A lot of hockey players, and hockey fans, affectionately refer to post-season action as the second season. The Kelly Cup Playoffs are an emotional and exciting time in the ECHL as players chase their chance to raise the Kelly Cup. It’s an opportunity for players to make career changing, highlight-worthy plays. The most pivotal moments often come from goaltenders. With only four teams remaining in the 2017 Kelly Cup Playoffs, the ECHL spoke with a goaltender from each team about their experience so far, and what’s necessary for their team to be the Kelly Cup Champion. In this roundtable, we chat with:
Parker Milner (South Carolina Stingrays): .926 SV%. Milner has AHL experience with Bridgeport and Hershey
Sam Brittain (Manchester Monarchs): 10W-5L. Brittain is a Florida Panthers prospect with AHL experience
Jake Paterson (Toledo Walleye): .892 SV%. Paterson is a Detroit Red Wings prospect and has experience with Team Canada at the World Junior Hockey Championship.
Lukas Hafner (Colorado Eagles): 10W-2L in 2017 Kelly Cup Playoffs. Hafner has played in the ECHL in the past for Alaska and has College experience with Western Michigan University.
As a goalie in the ECHL for a few years, what has helped you most in your preparation for the 2017 Kelly Cup Playoffs?
Milner: The biggest help for me this year has been the experience of playing a couple years pro and also my playoff exposure in college. I backed up for playoffs my rookie year and got to watch Brian Foster go on a decent run for us in Stockton. You learn what it takes watching a guy like that. In college, playing in Beanpots, Hockey East tournaments, and national tournaments afforded me the chance to get big game experience.
Brittan: I think the ups and downs your experience during the season and the ability to come together as a team. You're going to face highs and lows, but coming together is the most important thing because in the playoffs, things are short-term mindset. As long as you can regroup when things aren't going your way, you're going to be successful.
Paterson: What has helped me for the 2017 Kelly Cup Playoffs is the preparation that the coaching staff and the players bring to the rink every day throughout the season. With the leadership we have on this team they really teach you how to prepare the right way no matter the circumstance.
Hafner: The biggest thing that helped in preparation for the 2017 Kelly Cup Playoffs was just getting more games played. It's one thing to get practice time in, but having a chance to start some games and get a feel for how plays develop is important. There is definitely a bit of transition from the college game.
Talk about the transition from regular season to playoffs as a tender. Are there any drastic changes in your opinion? Pace? Mindset? Ritual or Superstitions? Is it the same game or completely different?
Milner: The biggest difference between the regular season and playoffs is there is no room for error. The starting goalie has to be dialed in every minute of every game. It's very important to find a good rhythm, especially in playoffs.
Brittain: The biggest changes in my mind are on defense. Teams tighten up and play a more structured game, and we've seen that in our first two series with the scores the way they were, coming down from the regular season. The intensity is also ratcheted up with the do-or-die mentality the games force on you.
Paterson: I would say the transition from regular season to playoffs is simple. At the end of the day it's still hockey and as a goalie all you can focus on is giving your team a chance to win on every night.
Hafner: There is a transition from regular season to playoffs. The pace of play definitely picks up a bit, so I just try to focus on really being patient and holding my edges in net. The other difference is that every game becomes more important the further you go. It adds some pressure and makes this time of the year the most fun to play. I’ve tried to stick with the same routines, and wouldn't say I have any crazy or weird goalie superstitions. Just really focusing on enjoying the moment and having fun.
What surprised you most from the first two rounds of the Kelly Cup Playoffs?
Milner: What surprised me in the first two rounds was the intensity of the rivalries in the South Division. Everything was amped up. We expected the pace to change, and I'm happy with how we were able to raise our game.
Brittain: There was nothing very surprising, but seeing how hard teams compete night in and night out was impressive. In the last game of our three-in-three with Brampton, I was impressed that the third period was just as intense as period one of Game 1. It's great to see how hard the guys play from start to finish.
Paterson: I wouldn't say this has come as a surprise to me but the most exciting part of the 2017 Kelly Cup Playoffs has been how loud and electric our Walleye fans have been.
Hafner: The thing that surprised me most from the first two rounds was how tight the games and series were. It seems that every game it can be one mistake or one great play that can make a difference, and potentially change a series.
What do you think are the keys to continued success for your team and what must you do in order to become the team that becomes Kelly Cup Champions?
Milner: In order to continue climbing the ladder, we need to manage the difficult moments in-game. It's the playoffs, so both teams will get chances. I think it's critical to manage the opponents pushes with a calm poise and find a way to gain momentum back as quickly as possible.
Brittain: We definitely need to make sure we are focused and get our rest. We need to take things one game at a time. You can't take care of the future unless you take care of what's ahead of you today. That's the biggest thing. Take things day-by-day.
Paterson: The key to winning a championship is going to come down to will. At this point every team that is left has a lot of talent and it's going to come down to which team wants it the most.
Hafner: The keys for continued success for our team are going to be sticking to our style of game and the structure our coaching staff has established for us. Making sure our team plays physical, and makes it tough on the opponent every night. Goaltending is also important at this time of the year, and the guys have played great in front of us during the Playoffs. I’m looking forward to the rest of the playoff run.
The Kelly Cup Playoffs continue tonight with Game 5 of the Eastern Conference Finals featuring South Carolina & Manchester at 6:00pmET and Game 5 of the Western Conference Finals between Colorado & Toledo at 7:05pmMT. Watch these four goalies in action with Kelly Cup Playoff packages available via ECHL.TV.