American Hockey League

Finals notebook: Series heading back west after Game 5 classic

📝 by Patrick Williams


HERSHEY, Pa. … The Hershey Bears are one win away from their 12th Calder Cup championship following a 1-0 overtime Game 5 victory at Giant Center last night.

Two wins separate the Coachella Valley Firebirds from hoisting the Calder Cup in their inaugural season.

But after dropping three straight one-goal decisions in Hershey, the Firebirds are going home to a place where they took the first two games of the series by a combined 9-0 score.

Game 6 is Monday night at Acrisure Arena, where Coachella Valley has gone 35-8-1-2 between the regular season and the Calder Cup Playoffs. For a building that opened exactly six months ago today, it sure does have a homey feel for the Firebirds.

Head coach Dan Bylsma has repeatedly used the term “change of venue,” and that is exactly what his club will be getting.

“Give them a different look,” Bylsma said after last night’s loss, looking ahead to Game 6. “Give them a different feel. We’ve got to go back home and use that change of venue, use that momentum (from Games 1 and 2) and get our third win.

“We didn’t want to give them three games here in Hershey and force us to go back and win 6 and 7 at home, but it’s going to make for a great story.”

Firebirds goaltender Joey Daccord was excellent as usual in making his 24th consecutive start of the postseason. Daccord has a 1.68 GAA and a .939 save percentage in the Finals, and his team is not planning any drastic adjustments.

“I think we just go back to the drawing board and what’s worked for us all year,” Daccord said.

Bylsma came away proud of his team’s performance in Game 5.

“You can’t be disappointed in the guys’ effort. What makes us a good team is our compete level and it was a hard-fought battle. Zero-zero for 60-plus minutes. Guys’ compete effort was there for the whole night.


Bears head coach Todd Nelson only looks calm standing behind the Hershey bench.

There was little difference in Nelson’s demeanor following a dramatic overtime victory from what he displayed one week earlier after back-to-back shutout losses.

Inside, however, Nelson acknowledges that he is not so calm.

“That just means I’m getting older,” Nelson quipped. “I’ve always been a pretty even-keeled guy. I think once you get older you learn to handle it better because you’ve experienced the situations before. It’s not easy, believe me. My heart was probably pumping just as hard as everybody else’s, but I think over time you definitely learn things from these situations.”

Nelson admitted that the two-month playoff grind showed in Game 5.

“It looked like two teams that have played a lot of hockey,” Nelson said. “I think both teams weren’t as sharp as they could have been.”

Last night’s win allowed the Bears to go off in style in front of another sold-out Giant Center crowd. After more than eight months of hockey in front of their fans, they are going back on the road to try to win the Calder Cup for the first time since 2010.

“We wanted to finish things off here for this year in Hershey for our fans with a win,” Nelson said, “and we got that win.”

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