The View From The Booth...The Finals

Hello again, hockey fans. I hope you are having a great summer so far! There are a few items I want to touch on in this edition of "The View From The Booth." Although it’s late May there is still a lot of hockey news to discuss.

First off, there are the Calder Cup Finals, then there are the Stanley Cup Finals. There is also news involving the Monsters parent club, the Avalanche, and there was a huge front office move in the NHL recently, all items I will discuss and give my opinion on.

Let's begin with the 2010 AHL Calder Cup Playoffs. It's been another great year of playoff hockey once again. Some of the favorites had deep playoff runs and of course there were some playoff surprises and upsets. Let's start with the heavy favorite going into the playoffs, the Hershey Bears.

Back in April the Bears were my pick to make it to the Eastern Conference Finals and then to the Calder Cup Finals. That’s no great surprise, as the Bears won 60 games during the 2009-2010 regular season. They have managed to do what everyone in the hockey world expected them to do, making it back to the Calder Cup Finals for a second straight year and for the 22nd time in their decorated franchise history.

One thing Hershey has done exceptionally well is come from behind in games. In fact, in nine of their 12 playoff wins, they have managed to come back from third period deficits to win games. That's one key ingredient to playoff success and the Bears have performed very well in pressure situations. Hershey has a team stacked in talent, they have great goaltending and they do heavy damage on the power play. But when you add in the element of the comeback, this team is as dangerous as ever.

The Bears dispatched Bridgeport in five games, swept Albany, and in the Eastern Conference Finals, they defeated a feisty team from Manchester, winning that series in six games. The Bears are still my pick to win the Calder Cup, however, the team they will face beginning Thursday, June 3rd in the Calder Cup Finals is a surprise to me.

That team the Hershey Bears will face for the Calder Cup is the Texas Stars, the first year affiliate for the Dallas Stars. And first off, congratulations to the Stars for advancing to the Finals! What a first season it's been for the Stars down there in Cedar Park, which is about 20-25 minutes from downtown Austin.

They are led by first year head coach Glen Gulutzan, who had great success coaching in the ECHL before making his way to the AHL. During the regular season the Monsters were 2-2 against the Stars. What Monsters fans will never forget is the 5-4 overtime win on January 22nd with 18,626 at The Q.

But something the Stars showed me during the four meetings was their ability to play tight defense and get great goaltending, two things they did to near perfection in their run to the Calder Cup Finals. Case and point, their game seven win in the Western Conference Finals against the heavily favored Hamilton Bulldogs, who were my pick to make it to the Finals. In that game seven win to clinch the Western Conference, Matt Climie stopped 41 shots, and the Stars won that game in Hamilton.

Texas also won their second round series in seven games against the West Division Champion Chicago Wolves on the road. The Stars have proven they have no fear of playing well with the season on the line on the road. Rookie Jamie Benn, who the Monsters never saw this season in the four meetings, has been lighting the lamp better than anyone else in the playoffs. At the conclusion of the Western Conference Final he had scored an AHL playoff best 14 goals.

With the Calder Cup Finals slated to begin on Thursday, June 3rd, I will be following each game closely and as much as I like the underdog, that being the Texas Stars, I have to stick with the Hershey Bears to hoist the Calder Cup for a second straight season; I like the Bears to win the Cup in six games. I just think Hershey is too deep and has so many players that seem to step up when they are needed.

Now to the Stanley Cup Finals, where it's a lot like the Calder Cup Finals with one team many expected to make it, the Chicago Blackhawks, and the other team a huge underdog when the playoffs started, the Philadelphia Flyers. With the Flyers playing for the Cup, it marks the third straight year the Keystone State has had a team in the Finals.

Chicago is a team that is very, very complete. They have depth and skill at the key positions and can play a run-and-gun game that I really enjoy to watch. They also have two great defensemen in Duncan Keith and Brent Seabrook, who are as good as it gets in the NHL. Going into the playoffs it seemed like everyone, myself included, questioned the goaltending of the Blackhawks. But Antti Niemi has proven the doubters wrong to this point. He's been very good for the Hawks and won them some games down the stretch, which is always a key in a championship run.

