The battle to determine the national “AA” hockey champion begins Friday when the Western Conference champion Colorado Eagles host the Eastern Conference champion Florida Everblades in Game 1 of the 2018 Kelly Cup Finals at 7:05 p.m. MT at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado.
Celebrating its 30th Anniversary Season in 2017-18, 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 65th season in professional hockey in 2017-18, 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 7:05 p.m. MT at the Budweiser Events Center before the series shifts to Germain Arena in Estero, Florida, where the Everblades will host Game 3 on Wednesday, May 30 at 7:30 p.m. ET and Game 4 on Friday, June 1 at 7:30 p.m. ET. Game 5, if necessary, would be at 7 p.m. ET on Saturday, June 2. The series would return to Colorado, if necessary, for Game 6 on Wednesday, June 6 at 7:05 p.m. MT and head back to Florida, if necessary, for Game 7 on Saturday, June 9, at 7 p.m. ET.
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.
Florida is the ECHL affiliate of the Carolina Hurricanes while Colorado is the ECHL affiliate of the Colorado Avalanche.
How they got here
Florida captured the Brabham Cup as ECHL regular-season champions with an overall record of 53-13-6 for 112 points. The 53 wins are tied for the third most in a single season in ECHL history while the 112 points are tied for the fifth highest. The Everblades are seeking to become just the sixth team in ECHL history to win both the regular season and playoff championship (South Carolina in 1996-97; Alaska in 2005-06, 2010-11 and 2014-15; and Cincinnati in 2007-08). Florida defeated Atlanta 4 games to 0 in the South Division Semifinals and Orlando 4 games to 1 in the South Division Finals before dispatching Adirondack 4 games to 1 in the Eastern Conference Finals.
Colorado finished the 2017-18 regular season with an overall record of 48-18-6 for 102 points, capturing the Mountain Division title and finishing fourth overall in the ECHL. The Eagles defeated Wichita 4 games to 2 in the Mountain Division Semifinals and Idaho 4 games to 0 in the Mountain Division Finals before eliminating Fort Wayne 4 games to 3 in the Western Conference Finals.
Eagles seek back-to-back titles, Everblades chase second crown
Colorado won the 2017 Kelly Cup title, defeating South Carolina 4 games to 0 in a series in which all four games were decided by one goal. The Eagles are looking to join the Allen Americans (2015 and 2016) as the only teams to capture back-to-back Kelly Cup titles. Two other teams – the Hampton Roads Admirals in 1991 and 1992 and the Toledo Storm in 1993 and 1994 – won consecutive Riley Cup championships.
Florida is in the Kelly Cup Finals for the fourth time in team history. The Everblades fell to Idaho in 2004 and Trenton in 2005 before winning their first Kelly Cup in 2012 with a 4 games to 1 win over Las Vegas.
The 2018 Kelly Cup Playoffs have seen 19 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. Florida is 1-1 in games that have gone beyond regulation in the postseason while the Eagles are 6-1. Colorado’s six overtime wins ties the most in a single postseason in ECHL history, which was set by the Eagles in 2017.
The Everblades defeated Atlanta 3-2 in Game 4 of the South Division Semifinals before falling to Adirondack 3-2 in Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Finals.
The Eagles’ overtime wins have come in Game 1 of the Mountain Division Semifinals at Wichita, Games 1 and 4 of the Mountain Division Finals against Idaho and in Games 1, 5 and 7 of the Western Conference Finals against Fort Wayne. Colorado fell in extra time in Game 5 against Wichita.
Top offense meets stingy defense
Florida leads the Kelly Cup Playoffs with an average of 3.93 goals per game while Colorado ranks third in the postseason with 2.47 goals-against per game. The Everblades have scored four or more goals in nine of their 14 games during the playoffs while the Eagles have allowed two goals or less in nine of their 17 contests.
Scoring leaders on both sides
Florida is led in the playoffs by Michael Kirkpatrick, who is tied for playoff lead with 10 goals and is third overall with 19 points. Mitchell Heard has 17 points (6g-11a), which is tied for fourth in the league through the first three rounds. Zack Kamrass is tied for second among defensemen in the postseason with 11 points (2g-9a).
Michael Joly, who as an All-ECHL First Team selection during the regular season, paces Colorado through three rounds with nine goals and 20 points. His 20 points are tied for the ECHL postseason lead. Matt Register, who has been named ECHL Defenseman of the Year in each of the last two seasons and was the Most Valuable Player of the 2017 Kelly Cup Playoffs, leads all blueliners in the playoffs with 13 points (0g-13a).
Between the pipes
Martin Ouellette, who represented Florida in the 2018 CCM/ECHL All-Star Classic, has played in 12 of the Everblades’ 14 games, going 11-1. He is fourth through three rounds with a 1.87 goals-against average and a .935 save percentage. In two appearances, Callum Booth is 1-1 with a 3.03 goals-against average and a save percentage of .887.
Joe Cannata has appeared in each of Colorado’s 17 games in the playoffs, posting a record of 12-5 with a 2.22 goals-against average and a save percentage of .924. He is second among goaltenders in the playoffs with 1,028 minutes played and 460 saves.
Behind the Benches
Florida’s Brad Ralph, the 2017-18 recipient of the John Brophy Award as the ECHL Coach of the Year, is 99-34-11 in two seasons with the Everblades and is 231-98-31 overall in five ECHL seasons with Florida and Idaho. He also spent one season as head coach of Kelowna in the Western Hockey League and two seasons with Augusta of the Southern Professional Hockey League, where he led the team to the Finals in 2011.
Colorado’s Aaron Schneekloth became the first coach to lead a team to an ECHL title in his first season as a coach in 2017 and has gone 95-38-11 in two seasons with the Eagles. Schneekloth’s .756 postseason winning percentage (28-9) is second all-time among coaches in ECHL history.
Name already on Kelly Cup
Eight players on Colorado’s roster were part of the Eagles 2017 championship – Matt Garbowsky, Lukas Hafner, Ryan Harrison, Jake Marto, Julien Nantel, Matt Register, Shawn St-Amant and Teigan Zahn. Register also won a title with Allen in 2016 and is seeking to become the first player in ECHL history to win three consecutive titles. In addition, Colorado head coach Aaron Schneekloth and assistant coach Ryan Tobler were also with the Eagles in 2017. Florida’s Kyle Neuber was part of Allen’s championship team in 2016.
Players returning to Finals
ECHL.TV broadcasts Kelly Cup Finals
For the 15th 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.
2018 Kelly Cup Finals Schedule
Game 1 – Friday, May 25 at 7:05 p.m. MT at Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado
Game 2 – Sunday, May 27 at 7:05 p.m. MT at Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado
Game 3 – Wednesday, May 30 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Germain Arena in Estero, Florida
Game 4 – Friday, June 1 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Germain Arena in Estero, Florida
Game 5 – Saturday, June 2 at 7 p.m. ET at Germain Arena in Estero, Florida *
Game 6 – Wednesday, June 6 at 7:15 p.m. at Budweiser Events Center in Loveland, Colorado *
Game 7 – Saturday, June 9 at 7 p.m. ET at Germain Arena in Estero, Florida *
* – If Necessary
Kelly Cup Champions
2017 – Colorado defeated South Carolina, 4 games to 0
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