PRINCETON, N.J. – The 2008 Kelly Cup Playoffs National Conference Finals will begin at 7:05 p.m. PT on Monday when the Las Vegas Wranglers host the Utah Grizzlies in Game 1 of the best-of-seven series at the Orleans Arena.
It is the first trip to the conference finals for both teams and will be the first postseason meeting between the two.
Las Vegas will host Game 2 at 7:05 p.m. PT on May 13 before the series heads to the E-Center, host venue for ice hockey during the 2002 Olympic Winter Games, in West Valley City for Games 3 and 4 at 7:05 p.m. MT on May 15 and 16.
The winner will advance to the Kelly Cup Finals where they will meet the winner of the American Conference. The American Conference Finals begin at 7:30 p.m. on Friday when North Division champion Cincinnati hosts South Division champion South Carolina in Game 1 of their best-of-seven series.
The Kelly Cup is the championship trophy named in honor of Patrick J. Kelly, who was one of the founding fathers of the ECHL. One of the inaugural inductees 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 50th season in professional hockey in 2002-03, 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.
The Wranglers are the top seed in the National Conference for the second straight year after going 47-13-12 and finishing first in the conference regular season standings and third overall in the league with 106 points while Utah is the sixth seed after going 32-30-10. Las Vegas is the first team in the 20-year history of the ECHL to score 100 points in three consecutive seasons after having 112 points in 2005-06 and 106 points in 2006-07 when they won the league regular season title.
Las Vegas beat fifth-seed Alaska in five games in the conference semifinals after defeating eighth-seed Stockton in six games in the opening round. The Grizzlies beat second-seed Victoria in five games in the conference semifinals after defeating third-seed Fresno in six games in the first round. In its three previous postseason trips, Las Vegas has been eliminated by the eventual Kelly Cup champion with Idaho in 2004 and 2007 and Alaska in 2006. The Wranglers are 4-3 all-time in postseason series while Utah is 2-1.
Glen Gulutzan has been head coach of the Wranglers since the team joined the ECHL in 2003-04 and he has a career regular season record of 220-93-47 (.676 winning percentage) and a postseason record of 22-17 (.564 winning percentage). He was named ECHL Coach of the Year in 2005-06 after Las Vegas finished second in the league with 112 points and a 53-13-6 record, setting team records with 53 wins, 28 home wins and 25 road wins. He has been selected to coach the National Conference in each of the last three ECHL All-Star Games, tying him for the most selections.
Jason Christie has been head coach of the Grizzlies since the team joined the league in 2005-06 after coaching Peoria in the ECHL for five years from 2000-01. Christie has a career regular season record of 307-203-66 (.590 winning percentage) and is sixth all-time in career wins. He has led his teams to the Kelly Cup Playoffs six times and he has a career postseason record of 24-22 (.522 winning percentage). Christie was selected to coach in the ECHL All-Star Game in his first season in 2000-01 and returned behind the bench in 2003-04. He played his last 10 professional seasons in the ECHL with Peoria and led the Rivermen to the Kelly Cup Championship in 2000, earning Co-Most Valuable Player honors.
Utah assistant coach Kevin Colley helped Atlantic City win the Kelly Cup in 2003 while Grizzlies left wing Scott Burt is one of 13 players/coaches to have his name engraved twice on the trophy, winning in 2007 and 2004 with Idaho. Utah defensemen Jeff Dwyer and Ian Forbes both have played in the Kelly Cup Finals with Gwinnett in 2006 and Florida in 2004, respectively, while Las Vegas defenseman Sean Owens played for Columbia in the Kelly Cup Finals in 2003.
The Wranglers have won the last 10 regular season meetings and were 5-1-0 at home and 5-0-0 on the road against Utah in 2007-08. Las Vegas is 16-5-4 all-time against the Grizzlies, including a 9-2-1 record at home and a 7-3-3 on the road. Fourteen of the 25 meetings have been decided by a single goal including three overtime games and five shootouts. The Wranglers are 3-2 in shootouts, 1-2 in overtime and 8-2-4 overall in one-goal games against Utah. The Grizzlies are 2-1 in overtime, 2-3 in shootouts and 6-4-4 overall in one-goal games against Las Vegas.
Las Vegas leads the Kelly Cup Playoffs with 4.36 goals per game and is 11th in goals-against average with 2.91 while Utah is second with 3.64 goals per game and sixth in goals-against average with 2.64. The Grizzlies lead the postseason in power play goals with 14 and power-play percentage with 25.9 while ranking 16th on the penalty kill at 80.6 percent. The Wranglers are third on the penalty kill at 89.1 percent and sixth on the power play at 17.7 percent.
In the postseason Utah is 4-2 at home and 4-1 on the road while going 2-0 in one-goal games. Both of the one-goal games were overtime wins, including 4-3 in triple overtime at Fresno on Apr. 14 in the sixth-longest game in the 20-year history of the ECHL at 106:23.
In their only other Kelly Cup Playoffs appearance in its first season in 2006, the Grizzlies were swept in the first round by Alaska which then beat Las Vegas in the following round on its way to the ECHL championship.
