The American Conference Finals will open Monday at Germain Arena in Estero when Florida hosts Charlotte. Game 2 is scheduled for Wednesday in Florida while Game 3 will be played Friday at Charlotte and Game 4 will be at Charlotte on Sunday.
The winner of the American Conference Finals will face the winner of the National Conference Finals, scheduled to begin on Tuesday in Anchorage. Alaska swept Long Beach in the West Division Finals and the Aces await the winner of the North Division Finals.
Trenton leads the North Division Finals two games to one and hosts Reading for Game 4 on Friday at 7:30 p.m. If necessary, Game 5 would be played Saturday at Reading at 7:05 p.m.
Florida is in the conference finals for the second consecutive season. Florida beat Reading in the Eastern Conference Finals in 2004 before losing in five games to Idaho in the Kelly Cup Finals. Florida becomes the fifth team since 2000 to reach the conference finals in back-to-back seasons and the first since Atlantic City in 2002 and 2003. Atlantic City lost to Dayton in the conference finals in 2002. The Boardwalk Bullies beat Cincinnati in the conference finals in 2003 before beating Columbia to win the Kelly Cup.
Florida has not missed the postseason in each of its first seven seasons and advances past the second round for the second straight season, the first coming in 2004. The Everblades have advanced past the first round each of the past two years and four times in seven appearances.
Charlotte has advanced past the second round of the postseason for only the second time in history, the first being 1996 when the Checkers won the Riley Cup, the trophy awarded to the ECHL postseason winner from 1989 until the introduction of the Kelly Cup in 1997. Back in the postseason for the first time since 2002, Charlotte reached the second round of the postseason for the first time since 1998 and only the third time in its 12-year history.
Florida finished the regular season with 94 points (42-20-10) and was the third seed in the American Conference. The Everblades beat South Carolina in four games in the quarterfinals and swept Greenville in the semifinals, winning the last two games in overtime.
Finishing the regular season with 85 points (39-26-7), Charlotte was the seventh seed in the American Conference. The Checkers won three games in a row, including a 4-3 overtime win on the road in Game 5, to upset Columbia in the quarterfinals. Columbia finished atop the East Division and was the second seed in the postseason. The Checkers then won three games in a row to upset Gwinnett, which finished fourth overall in the conference in the regular season.
The two teams met four times in the regular season with each team winning twice at home. Florida won 4-3 on December 31 and 3-0 on January 1 while Charlotte won 5-4 in overtime on January 8 and 3-2 on March 20.
The conference finals will have former teammates on separate sides, including Lee Falardeau of Charlotte and Brad Fast of Florida, who played together at Michigan State University in 2001-02 and 2002-03. Ernie Hartlieb and Ryan Brindley of Florida and Matt Chandler of Charlotte were all teammates at the University of Miami (Ohio) in 1998-99 while Charlotte’s David Liffiton and Florida’s Damian Surma, Kris Vernarsky, Jonas Fiedler and Jared Newman played together with Plymouth in the Ontario Hockey League in 2001-02.