Allen, Wheeling to open 2016 Kelly Cup Finals on Saturday
The battle to determine the national “AA” hockey champion begins Saturday when the Western Conference champion Allen Americans host the Eastern Conference champion Wheeling Nailers in Game 1 of the 2016 Kelly Cup Finals at 8:05 p.m. CT at the Allen Event Center in Allen, Texas.
Celebrating its 28th season in 2015-16, 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 was 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 celebrates his 63rd season in professional hockey in 2015-16, 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 4:05 p.m. CT at the Allen Event Center before the series shifts to Wheeling, where the Nailers will host Game 3 on Wednesday, June 1 at 7:05 p.m. ET and Game 4 on Friday, June 3 at 7:35 p.m. ET at WesBanco Arena. Game 5, if necessary, would be at 7:35 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 4. The series would return to Allen, if necessary, for Game 6 on Thursday, June 9 and Saturday, June 11, with both games scheduled for 7:05 p.m. CT.
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.
Wheeling is the ECHL affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins while Allen serves as the ECHL affiliate of the San Jose Sharks. With those two teams meeting in the 2016 Stanley Cup Final starting on Monday, this marks the first time in the ECHL’s 28-year history that that the two teams squaring off in the Finals series will see their affiliates meet in the Stanley Cup Final in the same season.
How they got here
Allen finished the 2015-16 regular season with an overall record of 41-24-7 for 89 points, finishing in second place of the Central Division behind ECHL regular-season champion Missouri. The Americans defeated Idaho 4 games to 3 in the Western Conference Quarterfinals, winning the final two games of the series at home including Game 7 in overtime, and Missouri 4 games to 2 in the Western Conference Semifinals before dispatching Fort Wayne 4 games to 1 in the Western Conference Finals.
Wheeling clinched its berth in the Kelly Cup Playoffs in the final weekend of the regular season, wrapping up the season with a record of 37-26-9 for 83 points and finishing in second place in the North Division. The Nailers eliminated Florida 4 games to 2 in the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals then rallied to win the final two games of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Reading, including an overtime win in Game 7, before defeating South Carolina 4 games to 3 in the Eastern Conference Finals. Wheeling became the first team in ECHL postseason history to win Games 6 and 7 of a series on the road in the victory against South Carolina.
Americans seek back-to-back titles, Nailers chase first title in Wheeling
Allen is the first team since the Florida Everblades in 2004 (lost to Idaho in five games) and 2005 (lost to Trenton in six games) to appear in the Kelly Cup Finals in consecutive years. The Americans are the first defending champion to return to the Finals since the Toledo Storm in 1994. Toledo and the Hampton Roads Admirals (1991 and 1992) are the only repeat champions through the ECHL’s first 27 seasons.
Wheeling is in the Finals series for the first time since falling to Toledo 4 games to 2 in the 1993 Riley Cup Finals. The 1992-93 season was the first for the team in Wheeling after they were based in Winston-Salem, N.C. from the League’s inception in 1988-89 through the 1991-92 season. The Carolina Thunderbirds won the inaugural Riley Cup championship in 1989, defeating the Johnstown Chiefs 4 games to 3 and the rechristened Winston-Salem Thunderbirds fell to the Greensboro Monarchs 4 games to 1 in the 1990 Riley Cup Finals.
The 2016 Kelly Cup Playoffs have seen 14 overtime games through three rounds. The record for overtime games in a single postseason is 26, which was set in the 2008 Kelly Cup Playoffs. Both Wheeling and Allen have posted undefeated overtime records in the 2016 postseason with the Nailers going 4-0 and the Americans going 3-0.
The Nailers defeated Reading in three overtimes in Game 4 of the Eastern Conference Semifinals as well as defeating the Royals in overtime in Game 7 of the series. Wheeling defeated South Carolina in double overtime in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals and forced a decisive Game 7 with an overtime win in Game 6 of the series. The Nailers four overtime wins are tied for the second most in a single postseason in ECHL history.
The Americans eliminated Idaho with an overtime win in Game 7 of the Western Conference Quarterfinals before picking up a pair of overtime wins – in Games 2 and 4 – against Fort Wayne in the Western Conference Finals.
Top power-play unit goes head-to-head against top penalty killers
Allen leads the Kelly Cup Playoffs on the power play, converting at 26.2 percent (21-for-79). In the Western Conference Finals against Fort Wayne, the Americans scored eight power-play goals on 39 chances, for a success rate of 33.3 percent. Wheeling’s penalty-kill unit is tied for the playoff lead with a penalty-kill percentage of 87.6 percent (85-for-97). The Nailers have been even better on the road during the playoffs, allowing just three power-play goals in 49 opportunities (93.9 percent).
Scoring leaders on both sides
Allen is led in the playoffs by Chad Costello who has playoff-leading 23 points (4g-19a) in 18 games. Costello also led the ECHL in scoring during the regular season with 103 points (24g-79a), the second straight season he paced the league in points, and was named the ECHL Most Valuable Player. Greger Hanson, who was the Most Valuable Player of the 2015 Kelly Cup Playoffs, leads all players in the postseason with 11 goals. Eric Roy ranks third among defensemen with 15 points (3g-12a) while David Makowski leads defensemen with 20 points (5g-15a).
