Welcome to Earth 3!
With the AHL season officially cancelled, we at Silver Seven are taking a look at an alternate dimension where the 2020 Calder Cup will be awarded. The sixteen playoff teams will be put to the fate of a shoddy simulation tool made in Google Sheets, one where you can find the full explanation here.
Let’s take a look at the competitors:
It’s a competitive field this year, with the league-leading Milwaukee Admirals facing off against last year’s Calder Cup runner-ups in the Chicago Wolves. The defending champions Charlotte Checkers are also up against a strong Hershey Bears team, while the young B-Sens face their former host city in the Binghamton Devils.
We’ll look at how each series unfolds one-by-one, with a longer game-by-game look at the Belleville vs. Binghamton series at the bottom courtesy of our AHL aficionado Spencer Blake. The first round is a shortened best-of-five series, so let’s see how it all played out.
Providence Bruins (1) vs. Hartford Wolf Pack (4)
It was a tough go for Igor Shertyorkin in his first North American playoff series, with Providence’s first line duo of Anders Bjork and Jack Studnicka turning on the jets offensively. Their winger Peter Cehlarik was injured in game two with Alex Petrovic also missing everything but the first game, but they overcame the injuries to swiftly move onto the second round.
Hershey Bears (2) vs. Charlotte Checkers (3)
Where do we start with this series? All three of the opening games were overtime nail-biters — Derek Sheppard, Mike Sgarbossa and Kody Clark were the heroes with the higher-seeded Hershey running ahead with a 2-1 series lead.
But despite being the lower seed, the Calder Cup-defending Charlotte Checkers led the AHL in goal-scoring this past season, and they came in clutch. Unfortunately for Hershey they also lost their starting goalie Vitek Vanecek for game five, as Max McCormick scored twice on Pheonix Copley to take the deciding game of this high-scoring series.
Rochester Americans (2) vs. Utica Comets (3)
We have a sweep! The Utica Comets were the favoured team going into this series boasting a strong forward corps that includes Reid Boucher, Justin Bailey and Nikolay Goldobin. Two of Rochester’s top forwards were also injured prior to the start of the series (Tage Thompson and Curtis Lazar). But strong defence from Lawrence Pilut, solid goaltending from Jonas Johansson and scoring from their depth players kept them ahead for three straight games.
Milwaukee Admirals (1) vs. Chicago Wolves (4)
It’s the top team in the American Hockey League versus the one that got in with the lowest points percentage. Yet the Chicago Wolves put up an incredible fight, going all the way to game five to upset Milwaukee in overtime.
The Admirals had the advantage at every position, but it was Chicago goalie Oscar Dansk who stood on his head allowing only five goals in the first three games. But after Milwaukee’s offence went into full gear in game four, it came down to an air tight game five with fourth line centre Ben Jones playing the role of hero. Chicago completes the huge upset, and are on their way to the second round for the third time in four years.
Iowa Wild (2) vs. Grand Rapids Griffins (3)
Like the Admirals, the Iowa Wild were one of the favourite teams to come out of the West, although they had a much different fate by decimating the Grand Rapids Griffins. With Sam Anas and Gerald Mayhew both in the top three for AHL scoring, and goalie Kaapo Kahkonen named as the league’s best goaltender, it felt inevitable that they’d be one of the harder opponents to beat.
The Wild accomplished the sweep despite facing some injury troubles — their top defenceman Brennan Menell and depth forward Brandon Duhaime were both out for game three. But with extra time to cool off they’ll both be back well in time for round two.
Tucson Roadrunners (1) vs. San Diego Gulls (4)
The Tucson Roadrunners were the regular season winners of the Pacific division, although they went into the series a leg down as their top forwards Brayden Burke and Lane Pederson missed the last handful games before the pause on Earth 1. But they still managed to handle San Diego with ease, getting the clean 3-0 sweep.
The series could’ve looked very different after an odd game one, a 2-1 overtime thriller where all three goals were scored by defencemen, including Aaron Ness with the OT winner. But after a high-scoring game two, it came down to a close third game where the Gulls just couldn’t hold on any longer.
Colorado Eagles (2) vs. Stockton Heat (3)
The final series in the West is between the Colorado Eagles and Stockton Heat, two middle-of-the-road teams who feature a decent amount of depth at forward. Stockton goalie Anthony Stolarz put up a heck of a fight including a shutout performance in game three to avoid the sweep, but the Colorado goaltending duo of Adam Werner and Hunter Miska were even better allowing only seven goals across the four games.
Belleville Senators (1) vs. Binghamton Devils (4)
It’s been since the spring of 2015 that there was something missing at CAA Arena. In their final season in the OHL, the Belleville Bulls made their OHL playoffs as the 7th seed in the East, only to be swept by the Barrie Colts. Shortly after, the Bulls were acquired and subsequently moved to Hamilton and that was the last of competitive hockey in the Quinte region — or so many thought.
