The Bakersfield Condors, for the first time in their AHL history, will play for the Calder Cup this spring. After three seasons outside of the dance, the Condors not only clinched their first ever playoff spot, but won the Pacific Division and will enter the postseason as the top seed in the Western Conference.
It’s already been a wildly successful season for rookie head coach Jay Woodcroft, who trusted the kids on the farm with marquee roles and helped deliver the best AHL season in recent memory for the organization. It’s the first time the Oilers’ AHL affiliate has reached the playoffs since 2014-15, and the first time in recent memory they have done it on the strength of the kids.
The Oklahoma City Barons never missed the playoffs in their brief existence, but Todd Nelson’s teams were built on veterans first. The organization’s prospects were simply secondary pieces, while guys like Matt Ford and Colin MacDonald and Bryan Helmer led the show. Not anymore.
Cooper Marody and Tyler Benson were two of the top-three rookie scorers in the entire league this past season, with Benson finishing eighth overall in the league with 66 points. Marody, 13th in league scoring, wasn’t far behind and both are trending towards being NHL’ers in due time.
Rookie goalie Shane Starrett, an ECHL All-Star in 2017-18, was fifth in the league in save percentage with a .918 mark and was tied for third in wins with 27. Among rookie goalies, Starrett finished first in both save percentage and wins.
Defensively, the team’s three best rearguards this season are all prospects. Caleb Jones took a massive step forward and looked NHL ready in a brief stint back in December, while Ethan Bear has emerged after an injury plagued first half. William Lagesson has been a pleasant surprise as well, combining a calm defensive game with more offense than we were lead to believe he possessed.
Logan Day, a rookie on an AHL contract, finished fifth in rookie defenseman scoring with 34 points on the season, and has likely earned an NHL contract with the organization.
The kids have helped propel the Condors to new heights this season, which is a welcomed change. For far too long we have seen Edmonton’s AHL affiliate be either noncompetitive or filled with league veterans that really didn’t have a chance to make the NHL. Finally that is no longer the case.
Not every prospect from the Condors will make it to the NHL, in fact history suggests more will fall short than make it. That said, guys like Benson, Marody and Jones could be on the roster opening night next October, while Bear and Lagesson are sure to make things interesting in camp.
The Journey Ahead:
I think it is fair to suggest that the season has already been a major success in Bakersfield. The Condors were led by Edmonton prospects who stepped up and showed well in the minors, while the team made the playoffs for the first time in their young history. No matter what happens this spring, there are so many positives to take away.
Of course, now you’d like to see some playoff success and you’d like to see some guys redeem themselves. Kailer Yamamoto has a great chance to right the ship this postseason after an underwhelming rookie pro season, while Cameron Hebig has a chance to quiet questions from a sluggish second half.
Bakersfield will be favored in the opening round, and on paper they are the better team. They’ll face the Colorado Eagles, AHL affiliate of the Avalanche, starting on Friday night in Loveland, Colorado.
The opening round of the AHL’s playoff is a best-of-five series, and the higher seed gets to choose if they open up at home or on the road. The Condors elected to play their two road games right away, and will be in Colorado for games one and two. The rest of the series will be played in Bakersfield, with games three, four and five heading to the coast.
Game one will be Friday night, with Game two going Saturday, both at 7:05 pm MT. Game three in Bakersfield will be next Tuesday night at 8:00 pm MT, and if necessary Game four (April 27th) and Game five (April 28th) will be that weekend.
Interestingly enough, these former ECHL foes have not met since January 23rd, when Bakersfield blasted Colorado 7-2 at home. The Condors will be hoping for a repeat of that this weekend.