Manchester was pretty clearly the best team to come through here this year. Deep, fast, skilled, well-put-together. In their last season in town, they got it done: Sean Backman and mates got themselves a ring with a 2-1 win tonight in Game 5 in Utica, winning the Calder Cup.
Manchester scored two goals in 3:07 midway through the first and had a potential third goal negated on replay soon after (batted in with a hand, apparently), and then Patrik Bartosak and the Monarchs withstood Utica’s comeback attempt (a few chances wide) until Cal O’Reilly broke up the shutout with 14.8 seconds left.
Backman becomes the seventh former Sound Tiger to win the Calder Cup (Ray Schultz, Eric Manlow, Jason Krog, Kip Brennan, Trevor Smith, Brett Skinner). He finished seventh in AHL playoff scoring (fifth on the Monarchs) with 17 points in 19 games. Michael Mersch led with 22 points in 18 games; Jordan Weal, playoff MVP, was right behind with 22 in 19, and Brian O’Neill had 20 in 19.
And so that’s it for ManchVegas, whom we eulogized when they last visited. Manchester joins Pittsburgh (1967) and Buffalo (1970)* as franchises to win the Calder Cup in their final seasons. Although those cities weren’t moving to the ECHL.
The Monarchs went 15-4 in the playoffs, and their toughest test came in the first round, when Portland came back from a 2-0 series deficit to force a Game 5. That game was tied after two but quickly became a two-goal game. Since Bridgeport joined the league, the only team with fewer playoff losses was the 2012 Norfolk juggernaut, which went 15-3. (Philadelphia in 2005 and Hershey in 2010 both went 16-5 with the old best-of-7 first round. If you cut off those first-round series after the third win, they’d both finish 15-4, also.)
A Utica win would’ve made it likely that we’d have had our first update to one of the lists on this post since Dawn’s question brought it about six years ago. But no. See ya Monday, (team that wins tonight in Tampa).
And so ends the 14th AHL season to include the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, as well as the 10th season of the blog. The offseason is already well underway, so we’ll be around.
*-Coaches: Baz Bastien and Fred Shero. Not bad accidental company, Mike Stothers.