Many on the East Coast woke up this morning to the news that the AHL’s Hershey Bears emerged victorious as the champions of the 2023 Calder Cup, outlasting the expansion Coachella Valley Firebirds on the road in a Game 7 overtime win. The Washington Capitals affiliate captured their league-record 12th championship thanks to the efforts of alternate captain and AHL veteran Mike Vecchione, who did get one game with the Caps in 2021-22.
It was a strong postseason for a few of Capitals prospects – namely 2019 first-round pick Connor McMichael, who led the team with six goals in 20 games. It was the team’s depth that carried them through the many tribulations a postseason brings, though, with seven players recording 10 or more points. 27-year-old Hunter Shepard, who excelled in his first full AHL campaign after signing with Hershey in 2020, won MVP honors after posting a 2.27 goals-against average, .914 save percentage, three shutouts, and a 14-6-0 record in 20 playoff games.
More from the hockey news cycle this morning:
- New Jersey Devils restricted free agent defenseman Reilly Walsh is set to lose his waiver-exempt status next season after three strong campaigns in the minors. In an interview with NJ.com’s Ryan Novozinsky, Devils assistant general manager Dan MacKinnon revealed the team is preparing to lose Walsh, either via trade early in the season or a possible waiver claim. A third-round pick of the team in 2017, Walsh has recorded back-to-back 40-plus point seasons with the AHL’s Utica Comets and notched an assist in his lone NHL appearance in 2021-22. With a logjam of elite defense prospects in the Devils organization that includes Luke Hughes and Simon Nemec, though, there isn’t a clear path to sustained NHL time for Walsh.
- The Nashville Predators have hired Derek MacKenzie as an assistant coach, the team said this morning. MacKenzie had previously worked with new Predators head coach Andrew Brunette for a three-year period with the Florida Panthers, concluding with a President’s Trophy win in 2021-22 with Brunette as head coach. MacKenzie had spent the 2022-23 campaign as head coach of the OHL’s Sudbury Wolves after the Panthers revamped their coaching staff last offseason, where he guided prospects such as forward Quentin Musty (who could be available with Nashville’s first-round selections) to high-end seasons.