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Stars, Maple Leafs affiliates set for Calder Cup Finals

Key prospects, veterans lead Texas, Toronto into push for AHL championship

by Patrick Williams / Correspondent

Texas (Dallas Stars) and Toronto (Toronto Maple Leafs) will meet in the Calder Cup Finals after impressive runs through the first three rounds of the playoffs.

Toronto led the American Hockey League with 112 points in the regular season and has continued that pace with one of the strongest postseason runs in recent history. The Marlies are 11-2 including a nine-game winning streak and a four-game sweep of Lehigh Valley in the Eastern Conference Final.

Texas has won seven of nine overtime playoff games. The Stars advanced with a 2-1 overtime win against Rockford (Chicago Blackhawks) in Game 6 of the Western Conference Final Monday.

Toronto is 7-0 at home in the postseason and hosts Game 1 on Saturday. Here is a look at each team's prospects and key veterans:



Prospects chasing the Calder Cup often face the intensity of a deep playoff run for the first time in their pro careers.

However, this is familiar ground for goaltender Mike McKenna. The 35-year-old helped Syracuse advance to the Calder Cup Finals against Grand Rapids (Detroit Red Wings) in 2017.

McKenna (6-foot-2, 190 pounds), who played two games with Dallas this season, offers a calm, positive presence amid that playoff pressure. He is 11-4 with a 1.97 goals-against average and .940 save percentage in the postseason.

Joining McKenna to help shepherd the young players are forwards Curtis McKenzie, 27, and Travis Morin, 34. Each won the Calder Cup with Texas in 2014. 

McKenzie (6-2, 205) is tied for third with Rockford defenseman Adam Clendening in playoff scoring (14 points; six goals, eight assists in 15 games). Morin (6-1, 190) has eight points (four goals, four assists). Their strong play has eased the burden for a talented cast of prospects.

Rookie forward Roope Hintz (6-3, 205) has continued a strong playoff performance that should make him a contender for a full-time job in Dallas next season. Chosen in the second round (No. 49) of the 2015 NHL Draft, Hintz, 21, scored the game-winner in Game 6 against Rockford and is second in rookie playoff scoring with 11 points (four goals, seven assists) behind Rockford forward Victor Ejdsell (12 points; seven goals, five assists).

Playing on an AHL contract, 24-year-old undrafted rookie forward Sheldon Dries' seven playoff goals are tied for the AHL lead after his 19-goal regular season. Any questions about his size (5-9, 180) are answered by his willingness to compete for loose pucks in difficult areas of the ice.

Forward Jason Dickinson (6-1, 185), selected with the No. 29 pick in the 2013 NHL Draft, split the season between Dallas and Texas. The 22-year-old has had to overcome injury problems early in his career, including hip surgery. However, he scored 18 goals in 42 AHL regular-season games and has eight points (two goals, six assists) in 15 playoff games. 



Texas coach Derek Laxdal could be hard-pressed to pick out any significant weakness in his pre-scout of Toronto, a team that hunts loose pucks relentlessly, employs an aggressive forecheck, and can hold opponents at bay with its quickness and skill.

Toronto can roll four excellent forward lines that blend skill and aggressive puck pursuit along with three strong defensive pairings in front of goaltender Garret Sparks, who won the Aldege "Baz" Bastien Award as the top goaltender in the regular season.

Toronto is also different personnel-wise. With so much young talent, the Marlies can employ those players in key roles and allow the veterans to play a supporting or complementary role.

Forward Andreas Johnsson (5-10, 190) anchors the top line with Miro Aaltonen and Carl Grundstrom. A seventh-round pick (No. 202) in the 2013 draft, Johnsson, 23, is second in AHL playoff scoring with 15 points (six goals, nine assists) in nine games behind Rockford center Chris DiDomenico (18 points; seven goals, 11 assists). 

Grundstrom (6-0, 194), 20, is a second-round pick (No. 57) of the Maple Leafs in the 2016 NHL Draft. His six playoff goals are tied with Johnsson and he has 10 points in 13 playoff games. 

Captain Ben Smith and Chris Mueller add more scoring ability with Dmytro Timashov on another forward line.

Forward Frederik Gauthier, 23, was chosen by the Maple Leafs with the No. 21 pick in 2013. With his size (6-5, 232), he combines with linemates Pierre Engvall and Colin Greening to grind down opposing defensemen. A hard-working fourth line of Mason Marchment, Adam Brooks, and Trevor Moore that possesses ample skill has also worn out opponents and set the stage for other lines to capitalize on that fatigue.

Defenseman Travis Dermott, 21, played 37 regular-season games with the Maple Leafs and has paired with 2017 first-round pick (No. 17) Timothy Liljegren (6-0, 193), 19. Among the other defensemen, Martin Marincin has played 177 NHL regular-season games, Vincent LoVerde is a proven AHL veteran, Justin Holl could earn a job with the Maple Leafs, and undrafted Calle Rosen shows promise at age 24.

Sparks, 24, was a seventh-round pick (No. 190) in the 2011 NHL Draft. He's 10-2 with a 1.96 GAA and .926 save percentage in the playoffs.

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