The ECHL Kelly Cup semifinals are ready to kick off and the Eastern Conference had some surprises for the first round. Defending Kelly Cup Champion Reading Royals were knocked out in the first round by the Fort Wayne Komets in 5 games and it marked the first time in ECHL history that an #8 seed knocked out the #1 seed in the playoff race. The South Carolina Stingrays, whose coach Spencer Carbery earned ECHL Coach of the Year, were swept by the “misfit” Wheeling Nailers.
The Eastern Conference matchups are as follows:
Cincinnati Cyclones (5) – Fort Wayne Komets ( 8)
Wheeling Nailers (6) – Greenville Road Warriors (7)
The Cincinnati Cyclones – Fort Wayne Komets Series will be an intense matchup between two teams who skate fast and like to score goals. The Cyclones were the ECHL’s highest scoring team in the regular season and they have defensemen who like to step up and play the puck in the offensive zone. The Fort Wayne Komets came into the first round the underdogs against the Kelly Cup Champion Royals and railroaded them in five games. Home ice may not be a big advantage as the Cyclones had the highest road win percentage in the league.
Who to Watch:
Cyclones Rookie Wade Megan has had an impressive start to the playoffs with 4 goals during the first round including the game winner for game 6 against the Orlando Solar Bears. Defensemen Mike Dalhuisen and Josh McFadden contribute offensively whenever they can but also are skilled at knocking forwards off the puck entering the zone. Rob Madore will be between the pipes for Cincinnati, having recently returned from the AHL affiliate Charlotte Checkers and brings experience and a very low GAA through the first playoff rounds at 1.82.
The Komets have Brandon Marino and the return of Dean Ouellet as part of their offensive powerhouse. Marino was the top scorer in the ECHL during the regular season, although in the Royals series his line did not put up many points. Former all-star Ouellet was out with an injury at the tail end of the season and into the post, but in his three playoff appearances in the first round he tallied 2 goals. Forward Shawn Szydlowski made a big impact in the Royals series, posting 6 points over five games.
The Wheeling Nailers – Greenville Road Warriors series will feature big bodies on both sides of the ice. Physicality should play a role for both teams. The Nailers used their physical play to great effect against their sweep of the Stingrays during the first round. The Road Warriors put their hard checking to use to eliminate the Kalamazoo Wings in the first round. Getting pucks into the net will be a challenge for both teams, with large defensemen clogging up the lanes, but who are versatile enough to turn the puck around and score up the ice. These two teams are very closely matched in terms of offensive and defensive depth.
Who to Watch:
The Nailers boast the top goaltender in the Eastern Conference in Mike Condon, who recorded the second highest shutout rating during the regular season (behind Condors’ Laurent Brossoit) and posted two shutouts in the first round against the South Carolina Stingrays. Blueliner Mike Ratchuk is a strong two-way defenseman and led his team in defensive scoring with 15 goals during the regular season. Sahir Gill, although relatively quiet, posting only 5 points in the Stingrays sweep, led his team in the regular season with 54 points in 67 games played.
The Road Warriors have the offensive talent of Andrew Rowe, team points leader in the regular season and who led his team in points during the first playoff round against the K-Wings. Goaltender Jason Missiaen is the tallest tender in the league at 6’8″ and his large frame makes it difficult to get pucks by to the net. Defenseman Mike Marcou has tallied points from the blueline to lead his team in defensive scoring during the regular season, especially against the Nailers.