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Steelheads in the Stanley Cup & Calder Cup Playoffs

Monday, May 2nd
Steelheads in the Stanley Cup & Calder Cup Playoffs

Though the Idaho Steelheads missed out on the chance of a postseason run, an array of alumni players and staff members look to make their marks in their respective runs for championships across North America.The National Hockey League (NHL) and American Hockey League (AHL) open their postseasons this week with the Stanley Cup Playoffs opening four of their series last night and the Calder Cup Playoffs hosting just one of their opening rounds last night, one tonight and the other five tomorrow. The two teams affiliated with the Steelheads, the Dallas Stars (NHL) and the Texas Stars (AHL), both qualified for their respective postseasons and will begin on tonight and Wednesday, respectively.As of today, there are four members across three NHL clubs, joining the ECHL's list of 47 player alumni and 22 coaches in the Stanley Cup Playoffs.Below is a "Where's Waldo" guide to both leagues, starting with the NHL's Stanley Cup Playoffs followed by the AHL's Calder Cup Playoffs.

PLAYER POS IDAHO SEASONS NHL TEAM
Jack Campbell G 2014-16 Toronto Maple Leafs
Derek Laxdal AC 2005-10 Dallas Stars
Adam Scheel G 2021-22 Dallas Stars
Thomas Speer GC 2011-12 Calgary Flames
  • Jack Campbell became the first Steelheads goaltending alum to be named to the NHL All-Star Game in February. He is tied for fourth in the NHL in shutouts (5) and holds a 31-9-6 record with a 2.64 GAA and .914 save pct., setting a career-best in wins now in his third season with Toronto. This is his second playoff appearance after going 3-4-0 with a 1.81 GAA and .934 save pct. with Toronto last season.
  • Adam Scheel started the 2021-22 season with the Steelheads, playing six games and holding a 3-3-0 record with a 2.37 GAA and .917 save pct. before being recalled to the Texas Stars. He has backed up on numerous occassions for the Dallas Stars this season but has yet to make his NHL debut. In 31 AHL games this year, he is 11-10-7 with a 2.91 GAA and a .902 save pct.

This year's Stanley Cup Playoffs marks the first time that two alumni members will go head-to-head as staff members, thuogh one will be behind the bench. Derek Laxdal makes his second playoff apperance behind the bench as an assistant coach during his third season with the Dallas Stars. He is the only coach in Steelheads history to reach the Kelly Cup Finals twice while winning in 2007 and reaching the Final in 2010.

Thomas Speer came through the Steelheads as a goaltender, playing two games during the 2011-12 season and making his professional debut on Jan. 6, 2012 against the Ontario Reign. He began his coaching career with the CHL's Allen Americans in 2013-14 as a goaltending coach while picking up scouting for the NAHL's Wichita Falls Wildcats in 2015-16. After two seasons assisting the U.S. National Team Development Program (USNTDP) as a goaltending coach, he was hired by the Calgary Flames to work in development partnered with the AHL's Stockton Heat.

The Dallas Stars claimed one of the two Wild Card spots in the Western Conference to punch their ticket to the postseason after missing the playoffs last season. The Stars finished the season with 98 points in 82 games and is one of five teams in the Central Division to make the playoffs. Because they were the higher Wild Card team, they take on the division leader with the second-best record: the Calgary Flames, who finished with 111 points atop the Pacific Division. The Stars are the only team in the 2022 Stanley Cup Playoffs with a negative goal-differential (-8) during the regular season. Their last postseason run took them to the Stanley Cup Final in 2020, falling in six games to the Tampa Bay Lightning.

