PRINCETON, N.J. – The 2009 ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs is down to the final four teams competing for the ‘AA’ National Championship with the defending champion Cincinnati Cyclones, the Alaska Aces, the Las Vegas Wranglers and the South Carolina Stingrays.
Celebrating its 21st season in 2008-09, 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 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.
The American Conference Finals begin at 7:05p.m. ET on Saturday when South Division champion South Carolina hosts North Division champion Cincinnati in a rematch of the 2008 American Conference Finals. The National Conference Finals begin on Saturday at 7:15 p.m. AT when West Division champion Alaska hosts Pacific Division champion Las Vegas.
The winners advance to the Kelly Cup Finals where they compete for the Kelly Cup trophy named for Patrick J. Kelly, who was one of the founding fathers of the ECHL and 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 celebrated his 55th season in professional hockey in 2007-08, 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.
There have only been three teams in ECHL history that have won the regular season and postseason titles in the same year and all three are in the Final Four with Alaska, Cincinnati and South Carolina. The Stingrays were the first team to make history when they won the Brabham Cup and the Kelly Cup in 1996-97 while Alaska accomplished the feat in 2005-06 and Cincinnati did it in 2007-08. South Carolina eliminated this year’s Brabham Cup winner Florida in the South Division Finals.
The Kelly Cup Playoffs will bring national attention to Anchorage, Cincinnati, Las Vegas and North Charleston. It is the second straight year that the conference finals have been in Nevada, Ohio and South Carolina and the fourth time in the last five years that they have been played in Alaska. The conference finals will be played in three time zones with Eastern (Cincinnati and South Carolina), Pacific (Las Vegas) and Alaska.
The Kelly Cup champions the last five years have come from Alaska (Aces in 2006), Idaho (Steelheads in 2004 and 2007), New Jersey (Trenton Titans in 2005) and Ohio (Cincinnati Cyclones in 2008) while the runners-up have been from Florida (Everblades in 2004 and 2005), Georgia (Gwinnett Gladiators in 2006), Nevada (Las Vegas in 2008) and Ohio (Dayton in 2007). The 4,396 miles between Duluth, Ga. and Anchorage, Alaska was the farthest distance between two teams in the Kelly Cup Finals, but not the farthest distance between two teams in the Kelly Cup Playoffs. The longest distance is the 4,444 miles between Trenton, N.J. and Anchorage, Alaska for the conference finals in 2005.
Alaska is only the second team in league history to reach the conference finals four times in five years after appearing in a record-tying three conference finals in a row from 2005-07. Louisiana reached the conference finals four times from 1997-2001 and Greensboro reached the conference finals in 1990, 1991 and 1992. Alaska is the first team to advance in the postseason each of its first six seasons and the first team to advance six consecutive years. The Aces finished first in the division for the fourth time in the last five seasons and atop the National Conference for the third time. Alaska became the second team to win the Kelly Cup and the Brabham Cup, the trophy presented to the regular season champion, in the same season in 2006 and they reached the conference finals in 2007 and 2005.
Alaska won the Kelly Cup in 2006 and is looking to join Idaho and South Carolina as the only two-time winners of the trophy. The Aces finished first in the National Conference and second overall with a winning percentage of .646 and a record of 45-24-1 while Las Vegas was second in the Pacific Division and 13th overall with a winning percentage of .521 and a record of 34-31-8. It was the fourth time in the last five years that Alaska was first in the division and the third time that the Aces were first in the National Conference.
Alaska beat Victoria in five games in the West Division Finals, outscoring the Salmon Kings 22-12, after defeating Utah in five games in the West Division Semifinals, outscoring the Grizzlies 16-7.
South Carolina is trying to become the first three-time winner of the Kelly Cup. South Carolina won the trophy the first year it was presented in 1997 and became the first two-time champion in 2001. The Stingrays were the first team in history to win both the Brabham Cup, the trophy awarded to the regular season champion, and the Kelly Cup in the same season in 1996-97. Stingrays head coach Jared Bednar was a member of both championship teams.It is the fourth trip to the conference finals for South Carolina, who are 2-1 having captured the Kelly Cup in 1997 and 2001 while losing to eventual Kelly Cup winner Cincinnati in 2008. South Carolina has qualified for the postseason a league record 15 times in 16 seasons and is the all-time leader with 128 postseason games and 69 postseason wins.
Bednar is the first coach to take his team to the conference finals in his first two seasons. He is 89-45-9 in the regular season and 18-14 in the Kelly Cup Playoffs. The former defenseman was an assistant coach for five years before taking over as head coach in 2007-08 and he is in his 13th season with the organization having played for the Stingrays from 1995-2002.
The Stingrays upset regular season champion Florida in the South Division Finals in a series that saw all six games decided by one goal including three in overtime. South Carolina beat Charlotte in six games in the South Division Semifinals.
Cincinnati is the defending champion and one of only three teams to win the Brabham Cup and the Kelly Cup in the same season. The Cyclones had 71 combined wins in the regular season and postseason breaking the ECHL record of 69 wins by Alaska when it won the Kelly Cup in 2006. Cincinnati was the third team to finish the regular season with 100 points and win the Kelly Cup joining Alaska (113 points in 2005-06) and South Carolina (100 points in 1996-97).
