Seven NAHL alumni in Stanley Cup Final
June 1, 2015
When the Stanley Cup Final opens on Wednesday with Game 1 in Tampa Bay matching the Eastern Conference Champion Tampa Bay Lightning and the Western Conference Champion Chicago Blackhawks, a total of seven NAHL alumni will be involved in the series.
The Tampa Bay Lightning have four members that were involved in the NAHL: Goaltender Ben Bishop (Texas Tornado, 2004-05, NAHL All-Rookie Team), Head Coach Jon Cooper (Texarkana/St. Louis Bandits, 2003-08, Two-time NAHL Coach of the Year), defenseman Andrej Sustr (Kenai River Brown Bears, 2008-09) and defenseman Matt Carle (USNDTP, 2000-02).
Meanwhile, the Chicago Blackhawks have three players that played in the NAHL including, forward Brandon Saad (Mahoning Valley Phantims, 2008-09, NAHL Rookie of the Year), forward Patrick Kane (USNTDP, 2004-06) and goaltender Scott Darling (North Iowa Outlaws, 2005-07).
Game 1: Chicago vs. Tampa Bay, Wednesday, 7 p.m. NBC
Game 2: Chicago vs. Tampa Bay, Saturday, June 6, 6:15 p.m. NBC
Game 3: Tampa Bay vs. Chicago, Monday, June 8, 7 p.m. NBCSN
Game 4: Tampa Bay vs. Chicago, Wednesday, June 10, 7 p.m. NBCSN
Game 5: Chicago vs. Tampa Bay, Saturday, June 13*, 7 p.m. NBC
Game 6: Tampa Bay vs. Chicago, Monday, June 15*, 7 p.m. NBC
Game 7: Chicago vs. Tampa Bay, Wednesday, June 17*, 7 p.m. NBC
Bishop leads all goaltenders in this year's playoffs with three shutouts, including 2-0 victories on the road in Games 5 and 7 of the Eastern Conference Final against the New York Rangers. He is only the third goalie in NHL history to post shutouts in two Game 7’s in the same playoff year, joining Tim Thomas (also an NAHL grad) and Patrick Roy.
Each team relies on speed and puck possession but can shut down opponents when the game is on the line. Chicago is 32-0-0 in the regular season and playoffs when leading after two periods. The Lightning are 9-0-0 this spring when scoring first, and all three of Bishop's shutouts have been 2-0 wins. The Lightning have won three playoff rounds for the first time in a decade, but Bishop knows there's still much left to do.
"We still haven't accomplished anything yet," Bishop said after the Game 7 win in New York. "We're four wins away. It's going to be probably the hardest four wins of all of our careers. We know there's a lot ahead of us."
For Tampa Bay, Bishop has silenced critics and proven that he is among the NHL’s goaltending elite. There has been lots of talk about Bishop's glove hand, rebound control and general inconsistency, but every time he got knocked down, he has responded with a strong performance.
Bishop is 7-1 with a 1.25 goals-against average, .951 save percentage and two shutouts in games after losses in the playoffs. He is 12-8 with a .920 save percentage and 2.15 GAA overall in the playoffs. He set a couple of NHL records along the way.
Bishop became the first goalie in NHL history to send his team to the Cup Final with a road shutout (2-0 in Game 7 against the Rangers). He also became the first goalie in NHL history to have shutouts in each of his first two Game 7 appearances (Game 7 vs. Detroit, Game 7 vs. New York).
In addition, Bishop became the first goalie in NHL history to earn road shutouts in Games 5 and 7 of one playoff series (26 saves in 2-0 win in Game 5 vs. New York; 22 saves in 2-0 win in Game 7 vs. New York).
Ironically, Sustr and Carle are on the same defensive pairing and have both been solid at the blueline, playing in all the playoff games to date.
As for Cooper, a former two-time NAHL Coach of the Year, he is trying to continue a unique trend in his coaching career this postseason. In almost every one of his stops along his way to the NHL, Cooper has won a championship in his second full season in the city. This is his second full season with the Lightning; he was hired on March 25, 2013.
Most recently, Cooper won the Calder Cup in his second season coaching in the American Hockey League. Playing for him on the Norfolk Admirals in 2011-12 were Johnson, Palat and Killorn.
Cooper also won Championships in the NAHL (twice with the St. Louis Bandits in 2007 and 2008) and also won an NA3HL Championship with the Metro Jets in 2002. He also won a USHL Championship with Green Bay following his five-year stint in the NAHL.
He has pushed all the right buttons since being hired by the Lightning. He has also gained enough experience through this playoff run to feel as though he can match his coaching wits and IQ against anyone.
For the Blackhawks, NAHL alumni Brandon Saad and Patrick Kane have been two of the three players on Chicago’s main line that have played in a big role in getting the team to this point.
Kane was expected to miss up to 12 weeks with a fractured clavicle he sustained in late February. He actually missed seven and was ready for Game 1 of the Western Conference First Round against the Nashville Predators. Kane has 10 goals and 20 points in 17 games, showing no ill effects from the injury.
Kane moved to the top line for the final two games of the Western Conference Final, joining captain Jonathan Toews and emerging star Saad to form a trio that devastated the Anaheim Ducks.
Saad been a mainstay on the Hawks’ top line all season long, skating with Toews and Marian Hossa and coming into his own as one of the best young two way forwards in the game. He had a career year stats-wise, scoring 23 goals and dishing out 29 assists for the Blackhawks. He has six goals and eight points in the playoffs to date.
The Blackhawks went to backup Scott Darling during the Nashville series. Darling won Game 1 in relief and started Games 3 through 6 before Crawford won in relief of him to close out the series. Darling had strong numbers as the backup this season.