Previewing the 2016 Calder Cup Finals features a pair of teams that many thought would put up a valiant struggle in the conference finals, but not make it to the finals.
2016 Calder Cup Finals Preview
The 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs featured the first time the Lake Erie Monsters were able to advance past the first round and they now find themselves in the finals. The Hershey Bears are a perennial performer and have won the Calder Cup 11 times, the most in the long history of the AHL. The Bears and Monsters did not meet in the regular season. This the second series in a row Lake Erie has not faced its opponent in the regular season and the first for Hershey.
The Monsters and Bears took very different tracks to arrive in the finals and what worked for one conference, did not work for the other.
Lake Eries Monsters – Youthful Skill
Monsters center Lukas Sedlak continued his excellent playoff performance with a four-goal, one-assist performance against Ontario and leads the Monsters with 13 points in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Kerby Rychel also showed signs of his game coming around with three assists over the last two games against the Reign. Josh Anderson contributed a pair goals and Sonny Milano and Oliver Bjorkstrand, two players who likely will be in the NHL next year, each added a goal in the dominating sweep of Ontario.
In goal, the shaky postseason of Joonas Korpisalo has seemingly come to a close. After being replaced in both Game 6 and Game 7 in the series against the Grand Rapid Griffins in the second round, Monsters head coach Jared Bednar made the switch to Anton Forsberg for Game 1 against the Reign. Forsberg responded and stopped 121 of 127 shots in the four-game sweep of Ontario and a perfect 5-0 record to go with an otherworldly .955 SV%.
Lake Erie’s defense was also very solid, but the spark comes from one man, blue-chip defenseman Zachary Werenski. In the last round, Werenski was limited to a single assist as the Reign again were able to neutralize a high-flying young defenseman in dominating fashion. The 18-year-old phenom is logging heavy minutes in professional hockey for a league championship, which is even more impressive when you consider Werenski will not turn 19 until after the finals. Despite the single point, the Monsters deployed Werenski in all situations and he is proving to be an important part of the Monsters Calder Cup run.
Hershey Bears – Veterans leading the way
For the Bears, 2014 first round pick Jakub Vrana continues to make waves in his first North American campaign while Carter Camper has become a playoff hero. Camper, a veteran of over 300 AHL games since completing his NCAA career at Miami (Ohio) University, leads the Bears in postseason scoring with six goals and nine assists in 17 games. Chris Bourque, the AHL’s 2016 MVP, now has four goals and six assists. Aaron Ness is the leader on a Hershey defense that, along with youngsters Madison Bowey, Christian Djoos, and Tyler Lewington, has played well in the postseason on both sides of the puck.
Bears goaltender Justin Peters has gone from a sub-.900 SV% goaltender allowing more than three goals per game to a playoff superstar who has performed against the best of the Eastern Conference. Peters comes into the Calder Cup Finals with a 1.95 GAA while stopping almost 93% of all shots he has faced. Along with the Bears squad in front of him, there is more experience on the Bears, and that should benefit them in the seven-game series against the young Monsters side.
2016 Calder Cup Finals Prediction
Out west, the Monsters were able to use youthful skill, unlikely heroes, and a good overall team-first system to sweep one of the AHL’s best defensive teams and Pacific Division champion Reign. In the east, the Bears allowed the powerful Toronto Marlies only one victory. The Bears were consistently repelling the Marlies offensive pressure while attacking the suddenly suspect Toronto goaltending of Antoine Bibeau and Garrett Sparks.
If the Bears could bring the high scoring Marlies to heel, are the Monsters in trouble? Or will the Monsters, having already overcome the AHL’s best defensive team statistically, continue to benefit from speed, skill and youthful energy to break through the Bears defense? Both teams are playing well as complete units and have elevated their play when it mattered most. Lake Erie and Hershey should be a very entertaining 2016 Calder Cup Finasl.
Last Word on the Series: Monsters in seven games.
For a full schedule and information on how to watch the 2016 Calder Cup Finals for free is over at TheAHL.com