The battle to determine the national “AA” hockey champion begins Friday when the Western Conference champion Colorado Eagles host the Eastern Conference champion South Carolina Stingrays in Game 1 of the 2017 Kelly Cup Finals at 7:05 p.m. MT at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colo.
Celebrating its 29th season in 2016-17, 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 64th season in professional hockey in 2016-17, 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 7:30 p.m. MT at the Budweiser Events Center before the series shifts to the North Charleston Coliseum, where the Stingrays will host Game 3 on Sunday, June 4 at 7:05 p.m. ET and Game 4 on Monday, June 5 at 7:05 p.m. ET. Game 5, if necessary, would be at 7:05 p.m. ET on Wednesday, June 7. The series would return to Colorado, if necessary, for Game 6 on Friday, June 9 and Saturday, June 10, with both games scheduled for 7:05 p.m. MT.
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.
Colorado is the ECHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche while South Carolina serves as the ECHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals.
How they got here
Colorado finished the 2016-17 regular season with an overall record of 47-20-5 for 99 points, finishing in second place of the Mountain Division, and third overall in the ECHL. The Eagles won 17 consecutive games from Jan. 25-March 3, tied for the second longest winning streak in ECHL history. Colorado defeated Idaho 4 games to 1 in the Mountain Division Semifinals, and two-time defending Kelly Cup champion Allen 4 games to 2 in the Mountain Division Finals before dispatching regular-season champion Toledo 4 games to 1 in the Western Conference Finals.
South Carolina finished the regular season in third place of the South Division with a record of 40-28-4 for 84 points. The Stingrays defeated Greenville 4 games to 2 in the South Division Semifinals, Florida 4 games to 1 in the South Division Finals and Manchester 4 games to 3 in the Eastern Conference Finals. South Carolina rallied from an 0-2 deficit against both Greenville and Manchester, becoming the first team in ECHL history to overcome such a deficit twice in a single postseason.
Stingrays seek record fourth title, Eagles chase first ECHL title
South Carolina is appearing in the Kelly Cup Finals for an ECHL-record fifth time (1997, 2001, 2009, 2015, 2017). The Stingrays captured titles in their first three trips to the Finals before falling to Allen in seven games in 2017. South Carolina’s three titles are tied with Alaska and Hampton Roads for the most in ECHL history.
Colorado is in the Kelly Cup Finals for the first time since joining the ECHL in 2011-12. Prior to this season, the Eagles had not advanced past the first round of the playoffs since joining the league.
Colorado and South Carolina met six times during the regular season, with the Eagles winning two out of three games at the North Charleston Coliseum in November and winning twice at the Budweiser Events Center in March. South Carolina’s 4-1 win at Colorado on March 4 ended the Eagles’ 17-game winning streak, which is tied for the second-longest winning streak in ECHL history.
Luke Salazar led Colorado with seven goals in the season series, and shared the team lead in points with Casey Pierro-Zabotel (1g-8a) with nine points each. South Carolina was led by Rob Flick, who scored six goals and had 10 points.
This marks the first time since South Carolina met Trenton in the 2001 Kelly Cup Finals that the teams meeting in the Finals also played during the regular season.
The 2017 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 Colorado and South Carolina have posted undefeated overtime records in the 2017 postseason with the Eagles going 4-0 and the Stingrays going 2-0.
The Eagles defeated Idaho 2-1 in Game 2 and 6-5 in Game 4 of the Mountain Division Semifinals and then defeated Toledo 4-3 in Game 3 and 5-4 in triple overtime of Game 4 in the Western Conference Finals. The Eagles’ four overtime wins are tied for the second most in a single postseason in ECHL history.
Both of the Stingrays’ overtime wins came against Florida in the South Division Finals. South Carolina prevailed 3-2 in double overtime of Game 1 and 1-0 in double overtime of Game 3 against the Everblades.
