All that overtime and the St. John’s IceCaps only got paid with heartache.
Defenceman Patrick Nemeth scored 14:30 into the first overtime period Tuesday night at Mile One Centre, giving the Texas Stars a 4-3 victory over the IceCaps and their first-ever American Hockey League Calder Cup championship.
It was the third straight overtime win — all at Mile One — for the Stars, who took the best-of-seven series four games to one.
IceCaps’ captain Jason Jaffray said the result was particularly tough, given how close the last three games of the series had been.
“It's devastating, obviously," said Jaffray.
“You come this far, and with how hard the guys battled all year, it's incredibly tough. You lose three games in overtime, a couple unlucky goals, it could've went either way. We could've been playing for a championship here tonight, it could've been 3-to-1 (in the series) in the other direction.”
Jaffray praised his teammates, and made special mention of goaltender Michael Hutchinson, who joined St. John's mid-season from the ECHL.
Hutchinson, who made 41 saves Tuesday, finished the playoffs with a 1.95 goals-against average and .938 percentage. He led all goalies with 1,290 minutes played and his 12 playoffs wins were second only to the 13 registered by the Stars’ Cristopher Nilstorp.
“Hutchinson came out of nowhere and gave us a chance to win,” said Jaffray, “making incredible save after incredible save.
"He deserves better.”
Mike Hedden, with two goals, and Brett Ritchie scored in regulation for Texas, which had finished first overall in the AHL during the regular season,.
Blair Riley, Jordan Hill and Josh Lunden replied for St. John's.
Hedden opened the scoring when he carried the puck down the right wing and cut to the net, before toe-dragging and burying the puck high blocker side with a wrist shot at the 18:52 of the first period.
Ritchie used a defenceman as a screen for his club's second goal, as he shot it around an IceCaps defenceman, fooling Hutchinson over the shoulder at the 4:59 mark of the second period.
The IceCaps scored their first when Hill fired a wrist shot from the point through a screen of several players in front of the net, beating Nistorp at the 11:06 mark of the second.
Just after the expiration of a Texas penalty a perfect tape-to-tape pass from Zach Redmond at the right point found a flying Lunden at the left post for a one-time wrist shot into an open net at 16:38 of the second.
St. John's took the lead for the first time when Riley intercepted a pass from defenceman Jamie Oleksiak in the slot and beat Nilstorp 6:33 into the third period.
However, Texas found some fortune six minutes later, when a pass from Justin Dowling deflected the shaft of IceCaps’ rookie defenceman Josh Morrissey’s stick, flew up into the air and off Hedden’s stick over the arm of Hutchinson and into the net.
That was the last scoring until Nemeth came up with his first goal of the playoffs while the teams were skating four-on-four. The Swedish defenceman retrieved the puck in the Texas end of the ice, skatesd up the right side, and after deking a St. John’s defenceman, beat Hutchinson with a well-placed backhander.
“Three overtime games and coming from behind in a couple of them, It just shows all the character, and hard work we have in that locker room," said Texas forward Travis Morin, who was named the winner of Les Cunningham Award as the most valuable player of the Calder Cup playoffs, adding to a haul that already included the league’s regular-season MVP award and scoring title.
Morin, who led all post-season players with 22 points in 21 playoff games, scored three game-winning goals in the final, including the deciding tallies in the other OT games at Mile One.
"We never gave up and we never quit. Every time, we found a way,” he said.
Nilstorp made 33 saves. Both teams went zero-for-two on the power play.
Texas finshed the playoffs with six overtime wins. They all came on the road, setting a new AHL record.