Kelly Cup Playoff Races Go Down To The Wire

PRINCETON, N.J. – A big weekend of games looms in the ECHL National Conference as seven teams continue to battle for six playoff spots.

The Idaho Steelheads are the lone team from the conference to have secured a playoff berth. Idaho, which can secure its first Brabham Cup tonight, has also earned a bye in the first round of the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Entering tonight’s game, just five points separate second-place Bakersfield (73 pts.) from eighth place Ontario (68 pts.). The top seven teams in the National Conference advance to the Kelly Cup Playoffs.

Bakersfield continues its three-game series in Utah with games tonight and Saturday. With 70 points, the Grizzlies are tied with Victoria for fourth place in the conference. The Salmon Kings are in Boise for games against Idaho tonight and tomorrow, before returning home for a season-ending three-game series against Utah beginning on Wednesday.

The Alaska Aces are unbeaten in regulation in their last nine games (6-0-3), and are in third place in the conference with 72 points. Alaska is in Ontario for games tonight and Saturday, and then returns home for a pair of games against Idaho on Tuesday and Wednesday and two against Stockton on April 2 and 3.

Stockton hosts Las Vegas for three games tonight, Saturday and Sunday. The two teams are tied for the final two playoff spots with 69 points each. The Wranglers close the regular season at home next week with three games against Ontario starting on Thursday.

The playoff race is a little more settled in the American Conference, where the top eight teams advance to the post-season. Five teams have clinched spots, with Elmira needing two points to secure its berth.

Reading currently owns the seventh spot in the conference with 73 points. The Royals continue their southern road trip tonight playing at South Carolina, before heading to Charlotte for games on Saturday and Sunday.

Toledo sits in eighth place with 72 points, and has a four-point edge on Wheeling for the final spot, while Gwinnett and Trenton are both five points behind the Walleye. Toledo visits Johnstown tonight before returning home for its final two home games of the regular season against Wheeling on Saturday and Kalamazoo on Sunday. The Nailers host Kalamazoo tonight before traveling to Toledo on Saturday. Gwinnett is home for games against Florida on Saturday and Sunday, while Trenton plays at Elmira tonight before returning home to host the Jackals for three straight games on Saturday, Sunday and April 2.

The 2010 Kelly Cup Playoffs schedule is as follows: Conference Quarterfinals (April 5-12, 2010), Conference Semifinals (April 14-28, 2010), Conference Finals (April 30-May 12, 2010) and Kelly Cup Finals (May 14-28, 2010). The Conference Quarterfinals are best-of-five series, while all other series are best-of-seven.

The third-longest tenured professional hockey league, behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League, the Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League has grown from five teams in four states in 1988-89 into a coast-to-coast league with 20 teams in 15 states and British Columbia in 2009-10.

Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League Fast Facts
• The ECHL celebrated its 20th Anniversary in 2007-08 and is the third-longest tenured professional hockey league behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League.
• ECHL began in 1988-89 with five teams in four states and has grown to be a coast-to-coast league with 20 teams in 15 states and British Columbia in 2009-10.
• The league officially changed its name from East Coast Hockey League to ECHL on May 19, 2003.
435 players have played in the NHL after playing in the ECHL including a record 53 in 2008-09.
• 27 ECHL players have made their NHL debut this season. The most recent are: former Idaho Steelheads left wing Richard Clune (Los Angeles on Feb. 11), former Wheeling Nailers right wing Nick Johnson (Pittsburgh on Jan. 21), former Florida and 2008 ECHL All-Star goaltender Anton Khudobin (Feb. 4 with Minnesota), former Florida Everblades and 2008 ECHL All-Star goaltender Justin Peters (Carolina on Feb. 6) and former Charlotte Checkers and Idaho Steelheads goaltender Matt Zaba (New York Rangers on Jan. 23).
• 4 players have played in the ECHL and the NHL this season: Kyle Calder with Bakersfield and Anaheim, Dan Sexton with Bakersfield and Anaheim, MacGregor Sharp with Bakersfield and Anaheim and Matt Zaba with Charlotte and the New York Rangers.
• The ECHL has had 243 players reach the NHL since 2002-03 when it changed its focus to become the primary developmental league for the NHL and the AHL. The ECHL had 97 players reach the NHL in its first 10 seasons and 215 in the first 15 years.
• 179 ECHL players have played their first game in the last five seasons for an average of more than 35 per year.
• ECHL had a record 78 players on NHL opening-day rosters, surpassing the 71 from a year ago and marking the seventh year in a row that there have been over 50 former ECHL players on opening-day rosters.
• Every ECHL team has an affiliation with an NHL team and the league has affiliations with 28 of the 30 NHL teams, marking the 13th consecutive season that the league has had affiliations with at least 20 teams in the NHL.
• 29 coaches with an ECHL background are working behind the benches of teams in the NHL including Washington Capitals head coach Bruce Boudreau, New York Islanders head coach Scott Gordon, Philadelphia Flyers head coach Peter Laviolette, Columbus Blue Jackets head coach Claude Noel and St. Louis Blues interim head coach Davis Payne while former ECHL player Dan Bylsma is head coach of the Stanley Cup champion Pittsburgh Penguins. It is the fifth consecutive season that there have been 11 or more coaches with an ECHL background working in the NHL. Boudreau, who coached Mississippi for three seasons winning the Kelly Cup championship in 1999, was named NHL Coach of the Year in 2007-08 becoming the first former ECHL coach to receive the award.
• 20 former ECHL officials are working as part of the NHL officiating team in 2009-10 with referees David Banfield, Francis Charron, Chris Ciamaga, Ghislain Herbert, Marc Joannette, Mike Leggo, Wes McCauley, Dean Morton, Dan O’Rourke, Brian Pochmara, Kevin Pollock, Kyle Rehman, Chris Rooney, Justin St. Pierre and Ian Walsh, and linesmen Steve Barton, Bryan Pancich, Brian Mach, Tim Nowak and Jay Sharrers.
• ECHL was represented for the ninth year in a row on the Stanley Cup champion with Pittsburgh Penguins head coach Dan Bylsma, player Ruslan Fedotenko, equipment managers Dana Heinze and Dave Zeigler, athletic trainers Chris Stewart and Scott Adams and scout Derek Clancey. There were 43 former players and 14 former coaches on 15 of the 16 teams competing in the National Hockey League’s Stanley Cup Playoffs, marking the fourth year in a row that there have been at least 30 former ECHL players and the sixth consecutive season that over 25 players with ECHL experience have competed in the NHL postseason.
• Former ECHL and current Boston Bruins goaltender Tim Thomas was the recipient of the Vezina Trophy as the top goaltender in the NHL and was also presented the William Jennings Trophy with teammate Manny Fernandez as the goaltenders finishing the season having surrendered the fewest goals. Thomas was also named First Team All-NHL after registering a career-high 36 wins while leading the NHL with a goals-against average of 2.10 and a save percentage of .933 to help the Bruins finish with the most wins (53) and points (116) since 1971-72.
• ECHL was represented in the 2009 NHL All-Star Game by Mark Streit of the New York Islanders and Tim Thomas of the Boston Bruins while former ECHL players Dan Ellis, Jonathan Quick and Tomas Vokoun were all selected as recipients of the NHL’s “Three Stars” award in 2008-09.
• Former ECHL broadcasters working in the National Hockey League include John Ahlers and Steve Carroll of the Anaheim Ducks, Tom Callahan of the Nashville Predators, Dave Goucher of the Boston Bruins, Chris Kerber of the St. Louis Blues, Dave Mishkin of the Tampa Bay Lightning, Bob McElligott and John Michael of the Columbus Blue Jackets and Rob Simpson, who is a producer/host for The NHL Network.
Ryan Stanzel and Jeremy Zager, who were both recipients of the ECHL Media Relations Director of the Year award, are working in the communications department for the Minnesota Wild and the Los Angeles Kings, respectively. Former ECHL assistant director of communications Joe Siville and Kelly Murray are now with the Philadelphia Flyers and the Washington Capitals, respectively, while former ECHL director of communications Jason Rothwell is the creative director for the Columbus Blue Jackets.
• ECHL has affiliations with 26 of the 29 teams in the American Hockey League and for the past 20 years there has been an ECHL player on the Calder Cup Champion.
• In the last six seasons the ECHL has had more call-ups to the AHL than all other professional leagues combined with over 2,500 call-ups involving more than 1,300 players and in 2008-09 there were 10 times as many call-ups from the ECHL to the AHL than all other professional leagues.
• The ECHL averaged 4,258 fans per game in 2008-09 and is the only minor professional hockey league to increase average attendance each of the last two seasons. It is the fifth consecutive season and the 17th time in the last 19 years that the ECHL has averaged over 4,000 fans and the league drew over 3 million fans for the 16th year in a row and reached the 3 million mark in the fewest number of games since 2005-06.
• There have been more than 75 million fans who have attended over 17,000 games since the ECHL began in 1988-89 with five teams in four states.
• Further information on the ECHL is available from its website at ECHL.com.