AHL Calder Cup: Lehner, Hackett renew old rivalry
By Mackenzie Liddell, Contributing Editor
Toronto, Canada (Sports Network) - There will be a familiar showdown between the pipes when the Houston Aeros and the Binghamton Senators take to the ice for Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals on Friday.
Senators rookie Robin Lehner and Aeros freshman Matt Hackett are only a year removed from facing each other in the Ontario Hockey League playoffs, where Hackett's Plymouth Whalers disposed of Lehner's Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds in five games in the first round.
It was a disappointing end to a spectacular campaign for Lehner - his first and last in the Soo - for the Swedish netminder, who posted a 2.80 goals- against average, .918 save percentage with five shutouts in the regular season, but struggled in the post-season and finished with a 4.29 GAA and .874 SP.
A sub-par end to the season didn't carry over to Lehner's first pro campaign in the American League, as he was solid backing up starter Barry Brust for a majority of the regular season before taking the reigns after the Senators went down 3-1 to the Manchester Monarchs in Round 1.
"I'm just trying to help him out right now," Lehner said of the goalie situation after Game 7. "This is what happens, you need a team with two good goalies, and we have that. If I don't play good, he's ready to jump in there."
Although Brust deserves credit for getting Binghamton into the playoffs, including an 18-7-2 run with a 2.22 GAA and .931 SP to close out the season, Lehner's been a wall since taking over.
The 6-foot-4, 224-pound Lehner stood tall as Binghamton needed three straight overtime wins to prevail over Manchester, before shutting down the powerhouse Portland Pirates and finally, sweeping away the Charlotte Checkers.
It's an impressive run for a team that is playing in the post-season for the first time since the lockout and wasn't expected to make much noise, let alone advance to the championship series for the first time in franchise history - especially with a rookie goalie in net.
And Lehner, who has a 2.07 GAA and .941 SP in May, seems to be peaking just in time for a rematch with his major junior nemesis.
Unlike Lehner, Hackett has been the No. 1 man in Houston for the entirety of its playoff run, which includes series wins over Peoria, Milwaukee and - after nearly coughing up a 3-0 lead in the series and a 2-0 advantage in Game 7 - Hamilton.
Despite being handed the keys to the crease for the post-season, it was Hackett's stellar play in split duty during the regular season that gave management and the coaching staff the confidence to trade incumbent starter Anton Khudobin to the Boston Bruins at the trade deadline.
Hackett, who was drafted 77th overall in 2009, 31 spots after Lehner, rewarded their decision and has played in all but three games since Feb. 26, including the playoffs. Besides some up-and-down play against Hamilton in the Western Conference final, Hackett has been a rock between the pipes for the Aeros.
At 19 and 21 years old respectively, Lehner and Hackett are poised beyond their years and have a good shot to crack their respective NHL rosters next season, as both Ottawa and Minnesota have question marks in goal.
But until then, they'll line up 200 feet apart for the first time since last March in Plymouth and battle it out with an AHL championship on the line.
05/26 14:12:31 ET