Then there's the Marian Hossa side to this finals matchup. This will mark the third straight year with a different team that Hossa has played for that has made the Finals. In 2008 he lost as a member of the Penguins against Detroit, then went to the other side and played for the Cup last season with the Red Wings, who in turn lost to the Penguins in seven games. Maybe the third time will be the charm for Hossa and the Blackhawks. I love the leadership of young stars Jonathan Toews, the Hawks captain, and the ultra-talented Patrick Kane.

As for the Flyers, let's not forget they had to beat the Rangers on the final day of the regular season in a shootout to make the playoffs. That in itself was amazing. Then they came back from 3-0 down in the Eastern Conference Semifinals to beat the Boston Bruins in seven games and then they disposed of the red hot Montreal Canadiens in five games. This after the Habs beat the top-seeded Washington Capitals in seven games, coming back from being down 3-1. Then in the next round they came back to eliminate the defending champs from Pittsburgh in seven games, again after trailing in the series 3-1. Safe to say the Flyers are a team with incredible mojo right now.

Chris Pronger has once again proven he's a difference maker on the back end. He might be getting up there in age, but he makes an instant impact on every team he's been on since the lockout in 2004-05. In 2006 he helped Edmonton to the Finals before the Oilers lost to Carolina in seven games and then in 2007 he helped Anaheim win the Stanley Cup. Now he's helped lead the Flyers to the Finals for the first time since 1997.

Both teams share one thing in common: the last time they made it to the Finals, they were swept. Philly was swept by Detroit in '97, while the Hawks were swept by Super Mario (Lemieux) and the Pens in 1992. I don't see a sweep by either team in this series, though. I think it goes six games and the Hawks will end the longest current Stanley Cup drought in the NHL with their first cup since 1961.

Moving on now to a couple of other items I’ve yet to discuss. Earlier this week the Monsters parent club, the Colorado Avalanche, resigned one of their all-time greats to a one-year contract. Adam Foote, who turns 39 on July 10th, will be back in an Avs sweater for at least one more season. It will be Foote's 19th NHL season. I have always loved Foote's competitiveness and work ethic; he plays the game the way a defenseman, at least in my opinion, should. He's tough as nails, he blocks shots, he does it all in his own end and he will continue to be a great mentor for the Avs young defensemen like Kyle Cumiskey and Ryan Wilson. It's amazing how many young Monsters players that have been called-up told me what an impact Adam Foote has made on them. That just shows the class and character of Foote.

And finally, there was a big front office move earlier this week involving the Tampa Bay Lightning and their hiring of general manager Steve Yzerman. I must admit, growing up in Michigan and then working in the broadcast industry for a several years in Michigan, Yzerman was one of my sports idols and it's going to be a little strange for me seeing him in Tampa and not with the Red Wings.

I think this was a move he had to make if he one day wants to be the Red Wings general manager. He was a part of the front office but was not going to get the hands-on experience needed to be a full-time GM. I think it's a great move and he will make a huge impact on the franchise in Tampa that has gone through its share of ups and downs since they won the Stanley Cup in 2004. They have two cornerstones to continue to build around in Vincent Lecavalier and Steven Stamkos.

Just some thoughts for you on a variety of topics in what is a busy offseason, an offseason that I’m enjoying. I am already working on some things for next season here with the Monsters. I am so excited for the season to start and, like you, I hope that next season will lead to the Monsters making the Calder Cup Playoffs in 2011.

Remember, you can also email me questions or comments at No Holden Back. I would love to hear your thoughts or comments on anything hockey related.

Look for more columns and thoughts in coming offseason editions of "The View From The Booth" throughout the remainder of the spring and summer months. It won't be long before we're back at The Q watching and cheering on the Monsters!

Sincerely,

Ben Holden

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