This post-season, many Blues fans were keeping their fingers crossed that the AHL farm team, the Springfield Thunderbirds, could pull off what the Blues could not. It certainly looked like a possibility, with the T’Birds making it to the Calder Cup final.
Unfortunately, those hopes were dashed last night with the Wolves’ 4-0 victory in game five. The Carolina Hurricanes’ AHL affiliate (and former Blues’ affiliate) took their first Cup since 2009. This was the Wolves’ first appearance in the Calder Cup Final since 2019, where they were defeated 4-1 by the then-affiliate of the Hurricanes, the Charlotte Checkers.
The Wolves have a tremendous fan base and a strong foundation thanks to the Bill Wirtz years in Chicago, where the Blackhawks weren’t broadcast on television (and were also terrible). They also have a bit of a reputation for doing things their way, NHL teams be damned, which admittedly has contributed to their five Turner/Calder Cups since the team’s inception in 1994/1995.
The Thunderbirds have had a much less easy go of things, for the past five seasons finishing in the lower half of the standings in each season not interrupted by COVID-19. This year, their first as a Blues’ affiliate, they finished second in the Atlantic Division before starting their playoff run that admittedly was fueled by many Blues’ regular call-ups. Their appearance in the Calder Cup Final was their first in 31 years.
In the end, the Thunderbirds didn’t have a response for the Wolves’ penalty kill, powerful offense, and the outstanding goaltending of Alex Lyon.
Thunderbirds coach Drew Bannister was circumspect in his evaluation of the end of his team’s season:
“This is going to go a long way for our players that were a part of this year. Next year, though, we will come back as a team that has gone through tough times. But has a good understanding of how to get here and realizing that it’s not easy.”
The Thunderbirds have the experience - and the ammo - for another run next year. Much of next season’s success will also depend upon which members of this years team find a home with the Blues next year - either Joel Hofer or Charles Lindgren are candidates for the position of backup, and Dakota Joshua should be seen more often in the NHL.