A Hershey goal 75 seconds into the 2024 Calder Cup Final, one that Firebirds goalie Chris Driedger and defenseman Ryker Evans would like back, didn’t slow down Coachella Valley’s postseason express. The visiting Firebirds rallied in the first period, scoring twice before the first intermission to establish a lead they didn’t relinquish Friday night in central Pennsylvania. Coachella Valley has staked a 1-0 lead in the best-of-seven series and seized home-ice advantage in this battle for the Cup.

But that lead wobbled a bit and the game grew a bit too interesting for Firebirds and Kraken fans when Hershey scored on a power play with just under two minutes remaining. It was the only goal of three that beat Driedger allowed cleanly and without help of a deflection or bad puck luck.

With 22 seconds left, Driedger reminded why he leads the American Hockey League in save percentage and big saves this postseason, making a huge stop on Hershey forward Hendrix Lapierre, who scored the aforementioned late power play goal and assisted on that sudden Hershey goal to start this rollicking game. Lapierre now has five goals and 12 assists to lead all AHL skaters in the playoffs.

“It’s not just another win, that's for sure," said Firebirds head coach Dan Bylsma, who will take on the same role for the Kraken ahead of the 2024-25 season. "We’re racing to get to four wins to win a Calder Cup, and it was huge to be able to come out in a tough place to play and be able to get the win right off the hop in Game 1.”

The 4-3 final included lots of scoring chances for both squads and lots of special teams play, including Hershey taking four straight penalties in the latter part of the third period to greatly delay a comeback.

AHL rookie and 2021 third-rounder Ryan Winterton scored a pair of goals, his second and third of the postseason, the latter looking like the game-winner until Hershey’s late scare. The game-winning goal was notched, of course, by clutch performer John Hayden. The veteran forward now has nine postseason goals, including five in the last two games. Hayden’s work had teammates calling him “Johnny Milwaukee” during the victorious Western Conference final, so guess it’s time for a new nickname as a Game 2 Father’s Day matinee matchup beckons Sunday (2 p.m. puck drop, AHLTV.com, NHL Network).

After Hayden scored a shorthanded goal to tie the game at 1-1 in the opening period, the Winterton goal was a Kraken prospect work of beauty with undrafted AHL rookie center Logan Morrison using his speed and stickhandling touch to thread a pass in tight quarters to Winterton for the score (stick tap to veteran linemate Cameron Hughes who started the play). Fellow rookie Winterton displayed NHL-caliber speed and patience in one play, receiving the puck on the fly, then settling it before shooting past Hershey goalie Hunter Shepard, who was in goal when the Eastern Conference champs beat CVF in Game 7 overtime of last season’s Calder Cup Final.

Hershey tightened the game mid-second period to make it 3-2, but Hayden converted a second primary assist in the period from rookie defenseman and 2021 fourth-round draft choice Ville Ottavainen. Ottavainen’s setups for Winterton and Hayden were his second the third helpers of the playoffs, but CVF coach Dan Bylsma said it is not a full indicator of the 6-5, 218-pound Finn’s offensive efforts (more than a few just-misses) throughout the postseason. Ottavainen was sixth among AHL rookie defensemen in assists (he had 26) and fifth in goals (eight) and scoring (34) during the regular season.

Once the Firebirds ousted Milkwauee in Game 5 of the Western Conference final, the Kraken affiliate’s hockey operations brain trust decided to travel to Hershey to get situated in the Eastern time zone, practicing in the town of their Calder Cup rival.

"It was good to get here early and get a skate in," said Winterton, who said “it definitely helped” that the ice was "crisp" and players were able to familiarize themselves with the subtleties of the rink and historic arena in Hershey.

“Clearly, it was beneficial for us," said Bylsma. "It meant that we were here, adjusted to the time zone, to the arena and ready to get this thing going. I think it also built up some anticipation for our group. Once Hershey beat Cleveland on Wednesday, our guys were like, 'OK, we have an opponent. Let's go.' ”

Kraken prospect and 2022 first-round draft choice Shane Wright returned to the lineup after a six-game absence due to a lower-body injury. He played a solid game and notched four shots on goal to lead Coachella Valley. As it turned out, Hayden (two goals, two shots) and Winterton (two goals, three shots) were even more impressive.

The Firebirds jump to a 1-0 lead in the Calder Cup Finals, fueled by a pair of goals from both John Hayden and Ryan Winterton.

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