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'Captain Cal' leads the way as Iowa scores first-ever playoff win

O'Reilly credited with game-winning goal, one assist as Iowa dominates Game 1 against Milwaukee

by Dan Myers @MNWildScribe /

DES MOINES -- Playing in its first-ever Calder Cup Playoff game, perhaps it was fitting that the Iowa Wild's most experienced postseason performer played a starring role in its first-ever playoff victory.

Suiting up in an AHL postseason game for the 78th time in his career, Cal O'Reilly scored one goal and assisted on another as Iowa won Game 1 of its best-of-5 series against the Milwaukee Admirals 7-0 at Wells Fargo Arena on Sunday. 

While Iowa was experiencing the postseason for the first time since the franchise moved to Central Iowa six seasons ago, perhaps no team in the AHL knows the playoffs better than its first round opponent, the Admirals, who have reached the postseason in 14 of their 17 seasons since joining the league in 2001. 

Counting their days in the old International Hockey League, Milwaukee has made the playoffs in 35 of their 41 years of existence. 

Video: Iowa: Highlights from Game 1 vs. Milwaukee

O'Reilly's 77 games of postseason experience -- including 31 with the Admirals a decade ago -- was more than the rest of Iowa's lineup on Sunday combined. Between Mike Liambas (10 games), Nate Prosser (26), Kyle Rau (6), Matt Bartkowski (17) and Andrew Hammond (4), Iowa had 63 games of playoff experience in its lineup.

His message during the team's week-long layoff before Game 1 was simple.

"Just have fun with it," O'Reilly said. "It's all about compete and playing as a team and executing your systems and then individual play in the systems. But the biggest thing is compete and sacrifice and playing for each other."

O'Reilly's words were, apparently, well received. 

Iowa scored once in the first before breaking out for three goals in each the second and third periods as the Wild rolled to its most lopsided victory of the season. All four lines contributed, its defense was stout and Hammond was outstanding -- especially in the third period -- making 29 saves for his first career playoff shutout.

From top to bottom, Iowa's game on Sunday may have been its best of the entire season ... and it couldn't have come at a better time.

"We had a good start and that's what we talked about," said Iowa coach Tim Army. "You can't dip your toe in the water, you've gotta dive in."

Iowa's dive looked more like a cannonball. 

Fourteen different players registered at least one point apiece, and O'Reilly, Liambas, Rau, Luke Kunin, Gerry Mayhew, Sam Anas and Matt Read each had two-point nights as Milwaukee lost in regulation for the first time in 15 games. 

"Right from the beginning, we were physical, we were blocking shots, we were executing and we were giving them trouble," O'Reilly said. "When you do that, it turns out your way." 

Video: Iowa: Game 1 postgame vs. MIL

Despite great efforts from up and down the lineup, it was O'Reilly who got the Wild started, scoring the only goal of the first period and assisting on Mayhew's tally 4:32 into the second period that gave Iowa a 2-0 lead. Of course, coming through in the clutch is nothing new for the player known as Captain Cal, who has become arguably the most popular player with both fans and teammates. 

Not only is he the undisputed team leader, but he represented the Wild at the AHL All-Star Game this season. He set the team record in both assists and points last season, then broke both records again this year.

"Honestly, I think it's God-gifted," said Mayhew, who has played on O'Reilly's line most of the year and led Iowa with 27 goals during the regular season. "I've never seen someone who can pass the puck like him. He's just so calm with it, he knows exactly where everyone is on the ice. It's like he has eyes in the back of his head."

But the captain can do more than just dish out helpers. 

In must-win mode in the penultimate game of the regular season against Chicago, the Western Conference's top team, it was O'Reilly who scored the tying goal to force overtime. In the extra session, it was O'Reilly who blocked a shot at one end of the rink, gathered up the loose puck and scored the game-winning goal on a breakaway in overtime to keep the Wild's playoff hopes alive.

There he was again Sunday, scoring the first-ever playoff game-winning goal for Iowa and the third of his AHL postseason career. In that regard, there is little surprise that it was O'Reilly who was in the middle of some of Sunday's biggest moments.  

"That's what your older guys do, that's what your captain does. That gets you off and running," Army said. "Then in the third, when it gets sloppy, that's where you need those older guys to [say], 'We gotta get back to work, we gotta do things right,' and that's Cal ... those guys have a big impact on those emotions during those momentum swings. That's where it helps those guys who are going through it for the first time."


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