By Cleve Dheensaw
© Times Colonist (Victoria) 2008
It’s OK for Victoria Salmon Kings’ fans to cheer for the Las Vegas Wranglers.
How weird is that to say?
The Wranglers are carrying the National Conference colours against the American Conference-champion Cincinnati Cyclones in the best-of-seven ECHL Kelly Cup Finals. Cincinnati is looking for its first major- or minor-pro sports title since the 1990 World Series champion Reds. The last pro sports team from Sin City to win a title was the 1988 Pacific Coast League baseball champion Las Vegas Stars.
By comparison, Victoria has had pro soccer and baseball teams since but has not managed a pro sports title since the 1966 WHL-champion Maple Leafs.
Despite the pitfalls that await regular-season points champions in the Kelly Cup playoffs — lower-ranked ECHL teams can get suddenly better in the post-season with platoons of AHL-affiliate players sent down — the two regular-season conference champion Wranglers and Cyclones have survived to meet in the final.
“This is one of the most exciting Kelly Cup finals in recent years and it’s great for our league,” said Salmon Kings GM Dan Belisle.
It’s minor-pro hockey, but it doesn’t hurt the ECHL’s image to have two major-market teams involved in the final. Is there anybody on the planet who doesn’t know about Vegas? And despite being a major-league city through the Reds of baseball and Bengals of the NFL, Cincinnati Mayor Mark Mallory has proclaimed this “Cincinnati Cyclones Week” and the street outside U.S. Bank Arena has officially been renamed Kelly Cup Drive for the next two weeks.
Although successful in the old IHL with the Thunder, and an annual terror in the ECHL with the Wranglers, this is the first team from Vegas to make it to a pro hockey final.
“They have had great teams in Vegas, but have never advanced to the final . . . to come this far and not win the Kelly Cup would be disappointing,” said Flames draft-pick and Wranglers forward Adam Cracknell, the Juan de Fuca Minor and Saanich Braves Junior B grad, who is second in Kelly Cup playoff scoring with 21 points in 15 games.
The Cyclones are gunning for the Queen City’s seventh pro hockey title. But the last Cincinnati team to make a pro hockey final was way back in 1973 when the Swords defeated the Nova Scotia Voyageurs to win the AHL Calder Cup championship. The Cincinnati Mohawks won five consecutive IHL Turner Cup championships from 1952 to 1957.
The Wranglers are the farm team of the Calgary Flames and Cyclones of the Montreal Canadiens.
“This will be good hockey,” predicted Belisle.
“These are two very good teams – the No. 1 teams from both conferences.”
When you amass 115 regular-season points, as Cincy did, you certainly are a formidable team. And we know Vegas well and that they led our conference with 106 points. Vegas won every playoff series convincingly in our conference. They are very poised. Every time they are in a tight game and it’s getting late, they always get that extra goal that makes a difference. There will be a little bit of everything but defence will be huge factor in Kelly Cup final series.”
This will be likely be the only time you’ll ever see Belisle pulling for Vegas.
“Obviously, I’m rooting for our conference,” he said.
Belisle is too cagey to fall for that. After all, he has to deal with both Wranglers and Cyclones officials at league meetings.
“It will go seven games and that’s all I’m predicting,” chuckled Belisle.