Wheeling’s Riley Brace, who was named to the All-ECHL Second Team, leads the Nailers and is second in the playoffs with 20 points (5g-15a). John McCarron and Cody Wydo are tied for the playoff lead among rookies with eight goals while McCarron leads all first-year players in scoring with 18 points with Wydo second with 17. Mathew Maione, the ECHL Defenseman of the Year, is second among blueliners with 19 points (5g-14a).
Between the pipes
Allen’s Riley Gill, who has captured Kelly Cup titles with Reading in 2013 and Allen in 2015, has gone 9-4 with a 2.37 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage in 15 appearances during the 2016 Kelly Cup Playoffs. Gill has eight career wins in the Finals, which is tied with Gerald Coleman and Dave Gagnon for the most victories in Finals history and his 45 career wins overall in the Kelly Cup Playoffs is the most in ECHL postseason history. Jake Hildebrand has appeared in five games posting a record of 2-2 with a 3.18 goals-against average and a save percentage of .908.
Brian Foster and Franky Palazzese have split time in goal for Wheeling. Foster, who was the winning goalie in Games 6 of 7 of the Eastern Conference Finals against South Carolina, is 8-5 with a 2.60 goals-against average and a save percentage of .916 in 13 appearances while Palazzese has seen action in eight games, posting a 4-3 record with a 2.34 goals-against average and a .909 save percentage.
Behind the Benches
Allen head coach Steve Martinson began his coaching career in 1996 with the San Diego Gulls of the WCHL, where he coached for nine seasons and over 600 games, winning five championships. During his ECHL expansion season in 2003-04 with San Diego, his club set an ECHL record for most points by an expansion team with 100 points. In his 17 years of coaching, Martinson has failed to reach the post-season only once. He won his first championship in the Central Hockey League in 2012-13 as Allen defeated Wichita in seven games and has gone on to lead the Americans to two more titles, in the CHL in 2014 and last season’s Kelly Cup title in Allen’s first season in the ECHL.
Wheeling’s David Gove began this season as the Nailers’ assistant coach and was elevated to head coach on Dec. 22 when Clark Donatelli was promoted to head coach of the American Hockey League’s Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. Jeff Christian joined the team as assistant coach following Gove taking over as the head coach, and has served as the team’s acting head coach since the start of the Eastern Conference Semifinals against Reading.
Name already on Kelly Cup
Nine players on Allen’s playoff roster, along with head coach Steve Martinson, were part of the Americans’ 2015 championship squad. The nine players are Vincent Arseneau, Spencer Asuchak, Chad Costello, Aaron Gens, Riley Gill, Greger Hanson, Joel Rumpel, Gary Steffes, and Dyson Stevenson. Gill also won a Kelly Cup title with Reading in 2013 and is one of just 27 individuals in ECHL history to have his name on the Kelly Cup multiple times.
Players returning to Finals
In addition to his Kelly Cup titles with Reading in 2013 and Allen in 2015, Gill was also part of Kalamazoo’s 2011 Kelly Cup Finals squad. His eight career wins in the Kelly Cup Finals are tied with Gerald Coleman and Dave Gagnon for the most career wins in Finals history. Wheeling’s Andrew Ammon appeared in the 2015 Kelly Cup Finals with South Carolina.
ECHL.TV broadcasts Kelly Cup Finals
For the 13th year in a row every game of the Kelly Cup Finals will be available online. Each game of the Finals is available for purchase through ECHL.TV, powered by NeuLion.
Visit ECHL.TV for ordering instructions.
2016 Kelly Cup Finals Schedule
Game 1 – Saturday, May 28 at 8:05 p.m. CT at Allen Event Center in Allen, Texas
Game 2 – Sunday, May 29 at 4:05 p.m. CT at Allen Event Center in Allen, Texas
Game 3 – Wednesday, June 1 at 7:05 p.m. ET at WesBanco Arena in Wheeling, W.Va.
Game 4 – Friday, June 3 at 7:35 p.m. ET at WesBanco Arena in Wheeling, W.Va.
Game 5 – Saturday, June 4 at 7:35 p.m. ET at North WesBanco Arena in Wheeling, W.Va.*
Game 6 – Thursday, June 9 at 7:05 p.m. ET at Allen Event Center in Allen, Texas *
Game 7 – Saturday, June 11 at 7:05 p.m. CT at Allen Event Center in Allen, Texas *
* If Necessary
Kelly Cup Champions
2015 – Allen defeated South Carolina, 4 games to 3
2014 – Alaska defeated Cincinnati, 4 games to 2
2013 – Reading defeated Stockton, 4 games to 1
2012 – Florida defeated Las Vegas, 4 games to 1
2011 – Alaska defeated Kalamazoo, 4 games to 1
2010 – Cincinnati defeated Idaho, 4 games to 1
2009 – South Carolina defeated Alaska, 4 games to 3
2008 – Cincinnati defeated Las Vegas, 4 games to 2
2007 – Idaho defeated Dayton, 4 games to 1
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
1996 – Charlotte defeated Jacksonville, 4 games to 0
1995 – Richmond defeated Greensboro, 4 games to 1
1994 – Toledo defeated Raleigh, 4 games to 1
1993 – Toledo defeated Wheeling, 4 games to 2
1992 – Hampton Roads defeated Louisville, 4 games to 0
1991 – Hampton Roads defeated Greensboro, 4 games to 1
1990 – Greensboro defeated Winston-Salem, 4 games to 1
1989 – Carolina defeated Johnstown, 4 games to 3