ECHL Playoffs: Eastern Conference Division Finals

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NORTH DIVISION

(1N) Toledo Walleye vs. (2N) Fort Wayne Komets

These two teams, for the majority of the season, were battling atop the North Division and were very evenly matched. After the two big games in November where the Walleye won by at least three goals, the other five match-ups were one-goal affairs, four of them ending in an overtime or shootout. However, with the rest that the Komets have had after the first round could prove to be a huge advantage.

The Walleye were given all that they could muster against the plucky Wheeling Nailers. Despite getting two out of three wins on the road, the Walleye also dropped two games at home in the seven-game set. However, the Walleye did get their scoring from two of their top three guys, as Troy Schwab and Shane Berschbach were able to lead the way, though Tyler Barnes still hasn’t gotten his time to shine in the playoffs. Also, the Walleye have gotten a lot of production from the blue line with Cody Lampl and Shane Sims being the main contributors, yet as a whole– the defense have provided three goals and 12 assists among the eight who suited up in the first round. Jeff Lerg has played on par with how he played in the regular season, but with a well-rested Komets team, his workload could be drastically increased in the divisional finals.

The Komets made short work of the Kalamazoo Wings, despite letting up eight goals in the last two games of the five-game series. The first three, the play of Roman Will was solid, with 94 saves on 97 shots including a shutout. Will defeated the Walleye in the two games he play against them this season and has faced an average of 27.9 shots during the season, which will help him against the high firing Walleye. Mike Embach was the leading scorer, but the shot in the arm for the Komets was the return of Mitchell Heard; who put up two goals and two assists in his three games. during the first round. Matthew Pistilli had a scoring touch with four goals in five games. The play of Mikael Tam on the blue-line has been a nice added bonus for the Komets, while Drew Daniels has been steady as always.

EAST DIVISION

(1E) Florida Everblades vs. (2E) South Carolina Stingrays

The home ice has not been kind during the regular season between these two teams. During 11 match-ups, the home team only won three times, all by the Everblades. So, if it comes down to a home-ice advantage, it could be the Stingrays who are favored by it. Both sides had tough tasks in the first round, so they aren’t going to be taken by surprise starting tonight.

The Everblades looked like they were going to sweep the Orlando Solar Bears, but not being able to have the killer instinct could be the downfall of the squad. One big surprise is that Nicolas Deschamps has matched his season totals with three goals and seven assists in half as many games after spending time over in Europe and 12 games in the AHL. Mike Little is living up this defenseman of the year moniker, while the pick-up of Casey Pierro-Zabotel has proved to be solid for the Blades. One of the big hits is that Allen York may not be ready for this series, as he had his neck injured during Game Five, but Dan Altshuller came in to play solid in the two games of reserve. While York would be nice to have back, should Altshuller play well, they may ride the hot goalie throughout.

The Stingrays went back and forth in their seven-game set against the Reading Royals, which also showed the cracks in the facade of Jeff Jakaitis, who didn’t play up to his MVP caliber. With only a 0.890 save percentage, the Stingrays may need to be getting a lot more support for him moving forward. Though Joe Devin has busted out with six goals, they will still need Derek DeBlois and Andrew Rowe to create more offense, especially against a Everblades team without their regular keeper. Yet, the defense is something that needs improvement, especially when losing Frankie Simonelli, the rest of the squad is not only struggling to find some offense, but keeping the puck out of their zone is going to be quite the task. The cornerstone of the Stingrays is their defense and if they are unable to get back to their defensive ways, they won’t be long for these playoffs.

Round One: Kelly Cup Playoffs: Eastern Conference

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With the West taking center stage the first two nights, the Eastern Conference will now step up and start up their second-season with the top team in all of the ECHL to start off the action.

NORTH DIVISION

(1N) Toledo Walleye vs. (4N) Wheeling Nailers

After a dismal season last year, the Walleye got a new coach and a new outlook in their hockey life by winning the Brabham Cup for most points in a season. One of the bigger reasons for that is the play by Jeff Lerg, who was a walk-on for coach Derek Lalonde and had a helluva season. Lerg should be in the running for top goaltender with his 32 wins on the season. More over than that, youth was served for the Walleye, as well, with rookies Tyler Barnes and Shane Berschbach leading scoring, with second year player Kyle Bonis leading the team with 36 goals on the year. Though Martin Frk is on the reserve list– his 23 goals in 29 games will be a boost if he gets sent down. On the blue line, Cody Lampl and Shane Sims have been solid and contribute here and there.

