Game 1 against the Colorado Eagles gets under way Friday at Budweiser Events Center
LOVELAND, CO - Welcome to The After Party.
Also known as the 2019 American Hockey League Calder Cup Playoffs, where the Bakersfield Condors - who clinched first in the AHL's Western Conference and Pacific Division in the 2018-19 regular season - will go talon-to-talon against the Colorado Eagles in a best-of-five series.
The Condors organization enter playoffs for the first time in their AHL history, going 1,788 days since the franchise's last postseason match in 2013-14 when they lost to the Alaska Aces in Round 3 of the ECHL Playoffs.
Despite the fact they clinched their Division and Conference, the Condors begin their quest on the road in Loveland, CO, where the Eagles are accustomed to playing in front of a livewire crowd at Budweiser Events Center - regardless whether it's playoffs or not. It can be a daunting event to experience, but one the Condors aren't flying away from.
"We've played in this building a lot and the young guys know what to expect," said veteran Brad Malone, who spent parts of the season with the Oilers but mustered eight goals and 25 points in 43 outings with the Condors.
"They're going to come out with a big push and their fans are going to be really loud. Their home ice atmosphere during the regular season is probably pretty similar to most teams' home ice during the playoffs."
Budweiser Events Center is where the Condors began their incredible 17-game winning streak during the regular season and now, fittingly, will be where they drop the puck on playoffs.
"Since the long stretch of wins through the All-Star Break and after, the anticipation for today has been on," continued Malone.
"It's been a long wait for everybody but I think we're all pretty prepared and ready to go."
The message from Bakersfield Head Coach Jay Woodcroft is for the Condors to bring their game to new heights one day at a time.
"The League got narrower, more focused and better on Monday," Woodcroft said. "We're going to have to raise our level here. Be ready for Game 1 and understand that the playoffs happen quickly.
Not with the history between the Condors and Eagles, at least.
Bakersfield and Colorado faced one another eight times during '18-19 and the Condors took the season series 4-3-0-1. But eight games, 16 periods and over 480 minutes on the ice as opponents is plenty of time to get acquainted, and the two sides have done just that.
Sixteen roughing minors or fighting majors were handed out combined between the two clubs during the regular campaign.
"They're a physical team and everything gets turned up a little bit more in the playoffs, especially the physicality when you have to play the same team five or seven times in a row," said Condors captain Keegan Lowe.
"You try to wear the other team down, so we have to be ready for that and need to match it as well."
One aspect of the Condors' identity during the regular season was that they were disciplined, accruing 849 penalty minutes as opposed to Colorado's 1,114.
"We're a disciplined team," said coach Woodcroft. "We try to maintain discipline between the whistles and specifically after the whistles. That said, we have people in our lineup that can take care of themselves and we're not going to get pushed around by anybody."
Bakersfield possessed the AHL's seventh-best power play with a 20.5 percent success rate. Going on the man advantage is a weapon the Condors can use should the Eagles get carried away with the extracurriculars.
"If teams want to go to the box, we have the mindset of making them pay," said Woodcroft.
"This Colorado team is a big, heavy, grinding-type of team. They led the Pacific Division in penalty minutes and we're prepared for that."
Ethan Bear isn't completely foreign to playoff hockey.
The rearguard got a taste in the Western Hockey League with the Seattle Thunderbirds, winning the Ed Chynoweth Cup in '16-17 then going on to experience the Memorial Cup.
Bear has yet to play a professional playoff game but has been watching the National Hockey League's exhilarating second season as reference.
"Guys have been sharing their stories here and there, and guys have been watching the Stanley Cup Playoffs as well," Bear said.
But what has watching the NHL's postseason taught the Condor?
"It shows you have to bounce back quick, have a short memory, and when adversity comes, stand in there," the defender said.
Some of the veterans downplayed the amount of guidance they will need to provide the younger players but Woodcroft maintained that the club will, indeed, rely on their leaders.
"We've leaned on our veterans all year and what they've been able to do is provide a really good environment for our younger players to flourish under," said Woodcroft. "We have a quality leadership core that has led us through 68 games. We're going to lean on them here going forward."