Atlantic City won its’ first-ever East Coast Hockey League Championship on Wednesday with a 3-1 win over Columbia in Game 5 of the Kelly Cup Finals. The deciding game was played in front of 5,129 fans at Historic Boardwalk Hall as the Boardwalk Bullies become the seventh team in 15 years to win the Kelly Cup at home.
Making its first-ever Finals appearance, Atlantic City becomes the first Northern Conference team to win the Kelly Cup since Peoria in 2000. The Boardwalk Bullies are only the third Northern Conference team in seven years to win the Kelly Cup, joining Peoria in 2000 and Hampton Roads in 1998.
The Kelly Cup is named for Patrick J. Kelly who presented the trophy to Atlantic City Captain Stefan Rivard on Wednesday. The Kelly Cup was first awarded to the playoff champion in 1997, replacing the Jack Riley Cup which was the ECHL championship trophy from 1989 until its retirement in 1996. Pat Kelly celebrated his 50th season in hockey in 2002-03 and is one of the founding fathers of the ECHL. Kelly was named Commissioner Emeritus of the ECHL in 1996 and is the only commissioner in league history, serving the first eight seasons.
Atlantic City has qualified for the postseason in each of its two seasons since moving from Birmingham in 2001. The Boardwalk Bullies swept Trenton in three games and beat Greensboro in four games to win their second consecutive Northeast Division title. Atlantic City beat Cincinnati in the Northern Conference Finals, four games to three.
Atlantic City’s J.F. Caudron led the Kelly Cup Playoffs with 22 points and five game-winning goals, including two in the Finals. Caudron had 13 goals tying him for the Kelly Cup Playoffs lead with teammate Kevin Colley, who was named Kelly Cup Playoffs Most Valuable Player. Colley led the postseason with eight power-play goals, including three in the Finals, and had 20 points tying him for second in scoring with teammate Luke Curtin. Curtin led the postseason with 14 assists, including four in the Finals.
Scott Stirling, who returned from the American Hockey League prior to the Northern Conference Finals, was 8-4 with a 2.07 goals against average and a .920 save percentage in 12 games. Stirling led the Kelly Cup Playoffs with three shutouts, including two in the Finals which ties the record set by Maxime Gingras of Richmond in 1999. Stirling had a 1.20 goals against average and a .949 save percentage in the Finals, breaking the records set by Greenville’s Tyrone Garner in 2002. Stirling opened the Finals with back-to-back shutouts and extended his shutout streak to 150:13 in Game 3, breaking the Finals record of 138:59 set by Hampton Roads’ Mark Bernard in 1992.
Columbia’s Patrick Couture was 9-5 with a 2.08 goals against average and a .923 save percentage in the Kelly Cup Playoffs. Couture led the postseason with nine wins and 893 minutes while ranking second with 373 saves.
Columbia’s Tim Smith led all rookies in the Kelly Cup Playoffs with 16 points and ranked second with 11 assists and third with five goals. Atlantic City’s Jim Henkel led all rookies with 12 assists, including four in the Finals, and ranked second in scoring with 15 points. Columbia’s Robin Carruthers led all rookies with nine goals, including three in the Finals, and ranked third in scoring with 14 points.
Atlantic City’s Peter Metcalf led defensemen in the Kelly Cup Playoffs with four goals and three power-play goals. Columbia’s Trevor Demmans led defensemen in the postseason with 13 points and tied for the lead with 10 assists. Atlantic City defenseman Kirk Furey tied for the lead with 10 assists, including three in the Finals, and tied for second in scoring with Columbia’s Darrell Hay with 11 points.
Columbia has qualified for the postseason in each of its first two seasons since joining the ECHL in 2001. The Inferno swept Greenville in the semifinals and Pee Dee in the finals to win its first Southeast Division title. Columbia beat Mississippi in six games in the Southern Conference Finals for its’ first-ever Kelly Cup Finals appearance.
2003 Kelly Cup Finals Results
Game 1 – May 7
Atlantic City 1, Columbia 0
Stirling makes 18 saves, Matzka scores game winner
Game 2 – May 9
Atlantic City 3, Columbia 0
Stirling records second straight shutout, Caudron scores game-winning goal
Game 3 – May 10
Columbia 5, Atlantic City 3
Moore scores two shorthand goals in 48 seconds, including game winner
Game 4 – May 12
Atlantic City 3, Columbia 1
Colley tallies two first period goals, Stirling makes 23 saves
Game 5 – May 14
Atlantic City 3, Columbia 1
Caudron scores two goals, including game winner, Stirling records 29 saves