To counteract what Toledo has, the consistent nature of the Nailers will be on display. Though Derek Army was the only 20-goal scorer for the Nailers, they did have three above the 50-point plateau and were getting relief from Sahir Gill, who only played 26 games for the Nailers, but chalked up 29 points. They’re going to have to rely more on their defense, which is very unheralded with Paul Cianfrini and Tristan Llewellyn anchoring the blue line. With a solid tandem of Franky Palazzese and Eric Hartzell, the Nailers could be sneaky enough for the big upset.

These are two cities who are familiar with each other, as it is their fifth series between the cities; though it was the Toledo Storm who was before this. This is the first time the two cities have met since 2006 and there’s still no real love-loss. And while the Walleye dominated the season series by winning six of the seven games; the Nailers were on a hot streak towards the end of the season to get the last playoff spot in the North.

(2N) Fort Wayne Komets vs. (3N) Kalamazoo Wings

In their first year with a NHL affiliation, the Komets did get affected a little bit by some call-ups; but still were in the hunt for the top spot in the North Division thanks to the play they got from everyone when they were together. Shawn Szydlowski had a fantastic campaign with 38 goals and 74 points in only 57 games, while rookie Eric Faille played well enough to get promotions to Lake Erie with his 27 goals and 54 points in only 45 games in Fort Wayne. One true question is whether or not Pat Nagle or Roman Will will be in the cage for the playoffs. Both had a solid season and both stepped up when needed, but Nagle did miss some time at the end with a call-up to various AHL squads.

In net, Joel Martin has been consistent for the Wings, putting up 30 wins this year and being a leading force behind the Wings’ playoff push. Martin was tied for 3rd in shutouts with four, though his GAA and save percentage was not near the median for the league. Luckily, the Wings have three 25+ goal-scorers on the team with Matt Caria, Dane Fox, and Ludwig Blomstrand skating around; while Gergo Nagy put up an impressive 54-point season on his own. Jeremie Blain and Sacha Guimond are going to have to be in solid in the playoffs as they were in the season, while Sam Ftorek‘s veteran leadership should help the rest of the team.

It was an even match-up during the regular season, with the Komets winning eight of the 15 match-ups, which should prove to be a solid series. If Martin gets hot in net as he has been in spurts during the season could be the difference in the seven-game set.

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EAST DIVISION

(1E) Florida Everblades vs. (4E) Orlando Solar Bears

Though they weren’t as rowdy and have the big win-streaks as their compatriots in the East Division, the Everblades are still one of the most consistent teams in the league; making the playoffs for the 16th time in their 17 year history. Despite being called up to the AHL, Allen York has been solid for the ‘Blades in net in a mass of rookies that they have. While Andy Iles will be back in time, the weight will weigh on York for the most part. However, the acquisition of Casey Pierro-Zabotel could be key in the playoffs– despite him playing only five games and registering four assists. Luckily, Adam Brace, Alex Lavoie, and Mitch Wahl have been contributing offensively throughout with Brace being the guy to help against the Solar Bears with 16 points in the 15 match-ups.

With no 20-goal scorers, the Solar Bears will have to rely heavily on the play of Garret Sparks in net and the play of Bryce Aneloski, Eric Baier, and returning Eric Knodel on the blue line. While Jacob Cepis did a helluva job against Florida and during the season, the mid-season acquisitions of Johnny McInnis and Peter Sivak have added some scoring, despite the team not really have a outward goal scorer.

Without much goal-scoring, it could be rough for Orlando to advance, but should Sparks hit a hot streak; the Solar Bears could be the upset-special. That said, the Everblades look too tough and if they can get York for the entire series, will be looking ahead to next round.

(2E) South Carolina Stingrays vs. (3E) Reading Royals

It’s been a dream season for the Stingrays with team and league records broken all through out the year. With the tandem of Jeff Jakaitis and Adam Morrision, the Stingrays are in solid hands when it comes to the goaltending. With those guys putting up a combined 11 shutouts, the Stingrays don’t need to have a flashy offensive guy, with Derek DeBlois being the only 20-goal scorer who was on the Stingrays all season (Brandon Wong had only four on the Stingrays roster). With only two losses in their last 29, the Stingrays know how to win, but should look out for a Reading team who has been just as hot.

