Texas was too much for St. John's in this AHL final, too much for an IceCaps team which all of a sudden couldn't get goals from players who are supposed to score.

But you know what, credit to the IceCaps, who scratched and clawed to the end Tuesday night, their trademark all season long.

But it wasn't to be. Patrick Nemeth picked the right time to score his first goal of the playoffs, 14:30 into overtime on the Stars' 45th shot on goal as Texas won its first Calder Cup in the five-year history of the organization.

It was the sixth overtime win for Stars in these playoffs, all on the road, which is a league record.

Texas took the best-of-seven final in five games, the last three of which went into OT.

For the IceCaps, it marked the end of a brilliant playoff run after St. John's proved to be one of the best teams in the back half of the regular season, rallying to finish fourth overall in the Eastern Conference.

"I know at the beginning of the year," said IceCaps coach Keith McCambridge, "if you had polled the teams in the league about who would be in the final, I'm sure every team would have said the Texas Stars.

"And I'm sure a pretty large percentage of them wouldn't have said the St. John's IceCaps."

Until Monday night, St. John's was very much in this final series, down 2-1, until the IceCaps stopped skating with a 3-0 lead in Game 4 and then watched the Stars come back to tie the score and force OT, in which they got the winner from playoff MVP Morin.

It wasn't looking good early on Tuesday, as Texas grabbed a 1-0 lead late in the first on a goal by Mike Hedden, the first of his two. The Stars then went up by two goals five minutes into the second on a Brett Ritchie tally.

The IceCaps were melting before our very eyes.

Funny thing happened, however. The never-say-die IceCaps dug down, and painted the same picture we've seen before this season.

Back-to-back goals by Jordan Hill and Josh Lunden tied things, and then St. John's went ahead 3-2 on a Blair Riley tally 6:33 into the third.

Wouldn't you know it, though, the Stars got a lucky (lousy?) goal at 13:26 when a Texas feed in front of the IceCaps' net went off the shaft of rookie Josh Morrissey's stick, bounded up, bounced off Hedden's glove, and up and over Michael Hutchinson into the St. John's net.

That goal eventually forced OT, which the IceCaps played with gusto, guts and purpose.

"I really credit the group with how they bounced back," McCambridge said. "I thought it was a real strong game, especially when there were questions about how the emotional level would be after such a tough loss Monday night.

"But that's not a surprise. They're such a great group to coach. They come to work every day."

Over the next couple of days, there will be a post-mortem on the IceCaps' play in the final playoff series.

There were times when Hutchinson appeared merely mortal, though by then he was probably rung out after MVP-calibre goaltending through three-plus rounds.

Soon-to-be free agent defenceman Zach Redmond was a horse, beginning in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, and continuing through the final.

Kael Mouillierat had four goals in four games vs. Texas.

The problem is, however, the IceCaps' scoring went dry in the final, only 12 goals in five games. Neither Andrew Gordon, Jason Jaffray, Eric O'Dell, John Albert nor Jerome Samson scored against the Stars.

Albert finished the playoffs goalless in his last 17 games, Gordon in 10.

"I'm not going to look back on this," said Jaffray, who is left looking for an elusive Calder Cup ring in three trips to the final, "and say, 'Oh, we lost three games in overtime (in the final), so give us more credit.'

"At the end of the day, we still lost, and it's going to sting for a long time."