Playoff Matchups-First Round
Alaska Aces (1)- Las Vegas Wranglers (8)
Ontario Reign (2)- Stockton Thunder (7)
Utah Grizzlies (3)- Bakersfield Condors (6)
Idaho Steelheads (4)- Colorado Eagles (5)
Reading Royals (1)- Fort Wayne Komets (8)
Kalamazoo Wings (2)- Greenville Road Warriors (7)
South Carolina Stingrays (3)- Wheeling Nailers (6)
Orlando Solar Bears (4)- Cincinnati Cyclones (5)
For the ECHL Western Conference, every team made the playoffs, and with the folding mid-season of the San Francisco Bulls, a full 72-game schedule could not always be accommodated. Playoff seeding was determined by win-percentage, rather than points this season and it was a tight race until the end for the Grizzlies, Condors and Eagles. The Alaska Aces have a virtual bye for the first round, facing the eighth seeded Las Vegas Wranglers, a team that had only won 20 games in the regular season. The Thunder and the Reign are certain to play a heavy-hitting series, both teams thriving on physical play. The matchup between the Grizzlies and the Condors is certain to be a battle of the goaltenders, both teams weighing in with elite talent between the pipes.
The Eastern Conference is much larger than the West and will soon get another team, the Indy Fuel to increase the count to 14 teams next season. The playoff race went down to the wire as several teams including the Florida Everblades and Gwinnett Gladiators made late pushes to try and capture the eighth seed. Reading and South Carolina spent much of the season in a tight battle for first place, but the K-wings were able to edge out the Stingrays, who have made it to the post-season a record 20 times, for second place with their end of season surge. Reading will try to hang on to the Cup, but the Komets have everything to prove and have one of the best road games in the league.It will also be the first time the Solar Bears enter the post season, their second year in as an organization.
The Alaska Aces, a serious contender every year for the Kelly Cup, picked up the Brabham Cup for the fourth consecutive year and comes into the 2013-14 playoffs dominant in offensive depth and experience between the pipes. The top line of Peter Sivak (31g-52a-83pts), Captain Nick Mazzolini (25g-47a-72pts) and Brendan Connolly (22g-27a-49pts) have been a deadly combination on the ice, with Sivak’s accurate shot earning the AMI Graphic Plus Performer of the Year award for the 2013-2014 ECHL regular season, notching a +49 rating. The Aces goaltending duo of Gerald Coleman and Olivier Roy, recently returned from the AHL Abbotsford Heat, boasts Kelly Cup playoff experience. Coleman held down the fort for the Aces in the 2010-2011 season, capturing both the Brabham Cup and Kelly Cup that year. Roy spent last season with the Stockton Thunder, leading his team to the Kelly Cup Finals.
If there was a more opposite team to the Aces, it is the Las Vegas Wranglers. They began the season with a new coach, former player Mike Madill and struggled mid-season with securing a new arena deal for the 2014-2015 season. The team fought to win 20 games this year and stringing together wins proved a challenge. Scoring has come from second year forward Adam Hughesman (21g-24a-45pts) and Chad Nehring (22g-20a-42pts). Rookie goaltender Travis Fullerton, league leader in saves, has had to face high shot totals this season and carried much of the netminding duties with Mitch O’Keefe working through injury this season.
The Ontario Reign gave the Alaska Aces a run for the Brabham Cup this year and nearly got it with 44 wins on the season. They started the year out strong and never let up, despite shake-ups in their lineup as they absorbed some of the fallout from the defunct San Francisco Bulls and the Worcester Sharks placing some of their players with the team. The Reign have a solid defensive core that gives up very few goals but can produce offensively. Blueliner Matt Register, ECHL Defenseman of the Year, was tied for second among league defensemen with 14 goals and 44 points and had most of his offensive production during 5 on 5 situations. Captain Derek Couture makes his presence known around the net. Forward Matt White (22g-35a-57pts) leads the team offensively but Maxim Kitsyn and Gaspar Kopitar have deft hands and speed to get the puck to the net. Goaltending has been up and down this season, with Jussi Olkinoura in net. Sharks prospect J. P. Anderson joined the team the last half of the season to balance the goaltending duties.
The defending Western Conference Champion Stockton Thunder began the season strong after making it to their first Kelly Cup Finals in the 2012-2013 season, but struggled offensively in the final month and a half. The team thrives on getting the puck deep, winning board battles and creating havoc around the net to score goals. Their power play is rated at the top in the league, with a 20% conversion rate. The top line of Andrew Clark (14g-21a-35pts), Joey Martin (21g-45a-66pts) and Jeremy Langlois (19g-41a-60pts) has seen AHL playing time together and will continue to dominate offensively for the team. Their defensive core is young but is anchored by Ryan Constant, who is one of the league leaders in power play assists. Goaltending has been a duo of Brian Foster and Parker Milner, both of whom have kept their team in the game under pressure.
The Utah Grizzlies, after a rough start have turned their season around since January and climbed the standings. Their Coach Tim Branham, served as assistant coach for last years’ Kelly Cup Champion Reading Royals. They are a big-bodied team, using their size to knock the other team off the puck. Their finesse players, forwards David Vallorani (24g-35a-59pts) and Danick Paquette (23g-26a-49pts) capitalize on breakaway opportunities. Goaltending has been a big factor in the teams’ success with both Igor Bobkov and Aaron Dell earning successive ECHL Goaltender of the Month awards for their impressive play.