Fast forward to 2020, the Belleville Senators have gone from an inaugural AHL club with a few good players to a powerhouse with a lineup of forwards that should make every AHL general manager green with envy. An AHL playoff berth was all but certain as Belleville dominated the North division this past season, finishing at the top of the standings and welcoming none other than the Binghamton Devils to CAA Arena for its first taste of AHL playoff hockey.
Over the course of this season, the B-Sens were 3-1-0-0 against Binghamton, having defeated the Devils three games in a row with their lone loss dating back to the second game of the regular season. In the season series, the B-Sens outscored Binghamton 18 to 11, with Drake Batherson absolutely dominating the Devils with a pair of goals and nine assists in just four games played.
Here’s Belleville’s lineup going into game one:
And here’s what their opposition looks like:
Belleville draws first blood with a high-scoring 5-2 victory.
With its first taste of AHL playoff hockey, CAA Arena was packed to the rafters to see the young B-Sens take on the B-Devils in the opening round of the Calder Cup playoffs. With their sights set on a historic first ever playoff win, the Senators iced one of the best lineups an Ottawa-affiliated team has ever seen. With the return of Brown from the NHL club and a healthy group of forwards, it was the known commodities that provided the offence in this first matchup.
Rudolfs Balcers, Alex Formenton and Batherson were the first three B-Sens on the board before Brown added a pair of his own to take this game 5-2. Unfortunately, following the opening goal, Balcers was sidelined with an injury with a timeline of two games. Luckily for head coach Troy Mann, he will be able to easily bump his left wingers up the lineup and add 13th forward Morgan Klimchuk to this very deep group on the front end.
The B-Sens take a commanding 2-0 series lead, winning both games at home.
After taking the opening game, you have to expect the opposition to come out flying in game two. Binghamton was able to put three goals past Belleville starter Marcus Högberg (who like Brown was also returned from Ottawa), but it wasn’t enough to take down the B-Sens’ high-flying offence.
Picking up where he left off from his sensational rookie campaign, Josh Norris was the first Senator on the board. Next, Belleville’s depth decided to say “hey, take the backseat, let us do some of the talking for a bit” as J.C. Beaudin, Jack Dougherty and Darren Archibald were the next three players scoring for the B. Capping off another five-goal game was sophomore sensation Batherson with his second goal of the series. Putting up back-to-back wins, Högberg looked as solid as he had all season, once again leading his club to victory.
Binghamton fends off the sweep with a swift 5-2 win.
With the brooms out and ready for the sweep, the Devils from Binghamton took a page out of Arya Stark’s book by shouting “not today” in game three of the opening round.
The Devils came out flying with a five goal effort in this game. The likes of Ben Street, Nathan Bastian, Nate Schnarr, Janne Kuokkanen and Josh Jacobs found the scoresheet for the enemy while Belleville’s Erik Brannstrom was the only member of the good guys who scored, contributing a pair of goals in the 5-2 loss. On the positive side of things, the B-Sens came out of this one healthy and will have Balcers with his nose so bright to guide the way through the fog of game four the next night.
That’s all the series wrote, Belleville is off to round two!
Up in the series by one win, the B-Sens could either risk going to a winner-takes-all game five or punch their ticket to round two against the Rochester Americans. Luckily for fans of the B, Belleville’s best and brightest came to play, making game four the final match of the series.
While he played major minutes for the B-Sens all season, Jordan Murray didn’t make a name for himself in this series until he opened the scoring, finally getting on the scoresheet after posting a career high 34 points this season. While Dakota Mermis was able to get Binghamton back into the game with a goal of his own, everyone’s favourite rookie potted a pair to ice the cake, with Norris bringing his series total to three goals in four games.
Another solid performance from Belleville with no injuries to report, and the B-Sens are off to round two, healthy and ready to take on the Rochester Americans for a chance to secure their spot at the big dance.
When you’re trying to follow up an incredible season with a strong playoff run, you absolutely need to have your big name players come out flying. And for the B-Sens, that’s exactly what happened. Norris’ three goals led the team with Brannstrom, Batherson and Brown contributing two each.
Up next, Belleville will face the Americans, who were a tougher opponent in the regular season than their first round counterparts. With a season record of 2-3-1-0 against the Americans, Belleville’s top scorers will need to show up again for round two or they might see their first ever playoff run cut short.
Now that the first round is over, here’s how the bracket stacks up:
We’re down to the elite eight, and we’re in for four exciting matchups next week. Charlotte will look to continue their road to a repeat title against Providence, Belleville will face stiff competition against the surprise sweepers in Rochester, Chicago will try to push their momentum forward after upsetting the best team in the league, and the top two seeds in the Pacific will also go head-to-head.
Here are the leading scorers after round one:
Mike Sgarbossa’s incredible run for Hershey unfortunately ends here despite leading in scoring after round one, tied with his opponent Steven Lorentz. Jake Bean was the only defenceman to notch three goals, meanwhile regular-season goals leader Gerald Mayhew had a tidy four goals in three games along with linemate Sam Anas’ three.
Come back next week for round two!