By Chris Langrill
The Idaho Statesman
BOISE, Idaho — Tuesday was the anniversary of the day the Idaho Steelheads won the Kelly Cup in 2004. Four years and one day later, the Steelheads begin their quest to hoist the Kelly Cup, below, again as they play Game 1 of the ECHL’s title series against Dayton at 7:10 on Wednesday at Qwest Arena.
Here are 10 things every fan should know as the Kelly Cup Finals begin:
1. The Steelheads are in elite company. There are 12 pro hockey franchises still alive this time of year. Rockford and Kalamazoo of the UHL are tied 3-3 in that league’s championship series. The Colorado Eagles and Laredo Bucks will battle it out in Game 6 of the CHL’s President Cup Finals tonight in Loveland, Colo. There are four teams still alive in the AHL playoffs, and the NHL is down to two teams — Ottawa and Anaheim.
2. This is the 11th year of the Kelly Cup Finals. Prior to 1997, the ECHL finals were called the Riley Cup Finals. The finals were renamed to honor Patrick J. Kelly, who was the ECHL commissioner for eight seasons. South Carolina is the only team to have won the Kelly Cup twice. Idaho would be the second with a win this year.
3. Steelheads hockey hasn’t been played in June before. The Steelheads could play their first game in the month of June in Game 6 on Saturday, June 2. If it goes to Game 7, that contest would be played Tuesday, June 5. The Kelly Cup Finals have snuck into June twice: The 2005 and 2006 titles were decided on June 1.
5. The most exciting moment for Idaho in the playoffs — so far — came against Las Vegas. Game 6 of the National Conference Finals was a scoreless tie through 58 minutes and 57 seconds of play. But then Greg Rallo‘s game winner turned Qwest Arena into heaven on earth for 2,864 Steelheads fans.
6. Money’s not their motivation, but it doesn’t hurt. Burt said the Steelheads players made about $2,500 in extra money when they won it all in 2004. That figure could be close to twice that this year. The further a team goes in the playoffs, the more bonus money it earns. The winner of the Kelly Cup Finals gets twice as much as the loser. Burt joked that the money would help pay for beer in the offseason, but it’s not the reason he wants to win. “We want to be known as champions,” Burt said. “We want that ring.”
7. Both teams are battle tested in the playoffs. Idaho entered the postseason as the No. 4 seed in the National Conference and knocked off Stockton (No. 5), Las Vegas (No. 1) and Alaska (No. 2). The American Conference is seeded differently because there are more teams. The Bombers, winners of the North Division, had home-ice advantage against Trenton and Cincinnati in their first two series, but not against Florida in the American Conference Finals. Dayton played two Game 7s en route to the Kelly Cup Finals. Idaho didn’t have to go past a Game 6. Idaho (90 points) has home-ice advantage in the finals because it finished with a better regular-season record than Dayton (83 points).
8. Dayton has been in the ECHL longer than every other team except for Johnstown (Pa.). The Bombers joined the league in 1991 and made the playoffs every year until 2003 — when they started a little drought. This is the first trip to the playoffs for Dayton (Ohio) in five years. The team has been in the Kelly Cup Finals once before, in 2002, when it was swept by now-defunct Greenville (S.C.).
9. Steelheads forward Derek Nesbitt played in the Kelly Cup Finals last season when he was with Gwinnett, but he didn’t get a ring. Alaska won the series in five games. His roommate on the road when he was with Gwinnett? Adam Berkhoel, who now plays for Dayton and was named the ECHL goaltender of the year and MVP of the ECHL All-Star Game played at Qwest Arena in January.
10. Don’t expect to see the Kelly Cup any time soon. It is in the ECHL office in Princeton, N.J., and typically doesn’t show up at the arenas until a team can clinch the series.