Mitch Love won the Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the American Hockey League’s outstanding coach this season.
Love, therefore, is not going to sweat one loss, especially after his team swept Bakersfield in their first series and then shut out an offensively talented Colorado club in each of the first two games of the Pacific Division Finals.
The calm, even-tempered Love quickly moved past a 6-5 overtime loss to the Eagles in Game 3 on Friday night. On one hand, Colorado broke three Stockton leads. Then again, Stockton had three leads to break.
“We had our chance to put the game away and had leads in the hockey game, and weren’t able to do so,” Love said. “We knew we had to come here and try to win a road game, and we get another crack at it [tonight].”
And without putting too much of a silver lining on a loss, the Game 3 setback does provide his players with some adversity before the postseason progresses much further. National Hockey League organizations value the Calder Cup Playoffs in part because of the highs and lows that the experience provides their prospects; the Heat experienced one of those lows in Game 3 and must now figure out how to rebound successfully.
“I think every team this time of the year has to face some adversity,” Love said. “It’s how you channel your response in adverse moments. The beauty of the playoffs is you’ve got to park it. You’ve got to stay even-keeled and get back to work.
“And that’s where we’re at. We’ll continue to work with our team game, make adjustments that we need, and have a credible response.”
Dual affiliations can pose many complications for an American Hockey League team, but the Charlotte Checkers more than navigated those challenges all season.
The bond that the Checkers built made last night’s season-ending 5-1 loss to the Springfield Thunderbirds sting that much more. It marked the end of a one-year dual affiliation between the Florida Panthers and Seattle Kraken and the break-up of prospects from two NHL organizations who became one AHL team.
Charlotte, which became the top affiliate of the Panthers in 2020, provided a home for Kraken prospects in 2021-22 while Seattle’s new AHL home in Palm Springs, Calif., is being constructed. The Coachella Valley Firebirds will begin play in the fall, meaning next season’s Checkers roster will have a markedly different look.
Checkers captain Zac Dalpe took the loss ― and the end of the Florida-Seattle bond built in Charlotte ― hard.
“I’m upset,” Dalpe said after the game. “In my 12 years, this is the closest team I’ve ever been on in terms of relationships with guys. In the blink of an eye, you’re never going to have the same group again. Obviously you want to win with that type of group.”
But Charlotte was more than a close team. The Checkers won. A lot. They went 16-3-2-1 in March and April to finish first in the Atlantic Division, and eliminated Bridgeport before running into turbulence in the division finals. Dalpe and the Checkers went into the postseason looking for much more, up to and including a Calder Cup.
“I’ve played a long time, and I haven’t won anything,” Dalpe said, “and I really want to win. I’m upset.”
Geordie Kinnear, who has been head coach of Florida’s AHL affiliate since 2016, will miss the Seattle contingent, which included Joey Daccord, Alexander True, Max McCormick, Connor Carrick, Gustav Olofsson, Carsen Twarynski, Dennis Cholowski, Cale Fleury, Antoine Bibeau, and assistant coach Dan Bylsma.
“I’m proud,” Kinnear said. “Honestly, I’m so proud. We were kind of like an expansion team with two different organizations and guys that I didn’t know, and I didn’t know Dan Bylsma at all.
“We just kept building over time. You look at the guys that stepped in, all the adversity that we went through, all the goalies we went through – they had a special bond, this group. I couldn’t be more proud of our group. They made it a special year for me, and one I’ll always remember and be proud of.”
― Patrick Williams