Kelly Cup Playoffs Open Tuesday In Alaska

The 2005 Kelly Cup Playoffs open Tuesday when No. 1 Seed Alaska hosts No. 4 Seed Bakersfield in the West Division Semifinals. The other match-up in the West Division has No. 2 Seed Long Beach hosting defending Kelly Cup Champion and No. 3 Seed Idaho.

The North Division will open on Wednesday when No. 2 Seed Trenton hosts No. 3 Seed Atlantic City while No. 1 Seed Reading hosts No. 4 Seed Toledo on Thursday.

The American Conference Quarterfinals opens Wednesday as No. 2 Seed Columbia hosts No. 7 Seed Charlotte, No. 3 Seed Florida hosts No. 6 Seed South Carolina and No. 4 Seed Gwinnett hosts No. 5 Seed Mississippi. No. 1 Seed Pensacola hosts No. 8 Seed Greenville on Thursday.

Returning to the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the second time in two seasons, Alaska finished atop the National Conference at 45-19-8 and 98 points. One of seven expansion teams that joined the ECHL in 2003-04, the Aces set team records for wins (45), points (98), road wins (23), consecutive wins (6) and consecutive road wins (5) while tying the team record for home wins (22) and consecutive home wins (4). In the opening round of the postseason a year ago, the Aces (82 points) swept regular-season point champion San Diego (108 points), the seventh-largest postseason upset (26 points) in ECHL history.

Making its first ECHL postseason appearance, Bakersfield finished fourth in the West Division at 40-22-10 and 90 points. The Condors, who closed out the season with back-to-back wins against defending champion Idaho, set team records for wins (40), points (90), home wins (21), road wins (19), consecutive wins (6), consecutive home wins (5) and consecutive road wins (6).

The Condors won the last meeting 4-1 at Bakersfield to improve to 4-2-0 against the Aces, including a 1-1-1 record at Alaska. Alaska’s Scott Gomez led the league with 86 points, 73 assists and 28 power-play assists in 61 games. Gomez’ teammate Chris Minard was first in the league with 49 goals, tied for first with 15 power-play goals and fourth in scoring with 78 points in 69 games.

Advancing to the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the fourth straight season and the seventh time in nine years since moving to Pensacola, the Ice Pilots finished first in the ECHL at 51-16-5 and 107 points, the fourth-highest total in the league’s 17-year history. The 51 wins tie Pensacola with Wheeling (2003-04) and Pee Dee (1998-99) for the third-most wins in an ECHL season while the 25 road wins tie the Ice Pilots with Trenton (2000-01) and Florida (1999-2000) for the second-most road wins in a season. The 15th team in league history to reach 100 points, Pensacola set team records for points (104), wins (51), home wins (26), road wins (25), consecutive wins (12) and consecutive home wins (9) while tying the team record for consecutive road wins (6). Pensacola advanced to the Kelly Cup Finals in 1998. The Ice Pilots’ Frederic Cloutier tied for the league lead with 32 wins while finishing tied for second with five shutouts and tied for third with 2,937 minutes. Pensacola’s Corey Neilson leads ECHL defensemen with 18 goals, 10 power-play goals, five game-winning goals, 44 assists, 24 power-play assists, 62 points and 33 power-play points in 71 games.

Greenville was 39-28-5 with 83 points, a 50-point improvement from last season when the Grrrowl missed the postseason. The 50-point improvement ties the ECHL record set by Knoxville, which improved 50 points from 1992-93 to 1993-94. It is the fourth trip to the postseason for Greenville, which won the Kelly Cup in 2002.

The Ice Pilots won the only regular-season meeting between the two teams, 4-2 at Pensacola on November 27.

Advancing to the postseason each of their four seasons since moving to New Jersey, the Boardwalk Bullies won the Kelly Cup in 2003. After missing the playoffs for the first time in 2004, Trenton returns to the postseason for the fifth time in six years, having advanced to the Kelly Cup Finals in 2001. Trenton is 42-21-9 with 93 points and Atlantic City is 42-22-8 with 92 points. The Titans won the last meeting 4-3 on March 25, the fourth straight home win for Trenton, which is 4-1-0 at home and 5-3-2 overall. The Bullies have won the last four meetings at Atlantic City and are 4-1-0 at home and 5-4-1 overall. In the only postseason meeting, Atlantic City swept Trenton in three games en route to the ECHL title in 2003. The Bullies’ Derek Edwardson finished tied for the league rookie lead with 41 assists, 17 power-play assists and four shorthand goals. He finished tied for second with 23 power-play points and was tied for third in rookie scoring with 64 points in 69 games.

