Iowa Wild goaltender Andrew Hammond.
PHOTO: Icon Sportswire
AHL WEEKEND: Checkers, Marlies on hold, four others play on

The second round of the Calder Cup Playoffs has two clubs through to the third round and four more clubs battling for two other available spots.

In the Eastern Conference, May usually means that the Toronto Marlies are still playing. This year only the opponent differs for the Marlies, who are in their third Eastern Conference Final in four seasons and fifth trip to the third round in the past eight seasons. They will face the Charlotte Checkers, who powered past through the Hershey Bears in a second-round sweep. Toronto finished off the Cleveland Monsters for their second sweep this postseason.

Charlotte, the top affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes, is a part of a remarkable playoff run for the entire organization. Carolina has reached the Eastern Conference Final against the Boston Bruins. The Checkers joined them this week as did the organization’s ECHL affiliate, the Florida Everblades, in moving to a conference final. While the Checkers face the Marlies, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ AHL affiliate, the Everblades will go up against the Newfoundland Growlers in the ECHL’s Eastern Conference Final. Newfoundland is the Leafs’ ECHL affiliate.

No rest this weekend in the Western Conference, where both second-round series continued with games on Friday night and play will continue at least until Monday.

But Charlotte and Toronto have plenty of time for healing, practicing, and pre-scout work. Game 1 of the Eastern Conference Final is not scheduled until next Friday at Charlotte. The Marlies will have had 10 days between games after completing their second-round sweep. Charlotte is going nine days between series.

San Diego had missed a chance to put a stranglehold on Bakerfield this past Wednesday night at home in a game in which each team gave up a two-goal lead. But they took their chance on Friday night and moved into clinch mode after a 4-2 victory on home ice.

The Gulls had taken the first two games of the series at Bakersfield, including a four-overtime Game 1 victory that ranks as the fifth-longest contest in AHL history.

Bakersfield will host Game 5 on Saturday night.

Bakersfield has been getting by without a pair of top injured forwards in Kailer Yamamoto and Cooper Marody. Yamamoto has had season-ending wrist surgery. The 22nd pick in the 2017 NHL Draft, Yamamoto went to Bakersfield one day after Oilers president of hockey operations and general manager Peter Chiarelli was fired in January. Yamamoto, 20, finished 10-8-18 in 27 games for the Condors. He also played 17 games for Edmonton, going 1-1-2. Edmonton announced that Yamamoto will be available for training camp this fall. Marody had a 19-45-64 regular season as an AHL rookie and found chemistry with Benson, but he has missed the San Diego series so far. In the Condors’ first-round win against the Colorado Eagles, he was held without a point in four games.

As for the Wolves, they had lost back-to-back games at Iowa after taking the first two games at home.

Andrew Hammond had kept the potent Wolves offense quiet in Iowa, until they were able to strike back with a 7-4 win on Friday night to move within one win from the Conference final. Forward Curtis McKenzie stood out with a hat-trick.

Iowa forward Gerry Mayhew’s excellent performance also has earned him a longer stay in the Minnesota organization. He agreed to a two-year, two-way contract with Minnesota that will eventually take him to a healthy $200,000 salary at the AHL level in 2020-21. Going 27-33-60 in 71 games for AHL this season, the 26-year-old reached career bests in goals, assists, and points. His 27 goals set a new Iowa season record, and he also pumped 205 shots on net. That standard has continued in the postseason, where he has posted 9-1-10 in nine playoff games. His nine goals led the AHL going into play on Friday.

The Wolves will host Game 6 as well as Game 7, if necessary.

The Charlotte-Toronto season series featured four meetings, with the Marlies taking three decisions. That included the Marlies sweeping a two-game set in Charlotte on January 19-20. They shut out Charlotte in the series final, 5-0, on a 37-save performance from goaltender Kasimir Kaskisuo.

With the Hurricanes and Checkers still alive, Carolina is bidding to become the first NHL organization to win the Stanley Cup and Calder Cup in the same season since 1995. That year, the New Jersey Devils won their first Stanley Cup while the Albany River Rats captured the Calder Cup. The NHL season had been limited to a 48-game regular season by a lockout. In 1976 and 1977, the Montreal Canadiens and their AHL affiliate, the Nova Scotia Voyageurs, each won back-to-back championships in their respective leagues.

