RALEIGH, NC. - For a second consecutive Calder Cup Finals the Carolina Hurricanes will be represented by their American Hockey League (AHL) affiliate.
In 2019 the Charlotte Checkers, featuring a roster that included Martin Necas, Steven Lorentz and Alex Nedeljkovic, defeated the Chicago Wolves, then farm club of the Vegas Golden Knights.
After COVID-19 wiped away opportunities to crown a champion in both 2020 and 2021, this time the Wolves will compete for a title in partnership with the Canes.
Closing out a six-game series over the Stockton Heat on Tuesday night at Allstate Arena, the Wolves will take on the winner of Wednesday's Game 7 between the Laval Rocket (MTL) and Springfield Thunderbirds (STL).
"Anytime your NHL club can make the playoffs and you can also have success with your AHL team, it should lead to sustained organizational success," Canes Assistant General Manager Darren Yorke began of the accomplishment. "I think it's one thing to have success in the AHL with a roster full of veterans, but right now in Chicago we have a really strong mix. That should allow us as an organization to look back on the year and be pretty proud of both teams."
Chicago's veteran pieces, namely Josh Leivo, Stefan Noesen and Andrew Poturalski have been key contributors to the team's success all year long and that has continued to be the case into May and June. Leivo leads all AHL skaters with his 20 points in 13 games, while Noesen (16) and Poturalski (14) follow right behind. The trio make up three of the league's six leading scorers thus far in the Calder Cup Playoffs.
"Those are the guys that you need in the locker room to teach and to set an example - because they've been through it before," Canes Director of Hockey Operations Aaron Schwartz, another architect of the club, offered. "A lot of them have spent time in the NHL. You have to have the right mix and I think we did that pretty well."
As for the batch of younger players that could be next in line to make the jump to becoming full-timers in the Hurricanes lineup, Jack Drury, Joey Keane and Pyotr Kochetkov have all produced in an impressive way of their own during their first stint of North American professional postseason play.
Drury, who provided an unforgettable NHL debut in December by recording two goals in his first two games, has now published 16 points in 13 playoff games. The rookie already leads all first-year players with his 16 points and over the course of the last decade only three players have published more during a run at the Calder Cup. Now with one final series to work, Drury could catch or pass Morgan Geekie (18, Charlotte - 2019), Danton Heinen (18, Providence - 2017) and Michael Mersch (22, Manchester - 2015).
Keane leads all Wolves blueliners with his seven points, a total that ranks tied for sixth among all AHL defensemen this postseason. Perhaps more praiseworthy though is that the right-handed prospect has been an anchor on a defensive unit that has held teams to just 26 goals against in 13 games.
Of course some of that credit belongs to Kochetkov and Alex Lyon as well, both of whom recorded shutouts during their series win over Stockton. Kochetkov's first North American pro shutout came in the Game 6 victory, turning away all 28 shots faced.
"The focus for us is getting those prospects ready for the next level. Part of that is you have to learn how to win and how to act off the ice," Schwartz continued, praising the veterans once more for their assistance and guidance. "Then, it should be a seamless transition [when they do get their opportunity]. What's expected in Chicago is no different from when you come to Carolina. It's better hockey and it's faster, sure, but what's expected on and off the ice should remain the same."
"The goal for our organization isn't just to have success at the NHL level for one year. If you look back at what we've been able to accomplish for the last four years, to keep being able to stay in the playoffs, you're only able to do that by having young players and growing them," Yorke echoed. "Then when they get to the NHL, you have to give them the runway to prove their worth and to continue to grow as players and show that development."
There's more to instilling the culture in the younger players than just the work of the veterans though, as each member of the Canes brass is quick to credit head coach Ryan Warsofsky and his staff for the work done with the roster.
"Ryan, Patty [Dwyer] and Bob [Nardella] do an unbelievable job. Our development coaches, Sergei Samsonov, Peter Harrold and Jason Muzzatti have done a great job with everyone, not just necessarily our younger players," Yorke applauded. "When Chicago is playing their best game, their forecheck is just as suffocating as ours. It's easier said than done. We talk about these things and we want to do them, but give their entire staff credit for being able to implement that with their players. It just puts the guys into a position where if they are called up, they know exactly where they need to be when they play in the NHL. They preach the same messages and really are playing the Hurricanes way."
Chicago will have home ice advantage in the Calder Cup Finals after finishing with a franchise-best regular season of their own. The series will begin Sunday afternoon in Rosemont.
(Article Image via Ross Dettman / Chicago Wolves)
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