"If you listen, there's no fan energy here in Mile One Centre" Texas Stars play-by-play announcer Owen Newkirk said about halfway through the 2nd period of tonights game as the Stars were, at the time, up by 2 goals. Immediately the crowd of several hundred Texas Stars faithful watching the game on the big screens at the Cedar Park Center erupted. The entire night felt like the game was unfolding on the empty ice right in front of us, not on the arena's jumbotron screens. Loud chant after loud chant - trading "TEXAS" and "STARS", "LETS GO STARS", "WE WANT THE CUP", and even a few jabs at IceCaps goalie Michael Hutchinson. This fan-base has been hungry for a long time. It has been ever since it got a whiff of the Calder Cup in 2010, making it to the finals in its first year only to be eliminated in 6 games. But 5 years later, and I'm incredibly proud to write this next part, the Texas Stars are your 2013-2014 Calder Cup Champions.
In game 4 the previous night, the Stars were manhandled in the first period. St.Johns would head to their locker room dominating the possession game up 21 to 5 in shots. The first period of game 5, however, would see the play much more even. Neither team could break the ice and the game was deadlocked through the majority of play. Both teams only mustered 6 shots each. However, the Stars would be the first to break the deadlock with just 1:08 seconds left in the first period when Mike Hedden would find the back of the net for his eighth goal of the playoffs.
The second period opened up considerably more. Brett Ritchie would make it 2-0 Stars with a shot from just inside the blue line that would somehow find its way past the blocker of the St.Johns netminder. The Cedar Park Center erupted; the Mile One Centre was silent. But the emotions would soon flip as the IceCaps would fight back with force. The Eastern Conference Champions would score 2 unanswered goals to bring the game back even at 2 at the end of the second period.
6:33 into the third period, the IceCaps struck hard. Intercepting an attempted cross pass in the Stars Zone by Jamie Oleksiak, Blair Riley would take the quick shot that would find its way past the blocker of Stars goalie Cristopher Nilstorp. The Mile One Centre erupted, but the Cedar Park Center wasn't silent.
"So what? We were down by 3 last night!" I heard a fan say behind me, "This is just one goal". All season long, watching a Texas Stars game was like watching a professional wrestling match. You've got the good guy (the "face"), and the bad guy ( the "heel"). The heel character can absolutely dominate the face character for the majority of the match but you just know that, sooner or later, a stone cold stunner or tombstone piledriver finisher is coming and the face will win to thunderous applause. Backed in a corner over and over again, the Stars didn't crumble. They'd come out swinging.
With a little over 7 min left in the final regulation period, a cross pass from Justin Dowling would bounce up and off the glove of a crashing Mike Hedden and just out of reach of goalie Michael Hutchinson. After a 2 minute review the goal was ruled good and the game was back even at 3. At the end of regulation, the game was again at a stalemate. For the 3rd straight time, the game was heading to overtime - a part of the game Texas has dominated this postseason. 5 trips to OT, 5 wins, all on the road, and the last OT games were won within 8 minutes.
The overtime period was frantic, wild, suspenseful, incredible - take your pick of adjectives here. Any and all of them describe what would prove to be the final period of play in the 2013-2014 AHL season. Cristopher Nilstorp and Michael Hutchinson would trade save after save on chances that looked like game winners. Jamie Oleksiak, open at the top of the right faceoff circle, rang a shot off the near post. Past the halfway point both teams settled back into their trenches and the frenetic pace slowed back down. Stars fans were looking for the usual heroes - Travis Morin, Mike Hedden, Brett Ritchie, Ranford, Mueller, Jeffrey; any of the usual suspects to come up with the finisher. But the final goal would come from Patrik Nemeth, scoring his first of the playoffs as he toe-dragged past the St.Johns defense and put a backhanded shot into the back of the net. Stone cold stunner. Tombstone piledriver. The Texas Stars are Calder Cup Champions for the first time in franchise history.
Stars goalie Cristopher Nilstorp finished the game stopping 33 of 36 shots; IceCaps goalie Michael Hutchinson finished stopping 41 of 45. Travis Morin, the AHL's regular season MVP, would collect top honors again as playoff MVP. Stars captain Maxime Fortunus accepted and skated the Calder Cup to the elation of fans in the Cedar Park Center back home. The Stars will celebrate with the home crowd on Thursday the 19th at 6:00 PM at a championship rally at their home arena.
EDIT (10:44 AM): Due to high fan demand, the Texas Stars have changed the time for the home championship celebration from 3:00 PM to 6:00 PM.