Mustangs Bow Out in Sixby Matt Burch | May 23, 2017, 11:54 PM ET
Now it's time to say goodbye to one of the best shows to which Calgary has ever been treated. The Mustangs had a solid regular season, but not wholly spectacular. Of course, goals in general were down, with the league's leading scorer coming away with (probably a record low) a measly 82 points. That said, the Mustangs finished with the 2nd most points in franchise history with 104, good enough for 4th in the conference and home ice advantage over the Acadia Golden Bears, which proved crucial. This scrappy team rode the wave of success to the second round for the first time in franchise history, followed by a surprising game seven victory over the third seed Whitehorse Huskies, who just so happened to have the third most points in the league.
The damage, of course, was done when the Mustangs let the series go to seven games, and number two defenseman Francois Beauchemin fell to an injury, followed by a surprisingly harsh playoff suspension on fellow defenseman Mark Stuart that had him missing the first three games of the series against Vancouver.
The conference finals were not without drama, as the odds were stacked against Calgary. You could partly blame the injuries and the suspension, but mainly Vancouver had an absolutely stacked team with all-stars all around. The only "iffy" part for Vancouver was in net. Where Calgary had Ben Bishop, who was playoff MVP worthy thus far, Vancouver's weakest position had been goaltender. Jonathan Quick was playing subpar and Joonas Korpisalo was looking far more solid, thus a goalie controversy was born!
The Mustangs, despite the adversity, hung with the Norsemen in the series, but never led. Ultimately, some players that weren't performing for Vancouver started to light it up (Carl Hagelin, Pavel Datsyuk), and the Mustangs were overwhelmed. Even in game 6, a must win game for the Mustangs, the home squad struck first on a goal by James Wisniewski. Early in the second, Vancouver tied it and the score remained until the 7 minute mark of the third period. After that, the wheels came off a little, and play got extremely chippy on both sides. Mark Stuart and Ryan Getzlaf paired off, while Dion Phaneuf and Erik Johnson got into it, winger Blake Comeau got caught high sticking, Dale Weise for roughing, and Jarome Iginla the rare post-whistle hooking call. The penalty boxes were full, but the Mustangs had to play a man down, and the Norsemen were quick to make them pay as Datsyuk put it home.
The Mustangs, alas, could not solve Korpisalo and the star-studded Norsemen lineup, but should hold their heads high as they have finally gotten a taste of playoff success, and went farther than anyone expected.
Now that the season is over, what do we expect in Calgary next season? As with any transition from season to season, there will be some names not showing up in Calgary or even in Hamilton. Most noticeable will be star turned character player Vincent Lecavalier, who is noteworthy for having been the first ever entry draft pick in the SICHL, and just so happened to be chosen by GM Matt Burch's first team the St. Louis Roughnecks. There has been some talk of jersey retirement for Vinnie, but that would be met with some controversy as his most productive seasons were with other teams, and even though Burch is the common connection, the Mustangs are not the Roughnecks. When asked about the possibility, GM Burch replied, "it's my team, I'll do what I want".
Among the other players not returning, the Mustangs are set to lose defenceman Christian Ehrhoff, who was surprisingly solid when asked to fill in for Beauchemin and Stuart, Rick Nash, Jarome Iginla, Mark Giordano, James Wisniewski, Mark Stuart, and in the minors; Shawn Thornton, Ruslan Fedotenko, and Mike McKenna. Retirees are Ehrhoff, Lecavalier, Fedotenko (I know right?), and, surprisingly, James Wisniewski.
Yes, at the ripe age of 33, Wisniewski says he has to "take some time off" to "play in Europe" or "something". He might be back, however, but it's likely he's played his last game as a Mustang. Wiz had quietly been a steady producer and durable player for the Mustangs, setting the team record (for now) for games played, total, with 704. He also retires with a respectable 303 points and 629 penalty minutes. He will be missed!
So while there will be some holes to fill (especially on defense), the Mustangs are expected to promote, at least partially, from within to fill some of the spots. It is believed that Nikolaj Ehlers and Brett Pesce (the hero of game 7 against the Huskies) are ready to fill regular spots, with the off-chance that Matthew Benning, Colin Miller, and Paul Ladue could compete for the 5-7 defensemen slots, though at least one free agent signing is likely.
With Lecavalier leaving, this frees up the "franchise player" tag for the Mustangs. The odds are that captain (and always overrated, according to Matt) Mark Giordano sees that tag in his future, but you never know. The only other likely candidates would be Rick Nash and Dion Phaneuf, but with so many holes to fill on defense it would surely fall between Phaneuf and Giordano, and the smart money is on the Mustangs retaining their captain and former coach.
Speaking of coaches, this was rookie coach Jules Winnfield's first season in the pros, and did not disappoint. He pushed this team past the former champs, then past the third best team and perennial thorn-in-the-side Huskies, then nabbed two games from the best team in the conference finals. Certainly a lot to be proud of and then build on when next season comes along.
Until then, see you guys at the summit!