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PRINCETON, N.J. – The American Conference Finals will begin Tuesday when South Division champion Florida hosts North Division champion Dayton in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series at Germain Arena in Estero, Fla.
Game 2 will be Thursday at Germain Arena before the series travels to the Nutter Center in Dayton for Games 3 and 4 on May 12 and 13 and Game 5, if necessary, on May 15. Game 6, if necessary, would be May 17 at Florida and Game 7, if necessary, would be played May 18 at Florida.
The winner will advance to meet the winner of the National Conference Finals in the best-of-seven Kelly Cup Finals scheduled May 23-June 6. The National Conference Finals begin on Monday when the defending Kelly Cup Champion Alaska Aces host the 2004 Kelly Cup Champion Idaho Steelheads in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series at Sullivan Arena.
Since becoming a coast-to-coast league in 2003-04, the Conference Finals have been played in Alaska, California, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, North Carolina, New Jersey, Ohio and Pennsylvania. This year’s Conference Finals will be played across three different time zones with Eastern (Dayton and Florida), Mountain (Idaho) and Alaskan. The Kelly Cup champions the last three years have come from Alaska (Aces in 2006), Idaho (Steelheads in 2004) and New Jersey (Trenton Titans in 2005) while the runner-ups have come from Florida (Everblades in 2004 and 2005) and Georgia (Gwinnett Gladiators in 2006).
Florida was 44-22-6 in the regular season and finished first in the American Conference and tied for third overall with 94 points while Dayton was 37-26-9 and finished first in the North Division and fifth in the conference in the regular season with 83 points.
Florida beat Texas 4-3 in overtime in Game 6 on Friday, advancing to the conference finals for the third time in the last four years after reaching the Kelly Cup Finals in 2004 and 2005. The Everblades, who swept Charlotte in the South Division Semifinals, have not missed the Kelly Cup Playoffs since joining the ECHL in 1998-99 and their nine consecutive appearances is the longest active streak.
Making its first postseason appearance since advancing to the Kelly Cup Finals in 2002, Dayton became only the third team in league history to overcome a 3-1 deficit when it beat Cincinnati in the North Division Finals. The Bombers, who improved 37 points from last season, swept Trenton in three games in the North Division Semifinals.
In the only meeting between the two teams on Nov. 4, 2006, Adam Berkhoel stopped 24 shots and Brent Walton (2g-0a) and Justin Maiser (0g-2a) each had two points in Dayton’s 4-2 win at the Nutter Center.
Paul Kelly leads the Bombers in the Kelly Cup Playoffs with seven goals and a plus-minus rating of +10 in 10 games while Vince Bellissimo leads the Everblades with seven goals, four power-play goals and 12 points in nine games.
Dayton’s Berkhoel is 7-3 and leads the Kelly Cup Playoffs with three shutouts while his goals-against average of 2.22 and save percentage of .925 rank sixth. Voted by league coaches as the ECHL Goaltender of the Year, Berkhoel is 3-0 with a shutout, a goals-against average of 1.67 and a save percentage of .950 in his last three starts. Florida’s Craig Kowalski is 7-2 and tied for second in the postseason with two shutouts while his save percentage of .935 is tied for fourth and his goals-against average of 2.02 ranks fifth.
Leading Florida to the Kelly Cup Playoffs in each of his six seasons, Gerry Fleming is 36-24 and is fifth in career postseason game and tied for fifth in career postseason wins. He is 243-137-52 in the regular season with the Everblades and 281-164-59 overall having coached his first season in Tallahassee in 2000-01. In his third season with the Bombers, Don MacAdam is 11-9 in the Kelly Cup Playoffs and 203-184-50 overall having coached Charlotte from 1999-2004.
Since becoming a national league in 2003-04, the ECHL has seen its Kelly Cup Champion come from Alaska with the Aces in 2006, New Jersey with the Trenton Titans in 2005 and Idaho with the Steelheads in 2004.
The NHL Network in Canada has broadcast the Kelly Cup Playoffs each of the past three seasons including several games being televised live. NHL Network has televised the ECHL Game of the Week for the past three seasons and along with NHL Center Ice has broadcast the ECHL All-Star Game live for the past five years.
For the fourth year in a row, B2 Networks will be broadcasting every game in the Conference Finals and the Kelly Cup Finals. The 2005 Kelly Cup Playoffs had more connections than any other hockey playoff series in B2 Networks history and the most viewers of any league in the postseason. The most-watched playoff series ever carried by B2 Networks is the 2005 Kelly Cup Finals which were the. The “Official Broadband Broadcast Provider of the ECHL”, B2 Networks has broadcast ECHL games the past four seasons including the 2007 ECHL All-Star Game. Fans can access the B2 Networks broadcast from the scores page on the ECHL web site.
The Kelly Cup trophy is named for Patrick J. Kelly, who was one of the founding fathers of the ECHL. Kelly served as Commissioner for the league’s first eight seasons and was named Commissioner Emeritus in 1996, a title that he continues to hold. Kelly, who celebrated his 50th season in professional hockey in 2002-03, coached 1,900 career games and had 935 wins. Kelly coached in the Eastern Hockey League, the Southern Hockey League and the National Hockey League where he was the only coach to ever lead the Colorado Rockies to the Stanley Cup Playoffs.
The Stanley Cup Playoffs have 25 or more former ECHL players for the fourth consecutive year and six former ECHL coaches for the third straight year. The ECHL has been represented on the last six Stanley Cup champions including 2006 by Carolina head coach Peter Laviolette, who became the first ECHL coach to hoist the coveted trophy, Chad LaRose, Andrew Hutchinson and assistant athletic trainer Chris Stewart.
The Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League, the ECHL has affiliations with 25 of the 30 teams in the National Hockey League in 2006-07, marking the 10th consecutive season that the league has had affiliations with at least 20 teams in the NHL. There have been 329 players who have played in the NHL after the ECHL and 184 who have made their debut in the last five seasons.
There have been over 50 former ECHL players on NHL opening-day rosters each of the past four seasons including a record 57 players this season. In each of the past five seasons there have been more than 100 players on NHL contracts who have played in the ECHL including 130 in 2006-07.
The ECHL has affiliations with 24 of the 27 teams in the AHL in 2006-07 marking the sixth season in a row that the ECHL had affiliations with 20 or more teams in the AHL. In each of the last two seasons there have been more than 225 players who have played in both the ECHL and the AHL and there were over 800 call-ups involving more than 500 players. In the last five seasons the ECHL has had more call-ups to the AHL than all other professional leagues combined with over 2,000 call-ups involving more than 1,000 players since 2002-03.
There are 12 former ECHL coaches who are head coaches and nine who are assistant coaches in the AHL. The AHL Coach of the Year Award has been won six times by a former ECHL coach, including five times in the last seven seasons. The CCM Vector/AHL Player of the Week award was won 14 times by a former ECHL player in 2006-07 while a former ECHL goaltender was named the Rbk X-Pulse/AHL Goaltender of the Month each of the last five months of the season. Six former ECHL Players were on the All-AHL Teams in 2006-07 and former ECHL players were chosen as Goaltender of the Year and Defenseman of the Year.
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