The table has been set for the ECHL Semifinals. The quarterfinals ended with a high note as the Colorado Eagles and Idaho Steelheads battled in an epic Game 6. It took regulation and four overtimes to decide who would move on, the Steelheads having more jump in their skates after 137 minutes of intense playoff hockey. The four remaining teams in each conference will play a best of seven series. The Western Conference matchups are as follows:
Alaska Aces (1) – Idaho Steelheads (4)
Bakersfield Condors (6) – Stockton Thunder (7)
The Alaska Aces-Idaho Steelheads series will showcase some talented forward lines on both sides of the ice. The Alaska Aces blew through the Las Vegas Wranglers in a four game sweep in the first playoff round, as was expected. The team will be well rested and ready to go when they take on the Idaho Steelheads on Thursday night. The Steelheads come into the second round, likely a tired team, as they played Monday night into Tuesday morning and then had to hop a plane to Alaska on Wednesday. Alaska boasts an Olympic sized ice surface that always allows for a much more open skating game and some adjustment time for teams coming in. It is extremely difficult for visitors to get a win at Sullivan arena, the Steelheads being one of the few successful teams with a 5-3 record over the past two years under the guidance of their Head Coach Brad Ralph. Expect a tight series between the teams full of up ice rushes and battles in front of the net. Both teams will try to limit their penalties.
Who to Watch:
The Aces forward line of Brendan Connolly– Nick Mazzolini –Peter Sivak has been phenomenal all season long and has kept up the pace into the post season. Mazzolini has put up 10 points in the first round and leads the league. The second line of Brett Findlay and Jordan Morrison continues to produce for Alaska, boasting speed and net front presence. Evan Trupp and Tyler Mosienko were quiet in the first round but expect their offensive skill to pick up against Idaho.
The Steelheads would not be in the second round if not for the goaltending of Josh Robinson. Called up to the the AHL affiliate Texas Stars for part of the season, Robinson is a solid performer in net and now has a record 83 saves in a game thanks to his Game 6 performance against the Colorado Eagles who peppered him with shots. Idaho is a fast transition team, with a depth of young talent in ECHL Rookie of the Year William Rapuzzi, forward Luke Judson and Tommy Grant, who was sidelined with an injury for the first round. Justin Mercier, a veteran presence and consistent points producer and Gaelan Patterson, who has stepped up his game coming into the playoffs will play a role in the Steelheads continued playoff success.
The Bakersfield Condors-Stockton Thunder series is likely to be one of the more physical matchups in the second round. These are two teams that do not share the love and their fans are right behind them for animosity and hostility. The Thunder swept their first round, defeating the second-seeded Ontario Reign, while the Bakersfield Condors dueled it out with the Utah Grizzlies for six games. Stockton will be well rested and hopefully allowed some of the team to recover from some of the bumps and bruises sustained at season’s end and the first round. The Condors will have home ice advantage for the first two games and their fans will be fired up to have playoff hockey on the ice for a second round. Expect a bit of brewhaha especially in the first two games, as both teams will try to assert themselves physically, and a potentially low scoring series given two hot goalies on opposing sides of the ice. The Condors have a top ranked penalty kill which may pair well with the Thunder’s top rated power play.
Who to Watch:
Laurent Brossoit is a name to file away for the NHL. The Condors rookie goaltender is nothing short of a brick wall between the pipes, recording 2 shutouts against the Grizzlies in the opening round to give him a total of 10 shutouts on the season. Brossoit has given Bakersfield the confidence to play aggressively and their offensive talent of Captain Joel Broda, Greg Miller and Andrew Carroll is just the icing on a deep pool of forwards who can contribute points, especially when the game goes down to the wire.
The Bridgeport Beauty line of Andrew Clark–Jeremy Langlois–Joey Martin has been the Thunder’s heart and Langlois leads the league in points in the postseason. They are creative net crashers and with a secondary scoring line led by Ryan Hayes, Corey Trivino and Riley Wetmore, Stockton has the firepower to make a deep push into Brossoit’s netminding. Thunder goaltender Brian Foster is on a roll in the post season, some of his saves defying the laws of physics. Captain Garet Hunt knows how to get under the other team’s skin and the Thunder defense is stepping up to the blueline in the post season, with Ryan Constant and Scott Langdon providing veteran leadership.