Top offense meets stingy defense
Colorado leads the Kelly Cup Playoffs with an average of 3.69 goals per game while South Carolina ranks third in the postseason with 2.33 goals-against per game. The Eagles have scored four or more goals 11 times in 16 playoff games while the Stingrays have allowed two goals or less in 11 of their 18 postseason contests.
Scoring leaders on both sides
Colorado is led in the playoffs by Alex Belzile, who has playoff-leading 14 goals and 24 points in 14 games. Matt Register, who led ECHL defensemen in scoring during the regular season and was named ECHL Defenseman of the Year, has continued his scoring pace in the postseason as he leads all blueliners with six goals and 20 points. Jake Marto, who earned a spot on the All-ECHL Second Team, is second among defensemen with 15 points (4g-11a).
South Carolina’s Rob Flick is second through three rounds of the playoffs with 11 goals and is tied for third with 20 points. Domenic Monardo has 12 assists, which is fourth in the postseason and his 18 points are tied for fifth.
Between the pipes
Both Lukas Hafner and Kent Simpson have seen time in goal for Colorado through three rounds. Hafner has appeared in 12 games with a record of 10-2, a 2.60 goals-against average and a save percentage of .896. Simpson is 2-2 in four appearances with a 3.02 goals-against average and an .879 save percentage.
Parker Milner has played all but three minutes in the playoffs for South Carolina, and leads all goaltenders in the postseason with three shutouts, is fifth with a 2.17 goals-against average and is sixth with a .920 save percentage.
Behind the Benches
Colorado’s Aaron Schneekloth and South Carolina’s Ryan Warsofsky are both in their first season as professional head coaches after each serving as their respective club’s assistant coach each of the last three seasons. Schneekloth and Warskosky join Don Murdoch (Louisiana, 2000), Ben Simon (Cincinnati, 2014) and Jeff Christian (Wheeling, 2016) as rookie head coaches to lead their teams to the Kelly Cup Finals. The match-up of first-year head coaches is a first in the ECHL Finals since the ECHL’s inaugural season of 1988-89 when Carolina’s Brendan Watson opposed Johnstown’s Steve Carlson in the 1989 Riley Cup Fianls.
As a player, Schneekloth began his professional career with South Carolina, recording 59 points (16g-43a) in 50 games during the 2001-02 and 2002-03 seasons. He played his final seven seasons (2006-13) with the Eagles before heading behind the bench prior to the 2013-14 season.
The 29-year-old Warsofsky is the youngest active coach in the ECHL and is the fifth-youngest coach in the league’s 29-year history.
Name already on Kelly Cup
Three players in the 2017 Kelly Cup Finals were part of Allen’s 2016 championship team. Colorado’s Casey Pierro-Zabotel and Matt Register along with South Carolina’s Danny Federico all were members of the Americans last season. Colorado’s Alex Belzile captured the 2014 Kelly Cup championship with the Alaska Aces.
Players returning to Finals
South Carolina’s Joe Devin, Wade Epp, Patrick Gaul and Marcus Perrier were all part of the Stingrays’ team that fell to Allen in seven games in the 2015 Kelly Cup Finals. South Carolina head coach Ryan Warsofsky was an assistant coach on that squad.
ECHL.TV broadcasts Kelly Cup Finals
For the 14th 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.
2017 Kelly Cup Finals Schedule
Game 1 – Friday, May 26 at 7:05 p.m. MT at Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colo.
Game 2 – Sunday, May 28 at 7:30 p.m. MT at Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colo.
Game 3 – Sunday, June 4 at 7:05 p.m. ET at North Charleston Coliseum in North Charleston, S.C.
Game 4 – Monday, June 5 at 7:05 p.m. ET at North Charleston Coliseum in North Charleston, S.C.
Game 5 – Wednesday, June 7 at 7:05 p.m. ET at North Charleston Coliseum in North Charleston, S.C. *
Game 6 – Friday, June 9 at 7:05 p.m. MT at Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colo. *
Game 7 – Saturday, June 10 at 7:05 p.m. MT at Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colo. *
* If Necessary
Kelly Cup Champions
2016 – Allen defeated Wheeling, 4 games to 2
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