What happens when an unstoppable force meets an immovable object?
Well we are due to find out in this years Calder Cup Final as the two number one seeds clash in the shape of the Manchester Monarchs and Utica Comets.
Manchester were the best team during the regular season and have made the Calder Cup final at the 14th attempt, in what will be their final season as an AHL outfit.
On the other side of the coin you have the Utica Comets, just in their second season and on their first playoff run. When you consider the Comets took eleven games to win their first game in franchise history last season, then this is some turnaround.
This will be the first time that teams with two best regular season records will meet in Calder Cup Finals since 2000, when Hartford and Rochester did battle.
Manchester will be aiming to become the 36th team to win the Calder Cup as the regular season champion.
These two teams have never met before and it will be another chalk and cheese match-up as they both have different formula’s to winning.
Manchester are averaging 3.70 goals per game in the playoffs, often getting off to a fast start and leaving opponents trailing in their wake. Tremendous front runners, all eleven playoff victories have been gained by scoring the first goal, while conversely their grand total of three losses so far, saw them fall behind in the process.
The Monarchs have won six straight and after sweeping Hartford, have been able to put their feet up since their last victory on May 27. Home cooking has been the huge key to their success, winning all seven games at the Verizon Wireless Arena but Manchester have become better on the road as they’ve progressed, winning their last four after dropping the first three.
Utica have been pushed to back and beyond to make it this far, needing 18 games to progress to the final. The Comets have been involved in 12 games decided by a solitary game and six needing overtime.
No such dominance at home for Utica who are 6-4 but conversely have a positive 5-3 record on the road. Shutting out their opponents in the last two deciding games to win the series just shows how clutch the Comets have been when everything has been on the line. Utica have shown a capacity for mounting comebacks as well, winning two of seven games when behind after forty minutes should provide a test for Manchester’s front running record. Another feather to the Comets cap is that they are 7-0 after recording a loss.
The Monarchs fire power has been provided in the most part by Jordan Weal, 19 points, Michael Mersch (18) and Brian O’Neill who was the regular season MVP (17). Proving they are more than a two line team, the likes of Sean Backman and Nike Shore stepped up in the last series to provide invaluable offense.
Utica have managed just 43 goals so far but allowed just six less and certainly score by committee with various individuals stepping up at different times. Cal O’Reilly continues to be playmaker extraordinaire with 15 helpers, the most by any skater in the post season. Sven Baertschi, Alexandre Grenier and Alex Friesen have all chipped in while Bobby Sanguinetti continues to provide offense from the blue line. Two of Sanguinetti’s three goals have been game winners, with one in overtime.
Cory Conacher was the MVP for the 2011-12 season and he’ll be looking to win his second championships having been a part of the dominant Norfolk Admirals in 2012.
After scoring 3 goals in his first 39 career AHL Playoff games, Conacher now has three goals in his last four games.
You could certainly argue that Utica hold the aces when it comes to between the pipes as Jacob Markstrom goes head to head with Jean-Francois Berube.
The 23yo Berube has had to wait for his opportunity in the AHL, with this just his second full season.
Jacob Markstrom may only been two years senior than the Monarchs goaltender, but he has far more experience with 50 NHL games and international outings at every level.
The Utica netminder has proved the difference so many times in this playoff run for his team and has outstanding numbers leading into the final (1.87GAA – 0.931sv%). In the last two games to decide the series, Markstrom has shutout the opposition and he was immense in the victory over Grand Rapids earlier this week.
Neither side’s special teams have overly shone during the post-season, though Utica’s penalty kill did a great job of shutting down Grand Rapids powerplay in the last round. With both sides evenly matched in both departments it could well be a crucial key to deciding the series.
There is a Toronto connection between the two coaches, with Mike Stothers and Travis Green both having worn the Maple Leaf during their playing careers.
Manchester’s Stothers is in his first AHL season having previously coached the WHL’s Moose Jaw Warriors for three years.
Travis Green is also a WHL graduate, with several different roles including assistant coach, assistant general manager and then head coach of the Portland Winterhawks. This is Green’s second season behind the bench with Utica, having been with the franchise since day one.
I find it hard to look beyond the rampant Manchester Monarchs but Utica’s excellent defensive game with Jacob Markstrom in tow, is hard to write off either.
Something has to finally give though and it’s hard to look past Manchester’s potent offense.
We are sure to witness to future NHL stars, especially in the Manchester team, and it’s bound to be an enthralling series and one you can watch for free through AHL Live.
Game 1 – Sat Jun 6 6:00 PM Utica at Manchester
Game 2 – Sun Jun 7 5:00 PM Utica at Manchester
Game 3 – Wed Jun 10 7:00 PM Manchester at Utica
Game 4 – Fri Jun 12 7:00 PM Manchester at Utica
Game 5 – Sat Jun 13 7:00 PM * Manchester at Utica
Game 6 – Tue Jun 16 7:00 PM * Utica at Manchester
Game 7 – Wed Jun 17 7:00 PM * Utica at Manchester