Eagles ready to shed underdog label against Bakersfield in first round

Ryan Loberger

Every team starts the season with the same goal: to qualify for the playoffs. For the 16th-straight year, and for the first time ever as a member of the American Hockey League, the Colorado Eagles are playing playoff hockey.

“..we gotta build off that…We’re not gonna look too far ahead, we’re gonna take each game (one at a time) and whatever happens, we’ll go from there.” -Cody Bass

After clinching the final spot in the division in their last game of the year, the Colorado Eagles will have their hands full as they take on the top-seeded Bakersfield Condors. The series will be a big test for Colorado, but playing playoff hockey isn’t something that’s new to the Eagles. They know the playoffs are a different animal and everyone starts even. 

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“It’s a clean slate,” forward Shane Bowers said. “The points from the regular season don’t matter. The points individual players had, they don’t matter anymore. We have the mindset that just because we’re the fourth seed and they’re the first seed… that doesn’t mean we can’t win, it’s anybody’s series.”

Forward Shane Bowers stands in front of goaltender Spencer Martin during a shooting drill at morning skate on April 18.  (Photo courtesy of the Colorado Eagles).

Colorado split the regular season series with the Condors, going 4-4 in eight contests, and entered the playoffs on a record of 4-5-1 in their last ten games. While it’s easy to look at that record and think the Eagles are slumping, the quality of opponents has been high the past three weeks and that has helped prepare the team.

“I think it gives us a sense of confidence,” Bowers said. “We were on the road against Chicago, one of the better teams in this league, they scored on late on us to win and we beat them the next night. Same with San Jose, we dropped the first (game) but were able to bounce back and beat them. I think that shows we can play with the teams that finished high in the league.”

Playing the top seed in the division will be no easy task, Bakersfield has two of the top rookie scorers in the AHL in Tyler Benson and Cooper Marody. It’s also important to note the Edmonton Oilers didn’t make the NHL playoffs and the Colorado Avalanche did. As a result, the Oilers will send down their younger players and prospects to play for Bakersfield. It was announced top prospect Evan Bouchard will play in the series for the Condors. Bouchard was the Oilers 2018 first round pick, selected tenth overall.

 
“It’s a very interesting league in that sense,” center Cody Bass said. “ I don’t believe in underdogs, I don’t believe in standings anymore. I think if you get into playoffs – and I think Columbus and Tampa (Bay) are a prime example a prime example, New York and Pittsburgh are a prime example – It’s about putting together a game plan. I think the team that’s gonna go the distance and teams that make runs are teams that can come to together… And buy in structurally and better themselves every day.”

Forward Cody Bass looks on with a grin during practice on April 18.  (Photo Courtesy of the Colorado Eagles).

Special teams are always key to winning or losing a playoff series, Colorado and Bakersfield finished similar on the penalty kill, with both clubs above 80 percent. The power play was a different story. Colorado finished with a lowly 13 percent conversion rate on the man advantage in the regular season, something they’ll look to fix early on.

“Right now everybody’s at a zero percent,” Bass said. “The season is over, we’re here, our power play is going to be better – it can’t get much worse – so now everyone’s at a clean slate. Even our PK, it was great for us all year but it’s at a zero percent now too. We gotta build off that…We’re not gonna look too far ahead, we’re gonna take each game (one at a time) and whatever happens, we’ll go from there.”

AHL first-round series are a best-of-five format, before moving to best-of-seven for the last three rounds of the playoffs. Colorado will host Bakersfield Friday and Saturday night to start the series, puck drop is 7:05 p.m. on Friday.

Ryan Loberger can be reached at sports@collegian.com or on Twitter @LobergerRyan.