HERSHEY, Pa. (WHTM) – The Hershey Bears are on the quest for their 12th Calder Cup in franchise history as they prepare to start the championship series against the Coachella Valley Firebirds on Thursday night in California.

This marks a league-record 24th appearance in the Calder Cup finals for the Bears. The best-of-seven series will pit the AHL’s oldest team against the newest expansion team.

For the Bears, Mason Morelli and Aliaksei Protas are the playoff leaders for goals with five each. Protas is also the points leader with 12 and the power-play goal leader with two. Goalie Hunter Shepard has posted 10 wins in the run with a .929 save percentage. Sheppard has only allowed more than two goals in only two of his thirteen playoff game appearances.

Logan Day is coming off a stellar performance in the Eastern Conference Finals, leading the Bears with six points in six games against Rochester.

Coachella Valley’s netminder Joey Daccord punched the Firebirds’ ticket to the finals with 29 saves in the final game over the Milwaukee Admirals for his 12th victory of the postseason.

The Firebirds feature blueliner Eddie Wittchow, who was a part of the Chocolate and White for parts of 2019-22 before joining the Firebirds in September.

The series against the Firebirds is as follows:

  • Game 1: Thursday, June 8 – Hershey at Coachella Valley, 10 p.m.
  • Game 2: Saturday, June 10 – Hershey at Coachella Valley, 10 p.m.
  • Game 3: Tuesday, June 13 – Hershey vs. Coachella Valley, 7 p.m.
  • Game 4: Thursday, June 15 – Hershey vs. Coachella Valley, 7 p.m.
  • *Game 5: Saturday, June 17 – Hershey vs. Coachella Valley, 7 p.m.
  • *Game 6: Monday, June 19 – Hershey at Coachella Valley, 10 p.m.
  • *Game 7: Wednesday, June 21 – Hershey at Coachella Valley, 10 p.m.

The Firebirds are the expansion team of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken and have made the finals in their first season, going 26-7-1-2 overall. Coachella Valley finished second overall in the standings, whereas the Bears ended fourth overall, giving the Firebirds home ice advantage.

Acrisure Arena will be a hostile environment, as Coachella Valley has sold out their last two playoff games. Game one will be a crucial game for both teams, as the game one winner statistically wins the cup 75% of the time. Momentum is everything.

Hershey enters the Calder Cup Finals with a perfect road record in the Calder Cup at 6-0, tying this team for the franchise record of most consecutive road wins by the Bears in the postseason. The Bears have defeated the Charlotte Checkers, Hartford Wolfpack and most recently the Rochester Americans to secure their place in the finals.

The Firebirds defeated the Tucson Roadrunners, Colorado Eagles, Calgary Wranglers and Milwaukee Admirals to earn their franchise-first finals appearance. If the Birds win, they will become just the second expansion team to win the Calder Cup in their first year.

It will be a semi-rematch for both coaches. Hershey’s head coach Todd Nelson won the Calder Cup as an assistant with the Chicago Wolves in 2008. The Wolves defeated the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to take the trophy. Dan Byslma was the assistant coach for the Penguins that same year. Byslma is now at the helm of the Firebirds.

It all comes down to this – the final series of the year with one opportunity for the Bears to take home the Calder Cup for the first time since 2010. The action starts tonight at 10 p.m. for game one in Thousand Palms, California.