With six 20-goal scorers on their roster, the Royals are primed to trying and break the Jakaitis/Morrison contingency. Veteran Olivier Labelle is going to the prime focus of offense for the Royals, as he’ll get plenty of support from Cam Reid and Sean Wiles. They will need to score, as Connor Knapp and Martin Ouellette haven’t been the best, but have gotten the job done in net. Due to that, there’s going to be a lot of pressure on the blue line, mainly Maxim Lamarche, Brett Flemming, and Jordan Heywood; all of which are vet presences on the defensive side of it.

These teams didn’t face-off much, which means they will be relative unknowns, having not played since late January. Both teams have changed plenty and will be hard up against each other, especially with plenty of guys who have known the grind of the Kelly Cup playoffs.

The Weekend That Was: March 27th-29th

AHL

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Photo by Chris Marion/Springfield Falcons

-With their backs against the wall during a huge freefall on the the season, the Springfield Falcons were only able to muster one point in their three games; losing two of those to the Worcester Sharks; who have passed them for the 8th spot in the Eastern Conference standings. A lot of this could be attributed to the injuries that the Falcons have had, as well as their parent club in Columbus. One of the main injuries was to Anton Forsberg, who was lights-out in net for the Falcons. The trio of Oscar Dansk, Scott Munroe, and newcomer Joonas Korpisalo haven’t gotten the job done as of yet. With the addition of Sonny Milano to the offense to help combat those call-ups and injuries; the Falcons will really have to dig in to make sure this collapse from the regular season won’t be the last memory of the year.

-With the Eastern Conference having the Sharks surging; the Chicago Wolves have made their way into a playoff spot, despite only being five points up on 12th place Lake Erie. The Wolves swept the home-and-home with the Milwaukee Admirals this weekend and then came back home to beat the Iowa Wild. Jeremy Welsh had three goals and three assists this weekend, with Magnus Paajarvi notching a hat-trick Saturday night, and Ty Rattie putting up two goals and five assists on the weekend. Matt Clime had two book-end wins with Jordan Binnington putting up the win on Saturday.

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ECHL

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-The Stockton Thunder were swept over the weekend against Alaska. The Bakersfield Condors have lost eight-straight. For two of the three teams leaving the ECHL next season, they are going out with a whimper rather than fanfare, as they would have hoped. Luckily, the Ontario Reign were able to go ahead and make the most– they even swept Bakersfield this weekend, as Judd Blackwater had a hat-trick on Friday, then another goal on Saturday. Rocco Carzo (1g, 3a), Matt White (2g, 1a), and Gary Nunn (3a) played a supporting role as Jussi Olkinuora won both games in turning up for the playoffs.

-There’s something about the East Division. The South Carolina Stingrays finally had their 23-game win streak broken by the Indy Fuel, but were able to get back on the horse the next day. The Reading Royals had a 12-game winning streak earlier in the year and now the Florida Everblades have gotten points in 14 straight games, only losing in a shootout last weekend. All three of those teams have clinched a playoff spot, only leaving one left for Orlando and Greenville to fight over.

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SPHL

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Photo from Huntsville Havoc Facebook

-Despite having the worst record in SPHL history, the Huntsville Havoc beat the Columbus Cottonmouths twice this weekend– even though the Cottonmouths were possibly thinking ahead to the playoffs. Jordan Reed put in three goals on the weekend, while Stuart Stefan and Nick Wheeler added two assists. One of the big performances was Kevin Genoe‘s play on Saturday, as he stopped all 51 shots on Saturday night, his first of the year in the last game of the year.

-As the playoffs start on Wednesday, you can check out my first round primer for the SPHL action.

The Weekend That Was: March 6th-8th

AHL

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-It was a five-alive weekend for the Portland Pirates, as they scored five goals in each of their three wins this weekend; taking down Syracuse, Lehigh Valley, and Hershey– all on the road. Jordan Martinook had two goals and five assists, Henrik Samuelsson had two goals and three assists, and Dylan Reese had two goals and two assists for the defensive contribution. Mike McKenna took the wins on Friday and Saturday, with newcomer David Leggio getting the decision on Sunday. Currently, the Pirates sit in 6th and are two points up from 9th place in the tight Eastern Conference. They have points in their last six games and have won seven of their last ten.

