Goalie Matt Climie began the season making history for the Texas Stars, and he hopes to end it the same way.
That's the easy part. The bigger challenge is not getting a chance to put your name in the record books at all.
"I think it's harder to watch a game from the bench than when you are actually playing," he said. "When you are playing, you are a factor. You get on the ice, you get in a zone out there."
Climie has made that type of neighborhood his home the past couple weeks. As a result, the first-year Stars have moved into the high-rent district of the American Hockey League with a Calder Cup Finals date against defending champion Hershey.
Climie's gut has been forged out of steel lately. He came on in relief of injured starter Brent Krahn in Game 6 of the West Division Finals against Chicago, then beat the host Wolves in a Game 7 overtime.
With Krahn out the entire Western Conference Finals against Hamilton, Climie played every contest and stole Games 6 and 7 on the road by making a total of 92 saves. In the postseason, he's 5-3 with a .922 save percentage and 2.62 goals-against average in 10 appearances.
"The nerves are definitely there. I just have fun out there," he said. "When I'm away from the rink, I don't put too much thought into it. I relax. I feel good, stretched out. When the puck drops, I leave it out on the ice."
Climie, 27, got a wide range of seasoning in 2008-09, playing for Idaho of the East Coast Hockey League, Dallas of the NHL and then Houston of the AHL. His five games with the Aeros all came in the playoffs, where he posted a 1-1 record with a .945 save percentage and a 1.88 goals-against.
"The experience was definitely good. It goes a long way," he said of his first AHL playoff minutes.
Climie got credit for the first win in Texas history on Oct. 3, a 3-2 overtime victory against San Antonio. He also stopped 25 shots for the Stars first shutout, a 2-0 win against Grand Rapids on Oct. 15. Overall he was 21-17-3 with a 2.46 goals-against average and a .919 save percentage in the regular season.
"I'm not surprised," Climie said of his success. "I've had a couple successful pro seasons. I feel I'm a good goaltender. You look at our D-corps, we have a lot of experience out there."
The numbers would suggest that Climie and the Stars (affiliate of the Dallas Stars) are simply the final form Hershey (affiliate of the Washington Capitals) has to finish off to place its order for a second straight Calder Cup. But Texas' two Game 7 wins on the road -- becoming the fourth team in AHL history to pull that off in the same postseason -- speak to the group's ability to fight its way upstream.
"That's just the character of the guys on our team. We're confident in ourselves," Climie said. "There's still games to be played. It's been a great ride so far. You start worrying about (being an underdog), it gets in your head. We have that team identity, we find a way to win."
Joining the Pack -- Defenseman Dan Ringwald de-stressed from a hectic season at Rochester Institute of Technology this year by taking a cruise to Florida and then the Bahamas.
Hartford made sure it was a lot easier for him to unwind by giving him a job before he set sail.
Ringwald was a dominant defenseman at RIT, but he wasn't sure how much of that was eroded by the Tigers' 8-1 loss to Wisconsin at the Frozen Four semifinals. Ringwald had an extra couple weeks to fret because no one was burning up his cell phone battery with job offers when the season ended.
"There was a lot of teams that were talking to me, but no one had offered me a contract. You start to wonder about the magnitude of their interest," Ringwald said. "There was a good month there where I was wondering what was going to happen. We've had the cruise booked for a couple months, but it's definitely less stressful knowing I don't have to be on the phone and worrying and all that."
Ringwald, a native of Oakville, Ontario, was fretting for nothing. The Hartford Wolf Pack (affiliate of the New York Rangers) remained true to their interest in him during the season when they signed Ringwald to a one-year AHL pact in late May. Hartford is getting a playmaker who ended his career as the Tigers' all-time Division I record-holder in both overall assists (104) and career games played (145), as well as points by a defenseman (125). With 11 goals and 26 assists this year, Ringwald was the third-highest point-scorer among all NCAA Division I defensemen.
"Entering a new level, it's a little bit of a different mindset. I'm hoping that I learn and get better," he said. "I have to play my style. If I try to be a different player, it's not going to work for me."
Been there, done that -- The 2010 Stanley Cup Final has a familiar feel on the AHL level. It comes five years after the same two cities met in the AHL's 2005 Calder Cup Finals, a series won by the Philadelphia Phantoms against the Chicago Wolves in four straight. And more than 85 percent of the players, coaches and managers involved in the NHL's Final series are AHL graduates.
Twenty of the 23 Chicago Blackhawks to skate in a game so far this postseason are AHL alumni, including 12 who played in the Blackhawks' system in Norfolk and Rockford. Dustin Byfuglien, an AHL All-Star in 2007, is tied for the Blackhawks lead with 8 goals this postseason and is tied for first in the NHL with 4 game-winners. Norris Trophy finalist Duncan Keith played two AHL seasons in Norfolk (2003-05) before becoming one of the top defensemen in the NHL, and Brian Campbell played in two Calder Cup Finals (1999, 2000) with the Rochester Americans.
The Flyers feature 22 AHL graduates among their 26 players to have taken the ice this postseason, including five former AHL all-stars. Goalie Michael Leighton was an AHL All-Rookie selection and All-Star while playing four seasons in the Blackhawks organization with Norfolk and was the AHL's Goaltender of the Year for the Albany River Rats in 2007-08. Daniel Briere was the AHL's Rookie of the Year with the Springfield Falcons in 1997-98, and Jared Ross was MVP of the 2009 AHL All-Star Game after setting an event record with 7 points.
Head coach Joel Quenneville, a former player, assistant coach and head coach in the AHL, leads the Blackhawks. Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette, who is already one of six coaches ever to win both a Stanley Cup and a Calder Cup, was the AHL's Coach of the Year in 1998-99 when he took the Providence Bruins to the championship.
Around the AHL -- The Bears have won seven consecutive playoff series, tied for the longest streak in AHL history. … Texas is the 11th team in AHL history to reach the Finals in its first season and the first since Chicago and Bridgeport in 2002. … Hershey is the seventh consecutive East Division team, and the seventh straight from the state of Pennsylvania, to reach the Finals. … Hershey, which won the Calder Cup in 2006 and 2009 and was runner-up in 2007, is the first team to reach the Finals four times in a five-year span since Rochester made four consecutive appearances in 1964, 1965, 1966 and 1967. … Stars skaters Maxime Fortunus, Greg Rallo and Raymond Sawada all faced Hershey in the 2009 Finals while playing for Manitoba. …The AHL raised more than $3 million during the 2009-10 season for donation to charitable causes and relief funds across North America. In addition to monies raised, teams gave back to their local communities through numerous activities, including more than 1,500 visits by players and coaches to schools, hospitals, libraries and other locations and more than 2,500 more mascot appearances. More than 125,000 game tickets were donated to local charitable groups.