ST. JOHN’S, N.L. — It took the Texas Stars a little extra work to win the American Hockey League’s championship trophy.
For the third game in a row, the Stars needed overtime to beat the St. John’s IceCaps en route to the franchise’s first Calder Cup.
Patrick Nemeth scored 14:30 into the extra period of Game 5 Tuesday night to give Texas a 4-3 victory over St. John’s. Nemeth deked inside and out and headed into the slot before firing a wrist shot top shelf past IceCaps goaltender Michael Hutchinson.
“Three overtime games and coming from behind in a couple of them, It just shows all the character, and hard work we have in that locker room,” said Texas forward Travis Morin. “We never gave up and we never quit. Every time, we found a way. We felt that if we played our game for 60 minutes, no matter what happened, we’d have a chance.”
Morin, who was the overtime hero in Game 4, was crowned the most valuable player for the 2014 Calder Cup playoffs. However, he credited his team with helping him earn the award.
“It’s an honour,” said Morin. “It really goes out to the whole team because I couldn’t have done it without them. My linemates, (Brendan) Ranford and (Curtis) McKenzie, they did a hell of a job putting me in good spots and finishing plays. It’s really a team effort.”
After finishing the regular season in first place the path to the Calder Cup wasn’t easy for the Stars, who needed a Game 7 to eliminate the Toronto Marlies in the Western Conference final.
“It’s a lot of overwhelming joy,” said Morin. “Ten months of hard work all for one goal. Everybody starts with this goal in mind, but only one team gets to realize it. Right now, we’re just soaking up the moment.”
IceCaps captain Jason Jaffray said the loss was a tough pill to swallow, especially with how tight the last three games have been in St. John’s.
“It’s devastating, obviously,” he said. “You come this far, and with how hard the guys battled all year, it’s incredibly tough. You lose three games in overtime, a couple unlucky goals, it could’ve went either way. We could’ve been playing for a championship here tonight, it could’ve been 3-to-1 (in the series) in the other direction. They got the big goals when need be and give them credit. Their big guys came up when they needed them.”
Jaffray praised his teammates with battling hard in the series, although they fell short in the end.
“I can’t say enough about our guys,” said Jaffray. “Hutchinson came out of nowhere and gave us a chance to win, making incredible save after incredible save. He deserves better (than to lose). He kept us in every game and won us Game 2.
Mike Hedden had two goals and Brett Ritchie also scored for Texas in regulation time.
Blair Riley, Jordan Hill and Josh Lunden supplied the offence for St. John’s.
Hedden opened the scoring for the Stars when he carried the puck down the right wing and cut to the net, before toe-dragging and burying the puck high blocker side with a wrist shot at the 18:52 of the first period.
Ritchie used a defenceman as a screen for his club’s second goal, as he shot it around an IceCaps defenceman, fooling Hutchinson over the shoulder at the 4:59 mark of the second period.
The IceCaps scored their first when Hill fired a wrist shot from the point through a screen of several players in front of the net, at the 11:06 mark of the second.
A perfect tape-to-tape pass from Zach Redmond at the right point found a flying Lunden at the left post for a one-time wrist shot into an open net at 16:38 of the second.
St. John’s took the lead for the first time when Riley intercepted a pass between the defencemen in the slot and capitalized on a breakaway chance, beating Stars goalie Cristopher Nilstrop above his glove 6:33 into the third period.
The Stars tied the game when the puck hit off of Hedden in the slot, with several players crashing the net, and flipped up and over Hutchinson with 6:34 left in the third period.
Hutchinson made 41 saves for the IceCaps, while Nilstrop turned aside 33 shots for the Stars.