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CONDORS: Playoff unpredictability

If the NHL and AHL playoffs have shown anything, it's how unpredictable hockey's postseason can be; the Condors are well-aware of the nature of the sport

by Paul Gazzola /

BAKERSFIELD, CA - Good riddance, conventional wisdom.

Sayonara to the stat sheets. Arrivederci to any and all analysis.

Once playoffs begin, throw it all out the window.

If playoff hockey has taught anything in 2018-19, it's just how unpredictable The After Party can be.

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Five of eight NHL higher seeds have been forced out of postseason contention. That includes 2017-18 Stanley Cup champions the Washington Capitals, the '18-19 Presidents' Trophy-winning Tampa Bay Lightning, top Divisional seeds the Nashville Predators and Calgary Flames as well as the Winnipeg Jets, who placed second in the Central Division.

In the AHL, The Syracuse Crunch (1) were eliminated by the Cleveland Monsters (4) in four games and the Chicago Wolves (1) are even with the Grand Rapids Griffins (4). 

The San Diego Gulls (3) kicked out the San Jose Barracuda (2), the Toronto Marlies (3) outed the Rochester Americans (2), the Iowa Wild (3) lead the Milwaukee Admirals (2) and the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (2) are tied with the Hershey Bears (3).

"It's a very unique sport in that the top team is not that far off from the bottom team," said Condors defenceman Logan Day. 

"If you look at other sports, you have the big dogs and the big dogs are going to win. In hockey, a skilled team can get outworked and if you get outworked, then you're in trouble."

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The Condors are up 2-1 in their Pacific Division Semifinal versus the Eagles. No lead - series included - is safe, so there's no point in assuring anything just yet. 

"You see it here, top teams going down," said goaltender Shane Starrett. "A fourth seed can upset the one seed. You got to know that your opponent is putting their best foot forward every game and you have to do the same."

For Starrett, the playoffs take both a mental and physical toll, and understanding the nature of the game should be part of every players' psyche.

"There's definitely a mental side to it in the preparation part," said Starrett, who's 2-1 with a 2.37 goals-against average and .896 save percentage in the second season. 

"You don't want to take a team too easily and you shouldn't. Every team that's in the playoffs is a good team. Any team can beat the other on any given night."

Playoffs have a tendency to depend on the perseverance and unity of a group. How a team can respond when faced with adversity and to what extent can they handle it as a collective.

The Condors saw much of that during the campaign and are hoping some of their success can translate to the postseason. Bakersfield went on an unexpected 17-game run and built a brotherhood as a result. They formed an identity and have, so far, stuck to it in their series versus the Colorado Eagles.

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"We keep it light around here and we're having a good time but we know during those practice hours when Woody's on the ice there, we're serious and ready to work and our minds are focused," said Starrett.

Even on practice days, Condors skaters elect to keep to the ice and hone their craft together. They might pull a few on-ice capers like when Dylan Wells decided to drop the mitts at centre ice with a team trainer or during interview scrums where players have been mocking subjects by using their sticks as mics.

"I mean, it's almost May and we still got guys on the ice 30 minutes after practice ended just hanging out, playing games," said forward Luke Esposito. "We're in playoffs and we have a game tomorrow. We make sure guys are rested but guys just really love being at the rink. Nobody's out here racing home. 

"We just enjoy being around each other and it's really been like that since Day 1."

It's a component that could will the Condors towards a long run, especially given just how significant the club's bond is. The squad's veterans, like Brad Malone, Mitch Callahan, Keegan Lowe and Ryan Stanton, have made it known.

"Once they started kind of saying it, we kind of realized that we have something special here, not just on the ice but off the ice," said Esposito. 

"It's been an honour and pleasure to be around these guys and we want to keep it going as long as we can."

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