-While it might be too little, too late; the Binghamton Senators aren’t going out without a fight. Despite losing Andrew Hammond to Ottawa, the B-Sens put up two wins this weekend, but sit 10 points back of the 8th playoff spot in the Eastern Conference. Though they have points in their last five games, the goaltending has been facing an insane amount of rubber– this weekend having Scott Greenham stop 49 of 51 on Friday and Peter Mannino stop 38 of 40 on Sunday. Carter Camper had two goals and an assist this weekend, while Shane Prince chipped in three assists of his own. Though it’s a long-shot, the hits that the B-Sens have taken with call-ups and injury will be the undoing of the team if they can’t find a miraculous comeback in this season.

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ECHL

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Photo by Al Larson

-The Florida Everblades continue to expand their lead in the East Division and keep up with 1st overall in the Conference with three wins over the weekend– two against Greenville and one against lowly Gwinnett. Adam Brace had a goal and four assists, Brent Harris had four goals on the weekend, and Cameron Burt had a goal and three assists; as Andy Iles had two wins and Anthony Peters won his first professional win with a shutout in his first game out of Canadian University (St. Mary’s). The Everblades are tied with Reading for tops in the East Division and tied with Fort Wayne and Reading for first overall in conference.

-If not for the South Carolina Stingrays’ torrid pace, the Idaho Steelheads would be the talk of the ECHL with nine straight wins, which includes the two against the ECHL cellar dweller Stockton Thunder. Brett Robinson had a goal and four assists, which compliment Rob Linsmayer‘s goal and three assists. The wins were split by Henri Kiviaho and Chris Rawlings, who have filled in solidly for the injured Olivier Roy. The Steelheads three more games against the Thunder, which could help them keep top spot in the Pacific Division.

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SPHL

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-A split was enough for the Peoria Rivermen to clinch the first playoff spot in the SPHL playoffs. The Rivermen won Friday, but lost Saturday to Mississippi. Josh Harris had two goals and two assists with newcomer Ryan Raven having a goal and three assists. The Rivermen threw a total of 91 shots at Adam Courchaine and Peter Di Salvo of Mississippi, but only were able to get five past them. Luckily, Kyle Rank stopped 45 of the 49 shots he faced and with the win Friday, tied him with Max Strang of Pensacola with the SPHL lead in wins with 24.

-Though they took a split in a home-and-home, the Fayetteville FireAntz have the worst luck when it comes to their team being picked apart. Matt Robertson had a goal and two assists in the series with Josh McQuade chipping in two goal in Friday’s loss. As I mentioned last week, the FireAntz really took a hit with Kevin Murdock getting called-up to the ECHL, McQuade being suspend Saturday, four season-ending injuries, and as they are six points out of a playoff spot and do-or-die three-game set with the Mississippi RiverKings coming up– the FireAntz could be looking at their hopes going out the window.

Farm Report Podcast 12.21.14

Big news this week out of Oklahoma City and not just from the head coach being promoted. Scotty discusses how the Barons ceasing operations could bring major changes to the minor league hockey landscape; especially the possible fast-tracking of the AHL West. Not only that, but the Hamilton Bulldogs were in the news for remarks made during the ground-breaking of a new arena in Laval, Quebec. In better news, the Fort Wayne Komets could have found the best parent affiliation they can handle as the Colorado Avalanche are happy with the early results thus far. Two goalies end it out, with Allen York playing better due to stability and Parker Milner having the fastest promotion and demotion known to man. Not to be outdone, some news and notes, plus We Hardly Knew Ye.

FOHS Farm Report Podcast: 12.07.14

This week in the Farm Report, we’ll talk about Scooter Vaughan’s versatility earning him a deeper role for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, Connor Hellebuyck’s learning curve earning him more starts in St. John’s, and Alex Aleardi’s demotion that he’s using as a learning tool to get back into the AHL. Getting back into hockey is only part of Tristan Lysko’s story, as he looks to move up the ladder of minor pro hockey, while the month of November ended with tons of awards, a ceremonial games, and a coach firing. All that, plus We Hardly Knew Ye.

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Farm Report Podcast 11.09.14

This week, Scotty Wazz discusses the five-game series between the Quad City Mallards and Brampton Beast and how the Mallards feel the time away could great a greater bonding experience early in the season. As the season goes on, the CHL teams are adjusting with the Wichita Thunder going a completely different route than they had before and thriving with it. The Leggio Rule is now a thing and David Leggio is shocked it became such a huge deal. Allen York is a hockey nomad trying to find his way, which he may have gotten this year in the ECHL. Also, we’ll have the story of Dan Bremner and how he decided to honor his late-mother. All that, plus the usual news and notes and We Hardly Knew Ye.

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