After making its first postseason as the wild card team in 2004, Reading is the top seed in the North at 43-22-7 and 93 points while Toledo is 41-26-5 and 87 points. The Royals, who advanced to the Eastern Conference finals a year ago, set team records for wins (43), points (93), consecutive wins (9) and road wins (18) while tying the record for home wins (25) and consecutive home wins (6). Toledo returns to the postseason for the 11th time in its 14 seasons, having won the ECHL title in 1993 and 1994. The Royals are 4-1-0, winning the last three meetings, at home and 6-2-1 overall against the Storm. Reading’s Cail MacLean tied for the league lead with 15 power-play goals while Barry Brust was second in the league with a goals-against average of 1.96. Toledo’s Carl Mallette finished second in the league with 80 points and ranked fifth in assists with 50 in 64 games while Nick Parillo finished tied for the league lead with seven shorthand points and tied for second with five shorthand goals.

Finishing atop its division for the third season in a row, Columbia is 38-22-12 with 88 points and reaches the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the fourth time in four seasons, having advanced to the Kelly Cup Finals in 2003. Returning to the postseason for the first time since 2001-02 and for the eighth time in 12 seasons, Charlotte, which won the league title in 1996, is 39-26-7 with 85 points. Columbia has won the last two meetings to improve to 5-3-2 against the Checkers, including a 2-1-2 record at home. The Inferno’s Mike Minard finished tied for second with five shutouts.

Florida is 42-20-10 with 94 points and has not missed the postseason in each of its first seven seasons, including making it to the Kelly Cup Finals in 2004. South Carolina is 39-24-9 and in its 12th year will be making its ECHL record 12th postseason appearance, having won the Kelly Cup in 1997 and 2001. Florida won the last meeting 4-1 at South Carolina to improve to 2-2-1 against the Stingrays, who are 2-0-0 at Florida and 3-2-1 overall against the Everblades. In the postseason, Florida is 4-0 against South Carolina, sweeping the Stingrays in the division finals in 2004 and beating them in a wild card game in 2002. South Carolina’s Matt W. Reid led the league with six shorthand goals and tied for the league lead with seven shorthand points. The Stingrays’ Joe Tenute was named CCM Vector Rookie of the Year on Monday after leading league rookies with 75 points and 25 power-play points (9g-16a) while tying for the rookie lead with 34 goals and 41 assists in 68 games.

Making its first postseason appearance, Long Beach is 43-20-9 with 95 points while Idaho, which returns to defend the title it won as an expansion team in 2004, is 42-23-7 with 91 points. The Ice Dogs improved 44 points from their first season, the fifth-largest single-season point improvement in league history. Idaho won the last meeting 2-1 at Long Beach and is 2-1-1 on the road and 5-3-1 overall against the Ice Dogs. Long Beach’s Chris Kenady finished tied for the league lead with nine game-winning goals. The Ice Dogs’ Marco Rosa finished tied for the rookie lead with 34 goals and was second in scoring with 65 points in 72 games. Rosa and teammate Nathan Martz finished tied for first among rookies and second in the league in plus-minus rating (+34). Idaho’s Dan Vandermeer leads league defensemen in plus-minus rating (+32) while goaltender Frank Doyle is tied for first with 32 wins.

Mississippi returns to the postseason for the fourth season in a row and the seventh time in its nine seasons, having won the Kelly Cup in 1999. Gwinnett returns to the playoffs for the second straight year after losing in the conference finals to eventual champion Idaho a year ago. The Gladiators beat the Sea Wolves in five games, including two overtime wins, in the division semifinals a year ago. The teams are playing a 1-1-3 series because of a scheduling conflict at the Mississippi Coast Coliseum. Mississippi has won the last three meetings and is 2-1-1 at Gwinnett and 5-1-1 overall against the Gladiators.