By Debbie Juniewicz
Special to the Naples Daily News
Last year, the Dayton Bombers were 20-46-6 and in last place in the North Division.
Despite the numbers, Dayton coach Don MacAdam was clear in the preseason that the Bombers would make the Kelly Cup Playoffs this year. MacAdam’s prediction proved to be prophetic as the Bombers, who improved 37 points from last season, are in the postseason for the first time since 2001-02 when they reached the Kelly Cup Finals against the Greenville Grrrowl.
Not only did the Bombers make the playoffs, the 2005-06 cellar-dwellers finished the regular season in first place in the tight North Division.
“This is a different team than we had last year,” MacAdam said. “It’s a better team from top to bottom.”
There are, however, a few familiar faces from last year’s Bombers roster, including Paul Kelly who leads the team with seven goals and a plus-minus rating of plus-10 in the playoffs. Kelly, for one, is enjoying the extended season.
“I was already home for a month, this time last year,” Kelly said with a smile. “This is a lot more fun.”
Some new faces have made a major impact for the Bombers this season including goaltender Adam Berkhoel who is tied for the postseason lead with three shutouts and was the ECHL Goaltender of the Year.
“He has been the most constant player on the team all season,” MacAdam said of Berkhoel. “His shutouts are a reflection of that, but he’s there for us every game.”
While Berkhoel has been a defensive force, center Yannick Tifu has provided plenty of offense as the Bombers leading scorer. Tifu, like Kelly, has posted 10 points in the playoffs, five goals and five assists.
“We’re at a point now where we’ve gone so far, we want to go all the way,” Tifu said. “But we need to show up against Florida if we’re going to do that.”
The Bombers didn’t show up early in the best-of-seven North Division finals against Cincinnati as Dayton trailed 3-1 on the road but made ECHL history as only the third team to ever overcome a 3-1 playoff series deficit. Dayton handed Cincinnati its third consecutive loss to clinch the North Division Championship on May 3.
“We definitely don’t want to have to do that again,” Bombers center Trevor Frischmon said of the comeback. “And I think we’ll be well prepared because the coaches know what type of team we are up against.”
The Bombers, however, are less concerned about the other playoff teams and more concerned about playing within their system, put together by associate head coach Derek Clancey.
“The structure that Clancey has put in place enables us to be successful no matter who is on the ice,” MacAdam said. “The lines may change but the player’s role doesn’t. And when we play within the system, we have success.”
Clancey’s system is clear — keep it simple. And that’s exactly what the Bombers hope to do when they skate onto the ice at Germain Arena for Game 1 on Tuesday.