PRINCETON, N.J. – The battle to determine the national “AA” hockey champion begins Saturday when the Western Conference champion Alaska Aces host the Eastern Conference champion Kalamazoo Wings in Game 1 of the Kelly Cup Finals at 7:15 p.m. AKT at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, Alaska.
Celebrating its 23rd season in 2010-11, the ECHL is the Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League and is the third-longest tenured professional hockey league behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League.
The Kelly Cup trophy is named for Patrick J. Kelly, who presents it each year to the postseason champion. Kelly was one of the founding fathers of the ECHL and the second inductee into the ECHL Hall of Fame in 2008. 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 58th season in professional hockey in 2010-11, 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.
Game 2 will be Sunday at 7:15 p.m. AKT at Sullivan Arena before the series shifts to Kalamazoo where the K-Wings will host Game 3 on Wednesday at 7 p.m. ET and Game 4 on Friday at 7:30 p.m. ET at Wings Stadium. Game 5, if necessary, would be at 7:30 p.m. ET at Wings Stadium on May 21. The series would return to Anchorage for Game 6, if necessary, on May 25 at 7:15 p.m. AKT and Game 7, if necessary, at 7:15 p.m. AKT on May 27.
The ECHL is the primary development league for the AHL and the NHL. The ECHL and the AHL are the only two minor professional hockey leagues that are recognized in the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and the National Hockey League Players’ Association. The CBA states that any player on an NHL entry-level contract designated for assignment to a minor league must report if assigned to a team in the ECHL or the AHL. A player on an NHL entry-level contract assigned to a minor professional league other than the ECHL or the AHL is not required to report and can request reassignment to a team in the ECHL or the AHL.
Alaska won its second Brabham Cup as the ECHL’s regular season champion by posting a league-best record of 47-22-3 for 97 points. As the number one seed in the Western Conference, the Aces received a bye in the Western Conference Quarterfinals. Alaska has won all eight of its postseason games, defeating Idaho 4 games to 0 in the Western Conference Semifinals and defeating Victoria 4 games to 0 in the Western Conference Finals.
Kalamazoo defeated Florida 3 games to 1 in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals before defeating Reading 4 games to 0 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals. The K-Wings advanced to their first-ever Kelly Cup Finals with a 4 games to 2 win over Wheeling in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Aces look for second Kelly Cup, K-Wings seek first
Alaska won the Kelly Cup in 2006, becoming just the second team at the time to win both the Brabham Cup and Kelly Cup in the same season. The Aces advanced to the Kelly Cup Finals in 2009 where they fell to South Carolina in seven games. Alaska’s three appearances in the Finals ties the ECHL record, shared by five other teams, for most appearances in the Riley/Kelly Cup Finals. Kalamazoo is making its first appearance in the Kelly Cup Finals in just its second season in the ECHL. The K-Wings have won the North Division title in each of their two seasons in the league.
Finals feature top offense going against top defense
The Kelly Cup Finals features the top-scoring offense in the postseason matching up against the stingiest defense. Kalamazoo has scored a league-best 59 goals in its 14 postseason games for an average of 4.21 goals per game while Alaska has allowed just 10 goals in its eight postseason games for an average of 1.25 goals-against per game. Both teams also had success in those categories during the regular season as the K-Wings ranked second in the ECHL with an average of 3.54 goals per game while the Aces led the league with 2.42 goals-against per game.
Regular season win leaders match up in goal
The Kelly Cup Finals features a pair of 30-win goaltenders. Alaska’s Gerald Coleman, who was named ECHL Goaltender of the Year, and Kalamazoo’s Ryan Nie tied for the league lead in the regular season with 30 wins, becoming the 45th and 46th goaltenders in ECHL history to record at least 30 wins in a single season. Coleman led the league with a 2.19 goals-against average and tied for the lead with four shutouts while Nie led the league with 1,549 saves and was second with 3,111 minutes played. Both goaltenders have carried their success over to the postseason as Coleman sports playoff-bests with two shutouts, a 1.14 goals-against average and a .954 save percentage while Nie leads the postseason with 11 wins, 420 saves and 840 minutes played.
Scoring leaders on both sides
Alaska is led in the playoffs by Scott Howes, who has tallied at least one point in all eight of the Aces’ games, and has totaled 15 points (7g-8a). ECHL Most Valuable Player Wes Goldie ranks second on the club with 10 points (1g-9a).
Kalamazoo features the top three point producers in the playoffs entering the Kelly Cup Finals. Trent Daavettila leads the way with 21 points (5g-16a) followed by Sam Ftorek with 17 points (6g-11a) and Andrew Fournier with 16 points (3g-13a). Justin Taylor leads all players in the postseason with nine goals and ranks first among rookies with 12 points (9g-3a). A.J. Thelen is first among defensemen in the Kelly Cup Playoffs with nine points (3g-6a).
Name already on Kelly Cup
Alaska’s Scott Burt looks to join Jared Bednar as the only individuals to have their names engraved on the Kelly Cup three times. Burt, who is making his fourth appearance in the Kelly Cup Finals, captured championships with Idaho in 2004 and 2007. Entering the series, Burt has played in 99 career ECHL postseason games which ranks second in league history, and is just three shy of the league record held by ECHL Hall of Fame defenseman Chris Valicevic who appeared in 102 games with Greensboro and Louisiana from 1994-2002. Burt is seeking to become the first individual to win three Kelly Cups as a player. Bednar won championships as a player with South Carolina in 1997 and 2001 and was the Stingrays’ head coach for their 2009 championship.
Players returning to Finals
In addition to Burt, the only other player who has previous experience in the Kelly Cup Finals is Alaska defenseman Bryan Miller who was a member of the Aces during the 2009 visit to the Finals.
America One broadcasts Kelly Cup Finals
For the eighth year in a row every game of the Kelly Cup Finals will be broadcast by America One, the “Official Broadband & Mobile Broadcaster of the ECHL”.
America One has broadcast more than 2,500 regular season ECHL games and over 450 Kelly Cup Playoff games around the globe the last six years including the ECHL All-Star Game. The first hockey game broadcast by America One was the Las Vegas Wranglers in February 2004 and the first hockey championship carried by America One was the 2004 Kelly Cup Playoffs.
2011 Kelly Cup Finals Schedule
Game 1 – Saturday, May 14 at 7:15 p.m. AKT at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, Alaska
Game 2 – Sunday, May 15 at 7:15 p.m. AKT at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage, Alaska
Game 3 – Wednesday, May 18 at 7 p.m. ET at Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo, Michigan
Game 4 – Friday, May 20 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo, Michigan
Game 5 – Saturday, May 21 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo, Michigan *
Game 6 – Wednesday, May 25 at 7:15 p.m. AKT at Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo, Michigan *
Game 7 – Friday, May 27 at 7:15 p.m. AKT at Wings Stadium in Kalamazoo, Michigan *
Kelly Cup Champions
2006 – Alaska defeated Gwinnett, 4 games to 1
2005 – Trenton defeated Florida, 4 games to 2
2004 – Idaho defeated Florida, 4 games to 1
2003 – Atlantic City defeated Columbia, 4 games to 1
2002 – Greenville defeated Dayton, 4 games to 0
2001 – South Carolina defeated Trenton, 4 games to 1
2000 – Peoria defeated Louisiana, 4 games to 2
1999 – Mississippi defeated Richmond, 4 games to 3
1998 – Hampton Roads defeated Pensacola, 4 games to 2
1997 – South Carolina defeated Louisiana, 4 games to 1
Riley Cup Champions