With only four teams left competing to be the 2018 Kelly Cup champion, the ECHL caught up with a goaltender from each of those teams ahead of the start of the Conference Finals. They spoke about the keys to success so far, the transition from regular season to postseason and what is necessary to become a Kelly Cup champion. In this roundtable we spoke with:
Drew Fielding (Adirondack Thunder): 5W – 2L, .948 SV%, 1.86 GAA
Martin Ouellette (Florida Everblades): 8W – 1L, .937 SV%, 1.72 GAA
Joe Cannata (Colorado Eagles): 9W – 3L, .922 SV%, 2.15 GAA
Michael Houser (Fort Wayne Komets): 8W – 4L, .918 SV%, 2.40 GAA
What has been the most crucial part of your success so far in the 2018 Kelly Cup Playoffs?
DF: I think just our team mentality. Obviously that’s as cliché as it gets, but everybody works for each other. We’ve got such a tight knit bond that even when we face any kind of adversity, we work together to overcome it. When you have that pack mentality that nothing can separate us or tear us apart…we’ve just been able to have a ton of success that way.
MO: As a team, everyone has been stepping up their game. I think the guys have been buying in even more than before into our team systems and values, and it has made everyone's job easier and led us to success in the first two rounds.
JC: Trying to be consistent every game. Stick to a routine and just go out and have fun.
MH: We found a more consistent game in the second round. I’m seeing the puck better and the team defense is helping out big time.
Talk about the transition from regular season to playoffs. Are there any drastic changes in your opinion – pace, mindset, ritual, superstitions? Is it the same game or completely different?
DF: I mean, I think you try to keep it the same. Obviously, the intensity ramps up – especially now with only four teams left. It’s obviously pretty special and it’s an honor to make it this far. If you start changing up what you do to prepare for games at this point you’re probably going to get yourself into trouble. Stay the course, believe in yourself, believe in your teammates. Know that they’re preparing as hard as you are. It’s just a fun time of the year. There are minor differences – obviously having two officials makes it a little tighter. You have to make sure you’re careful behind the play. It’s nice to know that some of the cheap stuff gets called behind the play and it just makes it a more honest, true hockey game.
MO: Obviously the playoffs are a totally different breed of hockey, but I think that as a team we've been trying to have the same mindset as we did in the regular season, keep doing the things that we do well and that made us successful during the regular season. As far as rituals and superstitions, most guys like the keep the same routines as they do during the season. I personally don't have any weird superstitions or anything like that. We do have a new "playoff board" where we put the game puck into a hole after each playoff win for each round.
JC: Playoffs is a whole different beast. The pace is a lot higher. Everyone plays sharper. Every player in Playoffs raises their game this time of year. Every little detail of your game has to be sharp. And any little mistake can be the difference in a game this time of year.
MH: It’s the same game for the most part. Guys are a little sharper with plays and mistakes are limited defensively which helps the goalies out.
Knowing your opponent in the Conference Finals, what do you think your team’s keys to success are?
DF: As for us, just play our game. I’m sure all the other three teams left are saying the exact same thing. Florida’s a very talented team. We saw them earlier in the year and it was already a playoff mentality. We expect it to match and exceed that intensity from late January. I know a couple of the guys on their team from when they played in Adirondack and they’re very dangerous offensive players. And then for us, we just have to play our game. Our sum is better than our parts, if we continue to play that way, we’re going to have success.
MO: Obviously there is a lot of preparation going into a round preparing for our next opponent to know their tendencies, but the biggest thing we have to focus on to have success is ourselves. Like I said before, if we do the things that have made us successful this year we are a tough team to play against.
JC: Our team’s success relies on our team structure and playing the right way. If we establish a good forecheck, and guys constantly back checking allows our defensemen to have good gaps and just play solid defensively. On paper we are a fast team and when we play the right way our team’s speed really sticks out. We have a great leadership group that really helps this time of year.
MH: Playing a hard physical game like we did last round. We played a good team game offensively and defensively and that’s a recipe for success.
What has surprised you most from the first two rounds of the Kelly Cup Playoffs?
DF: Just how much fun playoff hockey is. I’ve been fortunate enough to play in it all three years. It’s crazy. Every time you get back to it, you forget how exciting, how fun it is to be playing this late in the spring and into summer. It’s the best time of the year because everybody brings their “A” game every night. You’re battling for one goal against every other team that’s left in playoffs so it makes it extremely fun.
MO: I am not very surprised by it, but I think that the contribution of everyone from top to bottom in our lineup has been great to see and a big reason for our success in the first two rounds.
JC: No surprises. I know, and the team knows how hard it is to win this time of year. We also know how hard it is to end someone’s season. Coach has said from the beginning of Playoffs that you want to be winning your last game of the year. And every night is a battle so guys know how hard they have to play.
MH: It seems like every game is a one goal game. We have had such a good offense the whole season and had some higher scoring games during the regular season but everything is tighter in the playoffs now.
What must you do in order to become Kelly Cup champions?
DF: Not worry about that goal necessarily. I think just take it one day at a time. If you start getting ahead of yourself in that regard and not focusing on the present, you get carried away in worrying about the results of stuff you can’t control whether it’s past or future. The present’s all that matters. Every morning skate, every practice, every game, that’s what our focus and mentality has to be, taking care of that. Everybody taking care of their job. And just making sure you have fun and cherish it too. This is the best time of our lives, the best time of the year, so make sure we have fun and hopefully at the end of it, if we’re lucky enough to hoist the Kelly Cup, that’s all we can really ask for.
MO: Win 8 more games!
JC: Playing the right way. Playing solid team defense. Being hard to play against. Being mentally sharp for 60 minutes.
MH: Not look too far ahead. We just have to focus on winning Game 1 in Colorado then go from there.
The Kelly Cup Playoffs continue Wednesday with Games 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals (7 p.m. ET) and Western Conference Finals (7:30 p.m. ET). Watch these four goalies and their teams in action with Kelly Cup Playoff packages available via ECHL.TV