But what about the highest development league in North America? Below is a list of the Steelheads alumni spattered across the AHL this postseason:

PLAYER POS IDAHO SEASONS AHL TEAM
Yauheni Aksiantsiuk F 2021-22 Texas Stars
Dawson Barteaux D 2021-22 Texas Stars
Alex Belzile F 2014-15 Laval Rocket
Justin Dowling F 2012-13 Abbotsford Canucks
Neil Graham HC 2012-19 Texas Stars
Matt Jurusik G 2021-22 Texas Stars
Kale Kessy F 2018-19 Hershey Bears
Jake Kupsky G 2021-22 Colorado Eagles
Samuel Laberge F 2017-18 Utica Comets
Max Lagace G 2015-16 Syracuse Crunch
Kyle Marino F 2021-22 Chicago Wolves
Max Martin D 2021-22 Texas Stars
Tye Felhaber F 2019-20 Syracuse Crunch

Italics indicates played for Steelheads in 2021-22

Six of the 12 players on AHL rosters played with the Steelheads during the 2021-22 season, and only two of those six are not on the Texas Stars: Jake Kupsky (Colorado) and Kyle Marino (Chicago). Additionally three of the 12 players listed come with NHL experience and figure to make the largest impact:

  • Alex Belzile played both in the NHL and AHL this season, totaling 11 games with the Montreal Canadiens and posting 22 points (10g, 12) in 32 games with the Laval Rocket. Belzile made his NHL regular season debut on May 8, 2021 against Toronto but made his NHL debut during the 2020 Stanley Cup Playoffs on Aug. 7, 2020. Belzile will factor in as a top-line skater for AHL Laval after finishing third in the North Division. Belzile posted 69 points (28g, 41a) in 63 games with the Steelheads during the 2014-15 season.
  • Justin Dowling also split time between the top two levels of play, earning four points (2g, 2a) in 22 games with the Vancouver Canucks as well as 14 points (5g, 9a) in 15 games with the Abbotsford Canucks. This is the first season for Dowling outside the Dallas Stars affiliation since the 2011-12 campaign when he split between the Utah Grizzlies and AHL Abbotsford when part of the Calgary Flames affiliation. Dowling has played 98 NHL games between Dallas and Vancouver since the 2016-17 season. He will earn top billing in Abbotsford after the team finished fifth in the Pacific Division. Dowling earned 46 points (13g, 33a) in 34 games with Idaho in 2012-13.
  • Maxime Lagace spent a majority of the season with the Syracuse Crunch as their top option for goaltending, posting a 23-9-2 record with a 2.31 GAA and a .910 save pct. with four shutouts and finishing tied for fourth in the AHL for shutouts this season. He did appear in two games for the Tampa Bay Lightning this season during the middle part of the year but will be the primary option in the Calder Cup Playoffs. Lagace made his NHL debut with the Vegas Golden Knights and has played for three different NHL teams: the Pittsburgh Penguins, Tampa Bay and Vegas. He appeared in 11 games with the Steelheads in 2015-16, posting a 3-5-2 record with a 3.09 GAA and an .886 save pct. while under contract with AHL Texas.

The nature of the playoff rosters for the AHL are very fluid with the opportunity for movement between the NHL and AHL clubs throughout the postseason. If an AHL team falls during the postseason, there could be movement up to NHL clubs that would classify them as "Black Aces", or players that will be exclusively practicing with the team. Conversely, if a NHL team is eliminated, there could be some players with NHL and AHL contracts that could be shifted down to the lower club.

The Calder Cup Playoff qualification is a little different compared to the NHL and ECHL regulations. While the NHL enters three teams from each division and two wild card spots and the ECHL qualifies the top-four teams in each division, the AHL has all but two teams qualify in each division, allowing for 23 of 31 teams to make the postseason. Teams participate in a best-of-three play-in round to narrow the field to four teams per division with the number of teams earning automatic bids into that divisional semifinal varying based on the number of qualifying teams (Atlantic = 2, North = 3, Central 3 = Pacific 1). This is the first official postseason for the AHL since the 2019 Calder Cup Playoffs after the last two postseasons were abandoned due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Texas Stars rallied in the second half of the season to claim the fifth and final spot in the Central Division postseason picture with 76 points in 72 games and doing so in the final weekend of the regular season. The Stars are part of the only Central Division play-in series against the Rockford IceHogs, who finished ahead of the Stars by just three points. The winner of that series will take on the Chicago Wolves in the next round. Led by Steelheads alum and Stars Head Coach Neil Graham, the Stars return to the postseason for the first time since falling in seven games in the 2018 Calder Cup Final.

There are plenty of rooting interests across professional hockey this postseason. Will you cheer on the affiliation or go for the individual rooting interests and pick favorites?

The choice is up to you!

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