The AHL Calder Cup Finals could be determined tomorrow night as Toronto takes a 3-2 series lead into the final game in Texas. The Marlies are coming off a powerful 6-2 victory in Game 5, and will count on goaltender Garrett Sparks to try to take them home with a league championship. The Stars could easily be up in the series if a few more bounces had gone their way, showing just how close the two teams are.
Interestingly though, they are built very differently. While Toronto is relying on youth and inexperience to create wave after wave of attack, Texas is squeezing some incredible hockey out of some veteran talent. The Marlies (and the whole league) for instance, are led in scoring by the 23-year old Andreas Johnsson who has 20 points in 14 playoff games after re-joining the team following the Maple Leafs’ first-round exit. The seventh-round pick has developed into an elite offensive player at the minor league level, and is expected to take a full-time role on the Maple Leafs next season.
On Johnsson’s top line is the 24-year old AHL rookie Miro Aaltonen and 20-year old Carl Grundstrom, who has now played more minor league playoff games than regular season contests. Both have 12 points in 18 games, but have looked even more dangerous since Johnsson’s return. Second in Marlies scoring is Trevor Moore, the 23-year old NCAA signing that has suddenly turned from AHL afterthought to postseason sensation. It seemed unlikely that Moore had much of an NHL career path, but the Maple Leafs may have to reconsider after an outstanding playoffs.
The Stars on the other hand are using their veteran experience to keep the series close. Captain Curtis McKenzie is second in playoff scoring with 19 points in 20 games, and leafs all players with 10 goals. The 27-year old has been a part-time NHL player for Dallas the past few seasons, but has always found great success in the minor leagues. He’s joined near the top of the leaderboard by 27-year old Justin Dowling, 29-year old Brian Flynn and 34-year old Travis Morin, all former NHL players who have plenty of experience in the minor leagues. The Stars were extremely well prepared for the Marlies when the series started, and have caught their young defense corps several times playing a little overly aggressive.
It’s not like the Stars don’t have youth on their roster, or that the Marlies don’t have experienced AHL players. But there is a clear divide in the top producers from each club, something that will be interesting to follow as the series gets back underway tomorrow night. If anyone can stay calm and stave off elimination, a group of veteran players who have seen it all would be a good bet. McKenzie and his club will have a tough test corralling the youth of the Marlies though, as the NHL has learned with the Maple Leafs young group over the last few seasons.