Charlotte forward Aleksi Saarela continues to be a dominant AHL goal-scorer. His hat trick at Hershey in Game helped to finish the series for the Checkers and gave him four goals in the final two games of that series. Taken in the third round of the 2015 NHL Draft by the New York Rangers, he came to the Carolina organization in the Eric Staal trade in 2017. Now 22 years old, he finished in Charlotte team scoring, including a team-leading 30 goals, thanks to a 30-24-54 performance. In seven playoff games, he is up to 6-4-10.

Kaskisuo will face the AHL’s second-most productive offense in Charlotte. However, the 25-year-old has been dominant, going 7-0 | 1.56 | .949. Should he falter, Marlies head coach Sheldon Keefe could also turn to top veteran Michael Hutchinson.

This will be Charlotte’s first trip to the Eastern Conference Final since 2011. While still the Hartford Whalers and in a dual affiliation with the then-Phoenix Coyotes, the organization lost a 1997 AHL conference final against Hershey. The Springfield Indians won the 1991 Calder Cup as a Whalers affiliate. Another former affiliate, the Binghamton Whalers, lost a 1982 Calder Cup Final against the New Brunswick Hawks, then a dual affiliate of the Leafs and Chicago Blackhawks.

In their past two trips to the Eastern Conference Final, Toronto swept the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last year and lost in five games to Hershey in 2016. In previous conference finals, the Marlies won in 2012 and also lost in 2008 and 2014. Along with last season’s Calder Cup championship Marlies team, the Leafs organization also won that 1982 Calder Cup Final.

The Hurricanes and Leafs have minimal playoff history at the AHL level. The organizations played a 2002 AHL first-round series that the Leafs prospects won, 3-2. In 1986 during the Carolina organization’s Whalers days, Binghamton dropped a six-game first-round series to the St. Catharines Saints, the Leafs’ former AHL club.

Several AHL names are already on the move to Europe.

Defenseman Marcus Högström of the Stockton Heat will return home after being limited by injury to 12 games this season. He signed a new deal with Djurgårdens of the SHL.

In what was not a surprise at all, defenseman Julius Bergman will return home as well. SHL champion Frölunda signed the 23-year-old, who had spent time in the organization earlier in his career. Bergman played 233 AHL regular-season games in four seasons without an NHL appearance. After an offseason trade from the San Jose Sharks organization to the Ottawa Senators, he spent time with the Belleville Senators until February. Then he went to the Columbus Blue Jackets in a trade before being quickly flipped to the New York Rangers. There, he finished the season with the Hartford Wolf Pack.

Also off to the SHL is Rockford IceHogs forward Victor Ejdsell, who has returned to a familiar place with Färjestad BK. He went 12-17-19 in 61 regular-season games for Rockford. Binghamton Devils defenseman John Ramage is DEL-bound on a new deal with Eisbären Berlin. Despite playing 74 games and producing 12-19-31 for a non-playoff team, he did not receive a recall to the parent New Jersey Devils. He leaves the AHL having played 384 regular-season games and was a member of the 2016 Lake Erie Monsters’ championship run.

Grand Rapids Griffins defenseman Dylan McIlrath will be staying in Michigan for awhile. The parent Detroit Red Wings signed the hard-nosed 27-year-old to a new two-year contract extension. Detroit acquired him from the Florida Panthers organization in March 2017, and he has settled in with the organization. Along with being a member of the 2017 Grand Rapids championship team, he also logged seven games this season with the Red Wings. In 52 games for the Griffins this season, he was 1-9-10 and led the team with 98 penalty minutes. He originally was the 10th pick in the 2010 NHL Draft by the Rangers, but his NHL career has been limited to 50 games.

Offseason changes for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins have already started. The parent Pittsburgh Penguins signed HPK blueliner Niclas Almari to a three-year entry-level contract. Pittsburgh drafted Almari, now 20, in the fifth round of the 2016 NHL Draft. He just finished his third season as a part of HPK’s championship run and was 1-4-5 in 42 regular-season games. HPK also qualified for play in the Champions Hockey League next season. Wilkes-Barre/Scranton’s 16-season playoff streak ended this season.








WINS – 7

GAA – 1.56



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This article is about:
AHL Column Iowa Wild Bakersfield Condors San Diego Gulls Chicago Wolves AHL NHL Daniel Carr Andrew Hammond Julius Bergman Marcus Högström
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