The Bakersfield Condors have made a steady climb, despite a rocky start to the season. No longer the underdog, they are making a serious go at the playoffs. The Condors have brought together a group of forwards with scoring talent in Captain Joel Broda (21g-19a-40pts), Greg Miller (21g-30a-51pts), and Jordan Knackstedt (19g-32a-51pts) and have a wealth of offensive depth. Their penalty kill is top notch. Their playoff gold is in their goaltending with rookie Laurent Brossoit between the pipes. With 24 wins and 9 losses, the Edmonton Oilers prospect has tied the ECHL single-season record with eight shutouts and ranks 1st in the league with a 2.05 goals-against average.
The Idaho Steelheads finished the regular season strong with a 7-3-0 record in their final ten games after struggling mid-season. Goaltending consistency played a major role in their mid-season slump with Josh Robinson up with the AHL affiliate Texas Stars and several key forwards out with injury and callups. The Steelheads are surging offensively with talented forwards Tommy Grant (23g-27a-50pts), Mitch Wahl (17g-39a-56pts), ECHL Rookie of the Year William Rapuzzi (16g-42a-58pts) and recently returned from the Iowa Wild/ Bridgeport Sound Tigers Justin Mercier.
The Colorado Eagles have a solid core of veteran talent that has proven playoff experience. The team thrives on their transition game, striking quickly if given even the smallest opportunity. Forwards Trent Daavettila (22g-44a-66pts), Kyle Ostrow (28g-38a-66pts) and Kevin Ulanski (23g-40a-63pts) frequently record multi-point games and Captain Riley Nelson takes advantage when his team is down a man for a shorthanded goal. Goaltending has been inconsistent but Marc Cheverie has given them solid support down the stretch.
Defending Kelly Cup Champions, the Reading Royals have continued their success into the 2013-2014 season, battling the Alaska Aces for the Brabham Cup title. They have had a strong end to the season, going 31-10-3 in the last 44 games since January 8th. Offensively, they are led by Yannick Tifu (19g-29a-48pts), Ryan Cruthers (16g-40a-56pts) and TJ Syner (19g-25a-44pts). Both Tifu and Syner were instrumental in last year’s Kelly Cup team. Their defense is solid and can produce offensively. Michal Cajkovsky leads the team defensively with 14 goals and 22 assists on the year. Riley Gill and Brandon Anderson defend the net, delivering solid coverage and have come into their game the last half of the season.
The Fort Wayne Komets have surged into the playoff picture. Earlier in the season, it would have been a long shot for the team to make the post season and they entirely missed the post-season last year. A flurry of 12 trades and 9 different goaltenders made them a long shot but they ended the season 8-2-1 over the last 11 games. They are a solid team on the road with a 20-13-3 record. Forward Brandon Marino (30g-58a-88pts), the ECHL Player of the year leads the team offensively.
The Kalamazoo Wings are looking to make an impact in the post season after missing out last year. They captured the North Division Title for the regular season and are led offensively by forward Matt Caria (24g-34a-58pts) and defenseman Sam Ftorek (13g-34a-47pts). They are a team that shuts down the opposing team’s offense, giving up very few scoring chances due to stingy defense. Their rookie goaltender Jordan Binnington was tied for fourth in the league with 23 wins.
The Greenville Road Warriors have battled all season and are a team that thrives on the late push to win games. The Road Warriors have offensive skill in Andrew Rowe, who is second in the league with 29 goals and Marc-Olivier Vallerand (26g-30a-56pts) and Jordie Johnston (22g-33a-55pts) round out the offensive top end. The team dominates on the penalty kill, holding 1st in the league with an 87% successful kill.
The South Carolina Stingrays have been a strong contender all season and occupied the top spot in the East for at least the first half of the season. The team has steadily improved their record over the last three seasons. Their coach Spencer Carbery earned ECHL Coach of the Year and kept his team winning despite losing 15 players to AHL call ups, not including those with their Boston Bruins affiliation. Forward Dale Mitchell (19g-26a) is the team leader in points with 45 in 50 games played.
The Wheeling Nailers turned up the intensity the last half of the season and finished the season with an offensive drive that saw them score 5 or more goals in six of their last 12 games. Defenseman Mike Ratchuk has led his team from the point with 15 goals to lead the ECHL among defensemen. Offensively talented Sahir Gill (13g-41-54pts) and rookie forward Cody Sylvester (24g-18a-42pts) have led the team in scoring, while goalie Mike Condon ranks second in the league behind Bakersfield’s Laurent Brossoit in shutouts with 6 this season. His confidence in net at the end of the season is notable, allowing just 6 goals over his final seven appearances.
The Orlando Solar Bears have been one of the surprises this season and made a strong push at season end, battling for the fourth playoff position with the Cincinnati Cyclones. They are led offensively by Mickey Lang, who led the ECHL in goals this season with 44 and had 77 points, as well as 7 game-winning goals. Goaltending has been split between Maxime Clermont and recently returned from the AHL Iowa Wild Cody Reichard.
The Cincinnati Cyclones ended the season in a tight race for the fourth playoff position, eventually losing out to the Solar Bears. The Cyclones forwards Anthony Luciani (25g-28a-53pts), Jonathan Hazen (22g-29a-51pts) and Paul Crowder (16g-32a-48pts) have dominated the offensive production for the team. Defensively, they have solid two-way players in Taylor Aronson and Mike Dalhuisen who keep pucks moving from the point and keep the opposing team off the scoring sheet.
A version of this post also appeared on Shnarped.