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CONDORS: Leading the formation

Condors veterans provided the spark for a comeback in Game 3, and are setting the foundation for leadership in the locker room

by Jamie Umbach /

SAN DIEGO, CA - 10 to 15 minutes.

It's the final sequence from the third period that defined Game 3 for the Bakersfield Condors on Wednesday, but it's also a phrase that carries its own weight in the locker room as a guiding principle for all 20 players on the bench - both veteran and youth.

Make no mistake about the value of youth in the Condors lineup that's been on show this regular season and playoff run, but the veterans are providing the road map for the next crop of talent.

"We have a young team. You can't forget that we're a really young team," Condors Head Coach Jay Woodcroft said. "We only have a few veteran players and I think our young guys follow the lead of our veterans."

They've been down this road before.

Video: CONDORS | Staying even-keeled 05.09.19

Mitch Callahan is a two-time Calder Cup champion with the Grand Rapids Griffins, and Ryan Stanton played in the 2015-16 AHL final with the Hershey Bears. Brad Malone has gathered his fair share of experience over his eight full seasons of professional hockey, while Keegan Lowe, Patrick Russell, and Josh Currie have become mainstays in Condorstown for multiple seasons.

Rookies Tyler Benson, Evan Bouchard, Ryan McLeod, and the entire youth corps of the Condors, are reaping the benefits.

"They're doing it as peers rather than a coaching staff," Woodcroft said of his leaders. "The quality of guys like Keegan Lowe, Ryan Stanton, Brad Malone, Joe Gambardella, Josh Currie, Patrick Russell, these types of guys that have a little bit of experience. They're just fantastic individuals, and they live it right every day. They live it right and do the right things every day, and by them doing their thing it allows these young guys to do their thing as well."

Gambardella, a Condors veteran of three seasons, had already secured his hat trick by the end of the second period before San Diego took a two-goal advantage with 12:49 left in the final frame.

"At 6-4, I felt we had a lot of game left and a lot of period left, and we were doing little things that were creating chances," Woodcroft continued, recalling the feeling on the bench.

Video: RAW | Jay Woodcroft 05.09.19

Like they have time and time again for this young Condors team, the veterans took the lead as the first men over the trench ready to turn the tide of battle.

Malone deflected home Lowe's shot from the half-boards for his fourth of the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs, going to the dirty area in front and willing the puck into the net with nine minutes remaining.

"We scored the big goal to make it 6-5, and you could feel us coming," Woodcroft said. "What I liked was that we had a look about us that we weren't going to be denied."

The veteran combo of Malone and Gambardella combined in the final moments, working the puck to the front of goal for Benson, who played on the second line of assorted experience with McLeod and Currie, to put home his first-career AHL playoff goal and the tying marker with 10.5 seconds on the clock.

"It's a big difference being 10 seconds away from being 3-0 down in the series, but we battled back and found a way to get that goal," Benson, the Edmonton, Alberta product, said.

Video: RAW | Tyler Benson 05.09.19

The job of keeping the dressing room even-keeled heading into overtime after a four-overtime defeat in Game 1 fell to the veterans, and it sparked an electric start to the extra 20 minutes.

William 'Bill' Lagesson, a first-timer as a pro on North American ice this season but a veteran in his own right from his time with Djurgardens of the Swedish Hockey League, ripped the winner under the arm of Jeff Glass 33 seconds into overtime after a hard-worked shift by the Condors top line that combined for 10 points in Game 3.

Caleb Jones, a top benefactor from the leadership he's received from that group in his sophomore season, provided the primary dish and lauded the top forward unit.

"That Gambardella, Malone and Russell line went to work in the corner like they have been all year," Jones said. "I was looking for a lane and it closed off, and playing with Bill all year I kind of had a feeling and saw him creeping down. I was able to get it to him and he had a good shot. It was nice to finish one off there in OT, unlike the other night."

The experience of the moment is already rubbing off.

Video: RAW | Caleb Jones 05.09.19

"Just never quit," Jones said of the lesson learnt. "With this group of guys, we really are a brotherhood and we really are a team. We never quit, down two with two minutes left, and Malone gets a huge goal and we tie it just 10 seconds away from a 3-0 series deficit.

"Just a never-quit attitude is what we've had all year and we're going to continue that."

As short of time the Condors had to celebrate their breakout in Game 3 to cut the AHL Pacific Division Final to 2-1, they put it in the past no more than 15 minutes after the final action. There's still plenty of work to be done, and preparations that need to be made ahead of Friday's Game 4 at Pechanga Arena in San Diego.

"The series comes down to a race to four games, and we've won one," Woodcroft said. "We enjoyed it for 10 minutes after the game, and we come today with a business-like approach to getting better. We addressed some things, and we're looking forward to making sure we're ready to play Game 4."

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