In the 12 years that the Kelly Cup has been presented to the postseason winner there has never been a team that has captured it in back-to-back years. The postseason trophy from 1989-1996 was the Riley Cup which had back-to-back winners twice with Hampton Roads in 1991 and 1992 and Toledo in 1993 and 1994.
The Cyclones swept Elmira in four games in the North Division Finals after beating Wheeling in seven games in the North Division Semifinals, including a 2-1 win in double overtime in Game 7. Cincinnati won the North Division regular season title for the second year in a row with a 41-26-5 record.
Cincinnati’s Chuck Weber has won 163 games (133 in the regular season and 30 in the postseason) in his first three seasons which is more than any ECHL coach in his first three seasons. Mike Haviland, who is now an assistant coach with the Chicago Blackhawks in the National Hockey League, won 152 games (130 in the regular season and 22 in the postseason) in his first three seasons with Atlantic City. Weber is the second coach to win a playoff series in each of his first three seasons. Davis Payne won a series in each of his three seasons in Pee Dee from 2000-03 and won a series in each of his four seasons in Alaska from 2004-08.
Alaska’s run to the Conference Finals in 2005 was chosen as the “Greatest Team Sports Moment In Alaska History” in an online poll by The Anchorage Daily News: Alaska’s Newspaper. The Aces had more than six times the number of votes received by the second-place finisher – “Libby Riddles Becoming First Woman To Win The Iditarod In 1985,” and the team was honored by the City of Anchorage with “Alaska Aces Pride Day”.
Las Vegas is making its second consecutive conference finals appearance having swept Utah in four games in 2008 to reach the Kelly Cup Finals where they lost in six games. The Wranglers are in the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the fourth year in a row and the fifth time in six years and they have advanced each of the last four seasons. Las Vegas has lost to the Kelly Cup winner every time that they have reached the postseason with Idaho in 2004 and 2007, Alaska in 2006 and Cincinnati in the Kelly Cup Finals in 2008.
Glen Gulutzan of the Wranglers is 36-27 in the Kelly Cup Playoffs and 254-124-55 in the regular season. He was named ECHL Coach of the Year in 2005-06 and has been selected to coach in the ECHL All-Star Game three times, tying him for the most appearances.
B2 Networks, the “Official Broadband Broadcast Provider of the ECHL,” will broadcast every game in the conference finals.B2 Networks has broadcast ECHL games around the globe the last six years including the Kelly Cup Finals and the ECHL All-Star Game. The first hockey game broadcast by B2 Networks was the Las Vegas Wranglers in February 2004 and the first hockey championship carried by B2 Networks was the 2004 Kelly Cup Playoffs.
The first channel on B2CableTV.com, a free 24-hour cable-style network dedicated to broadcasting sports and entertainment to viewers worldwide, was ECHL TV which allows fans to watch the biggest games from the previous week for free. B2CableTV.com also offers ECHLALLSTARTV which broadcasts ECHL All-Star Games 24 hours a day for free.
To watch ECHL TV and ECHLALLSTARTV fans can go to B2CableTV.com and click on the “Hockey” tab. Viewers will need a high-speed internet connection and a current version of Microsoft Windows Media Player to watch the Network. All events on ECHL TV and ECHLALLSTARTV are free of charge and available 24 hours a day.
B2 Networks is a premier provider of reliable and secure international television and pay-per-view broadcasting systems. B2’s installed technologies and worldwide network of arenas, stadiums, local venues and data centers are currently in use to distribute live sports and entertainment programming to personal computers, television screens, mobile devices and commercial venues around the world. Working with professional sports leagues, teams, NCAA and NAIA institutions and producers of entertainment programming, B2 Networks has established itself as a leader in innovative global direct to home, mobile and television broadcasting. The B2 Networks LIVE Programming Guide is available at B2TV.com while B2CableTV.com provides 24-hour cable-style programming.
American Conference Finals (Best of Seven)
South Division Champion South Carolina vs. North Division Champion Cincinnati
Game 1 – Saturday, May 9 at 7:05 p.m. at South Carolina
Game 2 – Monday, May 11 at 7:05 p.m. at South Carolina
Game 3 – Wednesday, May 13 at 7:30 p.m. at Cincinnati
Game 4 – Friday, May 15 at 7:30 p.m. at Cincinnati
Game 5 – Saturday, May 16 at 7:30 p.m. at Cincinnati (If Necessary)
Game 6 – Monday, May 18 at 7:05 p.m. at South Carolina (If Necessary)
Game 7 – Tuesday, May 19 at 7:05 p.m. at South Carolina (If Necessary)
National Conference Finals (Best of Seven)
West Division Champion Alaska Aces vs. Pacific Division Champion Las Vegas Wranglers
Game 1 – Saturday, May 9 at 7:15 p.m. at Alaska
Game 2 – Sunday, May 10 at 7:15 p.m. at Alaska
Game 3 – Tuesday, May 12 at 7:30 p.m. at Las Vegas
Game 4 – Thursday, May 14 at 7:30 p.m. at Las Vegas
Game 5 – Friday, May 15 at 7:30 p.m. at Las Vegas (If Necessary)
Game 6 – Tuesday, May 19 at 7:15 p.m. at Alaska (If Necessary)
Game 7 – Wednesday, May 20 at 7:15 p.m. at Alaska (If Necessary)
Kelly Cup Champions
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