Las Vegas’ Peter Ferraro leads the Kelly Cup Playoffs with 17 points and he is tied for second with 10 assists in 10 games while rookie teammate Adam Miller leads the postseason in plus-minus rating with +12. Wrangler rookie Kevin Lalande is 7-3 and tied for second in the postseason in wins while ranking third in minutes with 575.
Utah’s Michael Mole is 3-0 with a shutout and ranks second in the Kelly Cup Playoffs in goals-against average with 1.95 and is tied for third in save percentage with .934. Rookie teammate Nathan Lawson is 5-3 and tied for the postseason lead with two shutouts while ranking fifth in saves with 238. James Sanford of the Grizzlies leads league defensemen in the postseason with 10 assists and seven power-play assists while he is tied for the lead with eight power-play points and tied for second with 12 points in 11 games.
Broadcasting the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the fifth year in a row is B2 Networks, the “Official Broadband Broadcast Provider of the ECHL”. Fans can access the B2 Networks broadcast from the scores page on the ECHL web site.
National Conference Finals (Best-of-Seven)
#1 Las Vegas Wranglers (47-13-12) vs. #6 Utah Grizzlies (32-30-10)
Game 1 – May 12 at 7:05 p.m. at Las Vegas
Game 2 – May 13 at 7:05 p.m. at Las Vegas
Game 3 – May 15 at 7:05 p.m. at Utah
Game 4 – May 16 at 7:05 p.m. at Utah
Game 5 – May 18 at 4 p.m. at Utah (if necessary)
Game 6 – May 20 at 7:05 p.m. at Las Vegas (if necessary)
Game 7 – May 21 at 8:05 p.m. at Las Vegas (if necessary)
National Conference Semifinals (Best-of-Seven)
#1 Las Vegas Wranglers (47-13-12) vs. #5 Alaska Aces (41-26-5)
Las Vegas Wins Series 4-1
Game 1 – Alaska 0 at LAS VEGAS 8
Game 2 – Alaska 1 at LAS VEGAS 3
Game 3 – LAS VEGAS 5 at Alaska 2
Game 4 – Las Vegas 5 at ALASKA 6 (OT)
Game 5 – LAS VEGAS 6 at Alaska 3
#2 Victoria Salmon Kings (42-23-7) vs. #6 Utah Grizzlies (32-30-10)
Utah Wins Series 4-1
Game 1 – UTAH 6 at Victoria 0
Game 2 – Utah 1 at VICTORIA 6
Game 3 – Victoria 5 at UTAH 7
Game 4 – Victoria 0 at UTAH 2
Game 5 – Victoria 3 at UTAH 8
National Conference Quarterfinals (Best-of-Seven)
#1 Las Vegas Wranglers (47-13-12) vs. #8 Stockton Thunder (27-40-5)
Las Vegas Wins Series 4-2
Game 1 – STOCKTON 4 at Las Vegas 2
Game 2 – Stockton 4 at LAS VEGAS 5 (OT)
Game 3 – LAS VEGAS 3 at Stockton 2
Game 4 – LAS VEGAS 4 at Stockton 3 (OT)
Game 5 – Las Vegas 3 at STOCKTON 6
Game 6 – Stockton 1 at LAS VEGAS 4
#3 Fresno Falcons (42-22-8) vs. #6 Utah Grizzlies (32-30-10)
Utah Wins Series 4-2
Game 1 – UTAH 6 at Fresno 1
Game 2 – UTAH 4 at Fresno 3 (3 OT)
Game 3 – FRESNO 3 at Utah 0
Game 4 – FRESNO 6 at Utah 1
Game 5 – Fresno 0 at UTAH 1 (OT)
Game 6 – UTAH 4 at Fresno 2
Celebrating its 20th Anniversary in 2007-08, the ECHL is the Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League and the third-longest tenured professional hockey league behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League.
ECHL began in 1988-89 with five teams in four states and has grown to be a coast-to-coast league that will play with 24 teams in 16 states and British Columbia in 2008-09.
The league officially changed its name to ECHL on May 19, 2003.
The ECHL has affiliations with 26 of the 30 teams in the NHL in 2007-08, marking the 11th consecutive season that the league has had affiliations with at least 20 teams in the NHL.
There have been 355 former ECHL players who have gone on to play in the NHL after playing in the ECHL, including 99 in the last three seasons. There have been 210 former ECHL players who have played their first game in the NHL in the past seven seasons.
There are 15 coaches in the NHL who have ECHL experience including former Wheeling coach Peter Laviolette, who is head coach of the Carolina Hurricanes, and former Mississippi coach Bruce Boudreau, who is head coach of the Washington Capitals.
The ECHL is represented for the seventh consecutive year on the National Hockey League championship team in 2007 with Anaheim assistant coach Dave Farrish, players Francois Beauchemin and George Parros and broadcasters John Ahlers and Steve Carroll.
The ECHL has affiliations with 26 of the 29 teams in the American Hockey League in 2007-08 and for the past 18 years there has been an ECHL player on the Calder Cup champion.
In each of the last two seasons there have been more than 225 players who have played in both the ECHL and the AHL and there were over 800 call-ups involving more than 500 players. In the last five seasons the ECHL has had more call-ups to the AHL than all other professional leagues combined with over 2,000 call-ups involving more than 1,000 players since 2002-03.
Further information on the ECHL is available from its website at ECHL.com.