PALM SPRINGS, Ca. – The Coachella Valley Firebirds came to play on Thursday night in game one of the Calder Cup Finals, striking five times and getting a 25-save shutout from Joey Daccord to open a 1-0 series lead, while the Hershey Bears’ Hunter Shepard made 22 saves in the loss. It was the first-ever meeting between the Firebirds and Bears, two teams separated by the continental United States and separated by the largest age gap of the youngest and oldest American Hockey League franchises.
For the Firebirds, it was a matter of taking advantage of opportunity early in this game. On their first power play just over eight minutes into the first period, Coachella Valley struck to open the scoring with Tye Kartye’s sixth goal of the postseason. Kartye, the smooth skating winger, stepped into a twisted wrister that beat Shepard over the glove from the top of the left faceoff circle. Seizing opportunity has been a theme of Coachella Valley’s success in these playoffs, and they jumped on it at key times in this game.
In the second period, Coachella Valley netted the second goal of the game during a stretch of four-against-four play, cycling the puck quickly with speed and finding Ville Petman in the high slot for a shot that beat Shepard to make it 2-0. Kole Lind registered his second primary assist of the game, giving him 18 helpers as a big contributor towards his team’s success offensively.
In the third period, the Firebirds struck again early on as Andrew Poturalski got a shot off on the rush while falling down to make it 3-0. Lind had his third primary assist of the night while Ryker Evans tallied his third secondary helper of the night in keeping with a consistent scoring summary on all three goals for the Firebirds. Coachella Valley blasted the game apart at the seams, striking twice in a span of 38 seconds with goals from Jesper Froden and Alexander True to suddenly make it 5-0.
Simply put, the Firebirds took advantage of their opportunities while the Bears missed out on theirs, including a breakaway for Joe Snively when the game was within reach that Daccord stopped. It’s a theme that’s reared its ugly head for the Bears at times in these playoffs, such as the 5-1 loss to open the Eastern Conference Final. The Bears and head coach Todd Nelson have been good at making adjustments as they did in that series, but it’s going to be an uphill battle against a talented offensive team like the Firebirds.
It’s the first time in these playoffs that the Bears were unable to score a goal over the course of sixty minutes, seeing the script flipped on them from some of their efforts in shutting down some skilled offensive teams. Hershey’s offense has been at a premium at times this season, particularly in the absence of their leading regular season scorer Mike Sgarbossa, and it’ll be a prime opportunity to see Hershey’s coaching staff perhaps go to the drawing board to try and drum up some offense. The loss should not be pinned on Shepard’s performance, who did not get the support defensively in some of the goals particularly as the game wore on.
It’s the first road loss for the Bears in these playoffs as the team entered the day 6-0 on the road, while the Firebirds registered their fifth consecutive win at Acrisure Arena before a sellout crowd of just over ten thousand fans partying the night away. Game two of the series is set for Saturday night in the desert before the series shifts to Hershey for the next three games.
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