SPRINGFIELD, Mass. – We’re only one week into the St. Louis Blues offseason, but hockey fans can still watch some of the team’s top prospects push for the top prize in another league.

The Springfield Thunderbirds, the American Hockey League affiliate of the Blues, are set for the start of the Eastern Conference Finals in the 2022 Calder Cup Playoffs. The Thunderbirds begin a best-of-seven series Saturday, taking on the Laval Rocket in the Calder Cup semifinals.

Now two years as the Blues primary minor league affiliate, Springfield has opened the playoffs with six consecutive wins ahead of the semifinals, sweeping the Wilkes-Barre Scranton Penguins and Charlotte Checkers. The Thunderbirds carried over the success from a strong regular season, during which the team finished with a 43-24-6 and 95 points for the Atlantic Division crown.

The Calder Cup has been awarded annually to the playoff champions of the American Hockey League since 1938. The St. Louis Blues have been the NHL parent to nine AHL teams over 55 years, but only one has ever earned a Calder Cup title under the Blues reigns. That happened back in 1970 during their lone season tied to the Buffalo Bisons, according to HockeyDB.com.

As the Thunderbirds look to match that mark in Blues history, they will begin Saturday’s series with many familiar faces. Nine players currently rostered by the Thunderbirds, including two goalies, played at the NHL level with the St. Louis Blues at one point this season. Many are proving just why the Blues gave them an extended look amid injuries and COVID-19 concerns earlier in the season.

Joel Hofer is leading the way at goalie. He sports a 4-0 record, 150 saves and a .962 save percentage over four playoff games thus far. Hofer provided one of the top highlights of the Calder Cup playoffs so far, pulling off a rare goalie goal in one of his recent victories. He now has Charlie Lindgren as a handcuff in net, who returned to the Thunderbirds after the Blues were eliminated in playoffs.

Springfield also sports a nice mix of veteran skaters and young prospects who played for the Blues earlier this season. That list includes James Neal, Dakota Joshua, Matthew Peca, Klim Kostin, Mackenzie MacEachern, Steven Santini and Calle Rosen. Peca is leading that core with nine points in the Calder Cup playoffs, while Blues prospect Sam Anas leads the team with 13 points over the Thunderbirds’ six playoff games.

The Thunderbirds are one of four teams remaining in the Calder Cup playoff race. They will take on the Laval Rocket in the Eastern Conference Finals. In the Western Conference, the Chicago Wolves take battle with the Stockton Heat.

Springfield will drop the puck on the semifinals at 6:35 p.m. CT Saturday. The Eastern Conference Finals could stretch as far as June 15. For more information on how to follow the Springfield Thunderbirds amid their Calder Cup run, click here.