The Final Four are set in the ECHL, with only one team being here before in this league. While the Allen Americans are coming off of back-to-back Central Hockey League titles, only the South Carolina Stingrays have lifted the Kelly Cup. The city of Toledo knows what it is to be in the Final Four, but not this Walleye squad, while the last hurrah for the Ontario Reign keeps on trucking on.
Photo via the ECHL
(1N) Toledo Walleye vs. (2E) South Carolina Stingrays
It’s a good thing that the Walleye have home-ice advantage, as they have lost all but one game on opposition ice; despite only being a minus-3 (16 goals for, 19 against) in those six road games. However, of the four games these two played against each other, the Walleye put up three wins in South Carolina. On the good side, Tyler Barnes broke out with four goals and four assists in the series against Fort Wayne, while Shane Berschbach kept rolling along with three goals and eight assists against the Komets. One question could be what happens with Jeff Lerg and Neil Conway. Coach Derek Lalonde turned to Conway for Games 2 and 6, which could show that Lalonde was either trying to shake up the rest of the roster or send a message to Lerg.
After taking the first three games, the Stingrays faced adversity in two multiple overtime losses against the Florida Everblades; but took all three road games in the 2-3-2 format that the series had. As much as the Walleye have had issues on the road, the Stingrays are the same at home; winning only three of the eight home games they’ve had in Charleston. With four goals and six assists last series, Wayne Simpson has come out as the leading scorer for the Stingrays, as Derek DeBlois had two goals and five assists and captain Andrew Rowe putting up three goals and seven assists. Yet, goaltending is a little suspect, which is something you wouldn’t expect from the league MVP– but Jeff Jakaitis has had a rough go about it this playoffs, though rebounded a bit in the last series.
This series could be a war of attrition. The Walleye and Stingrays have played the most games of the team remaining, as the Walleye have played the maximum amount of 14 games thus far, to the Stingrays’ 13. Also, the Walleye were the last team the Stingrays beat in their 23-game winning streak; which was the only game the Stingrays won out of the four they played Toledo this season.
Photo via ECHL
(1C) Allen Americans vs. (2P) Ontario Reign
With a relatively easier match-up in the first round– the Americans seemed to be caught off-guard, which was noticeable in their Game 1 loss, which could have also been chalked up to the long break between rounds. With five goals and seven assists against Rapid City, Gregor Hansen has been a nice surprise going into the Conference Finals, especially with Chad Costello‘s scoring clip slowing down in the playoffs, even though Costello had two goals and seven assists versus the Rush. Though Joel Rumpel started the series and had another chance to regain his crease– Riley Gill stepped up to reclaim the starting role, but each goalie seems to know that if they keep winning; they’ll be starting.
The Reign made short work of the Utah Grizzlies in only a five-game series, but they have started to come into their own in their last hurrah. With two goals and four assists, Matt Register took over the team lead in points, which is a shock for a blue-liner in the playoffs, while Garry Nunn posted three goals and six assists against the Grizzlies; which could be a scary thought for a team that is playing for a lot in these playoffs. With the way that Jussi Olkinuora has been playing in goal, the Reign look like the perfect combination of high scoring and tight defense which will be a nice mix for the Allen squad they’re facing.
This is the first time these teams have been in the Conference Finals; Allen because this is their first year and Ontario is making the most out of their last run in the ECHL. These teams only met twice in the thrown together schedule, but it was a split between them. There wasn’t much to go on with that small series. While it seems that there is a little bit of a hiccup happening for the Americans, the Reign seem to be getting stronger with each round– with the rest between rounds being very crucial for this series coming up.