Western Conference Finals Preview

Western Conference Finals (Best of Seven)

#2 Idaho Steelheads vs. #3 Stockton Thunder
Series Matchup Sheet

The 2013 Western Conference Finals are a rematch of the 2010 National Conference Finals, which saw Idaho defeat Stockton 4 games to 2. It is the third all-time postseason meeting between the clubs. The Steelheads also skated away with a 4 games to 2 victory in the 2007 National Conference Quarterfinals.

For Idaho, this marks the club’s fourth appearance in the Conference Finals since joining the ECHL in 2003-04, and it continues a familiar trend. The Steelheads have advanced to this round every three years (2004, 2007, 2010 and 2013), and have come away victorious in each of their three previous appearances, defeating Gwinnett in 2004 and Alaska in 2007 in addition to the 2010 win against Stockton.

The Thunder are appearing in the Conference Finals for the second time since relocating to Stockton in 2005-06. Stockton is trying to become the first western club other than Alaska, Idaho or Las Vegas to represent the Western/National Conference in the Kelly Cup Finals since the ECHL expanded to the western United States in 2003-04. (NOTE: Trenton represented the National Conference in the 2005 Kelly Cup Finals when the National Conference was comprised of the North Division and West Division.)

Idaho defeated Colorado 4 games to 2 in the Western Conference Quarterfinals before dispatching Ontario 4 games to 2 in the Western Conference Semifinals. Rookies have been the key to the Steelheads march to the Conference Finals, as four of the club’s top six scorers in the postseason, as well as their leading goaltender, are all first-year pros. Tyler Gron paces Idaho with seven goals and 12 points. Fellow first-year player Austin Smith is second on the club with six goals and is tied for third with nine points. Other key contributors in their first professional season are 2013 ECHL All-Star Austin Fyten (4g-5a) and late-season signee Chase Schaber (2g-7a) who both have nine points. Both of Schaber’s goals in the playoffs have been game-winning tallies (Game 4 vs. Colorado and Game 5 vs. Ontario). In goal, rookie Josh Robinson has gone 4-3 in eight appearances with a 2.59 goals-against average and a save percentage of .920. Third-year pro, and Dallas Stars’ prospect Tyler Beskorowany, has appeared in six games, posting a record of 4-1 with a 2.63 goals-against average and a save percentage of .907.

Stockton has been the king of the comebacks through two rounds of the playoffs. In the Western Conference Quarterfinals, the Thunder trailed Las Vegas 3 games to 2, and were behind 3-0 in the third period of Game 6, before rallying to win that game before going on to a 6-4 win in the 23rd Game 7 in ECHL postseason history. In the Western Conference Semifinals, the Thunder trailed in the third period of three of their four wins in a 4 games to 2 win over Alaska. Through two rounds, Stockton is 7-4 when its opponent scores first, and the Thunder have posted six wins when trailing after one period and four wins when trailing through two periods. Ryan Hayes leads Stockton through two rounds, and is second overall in the ECHL, with 16 points (5g-11a) while Harrison Reed and Shawn Weller share the team lead with six goals each. Olivier Roy has been a workhorse in goal for Stockton, playing all but 49 minutes through the club’s first 13 postseason games. The Edmonton Oilers prospect is 8-5 with a 2.95 goals-against average and a save percentage of .899 in 13 appearances.

Both Idaho and Stockton have won four games in overtime during the 2013 Kelly Cup Playoffs, which is tied with six other clubs for the second most in a single postseason in ECHL history. The ECHL record for most overtime wins in one playoff year is five, which has been done three times – Mississippi in 1999, Peoria in 2000 and Florida in 2005.

Stockton won three of the five meetings between the two clubs during the 2012-13 regular season. Reed led Stockton against the Steelheads with four goals and five points, while Roy won his only appearance against Idaho, turning aside 25 shots in 4-2 win on the final night of the regular season. Idaho was led in the season series by Gron, who scored three goals and had four points in three games against the Thunder. In goal, Robinson was 1-1-0 with a 2.52 goals-against average and a save percentage of .935 in two appearances.

The winner of the Western Conference Finals receives the Bruce Taylor Trophy. The trophy is named in recognition of Bruce Taylor, who was the founding father of the West Coast Hockey League. In the early 1990s, Taylor purchased teams in Fresno, Reno and Bakersfield and in 1995 joined them with teams in Anchorage, Fairbanks and San Diego to form the West Coast Hockey League. The Taylor Cup was presented to the playoff champion in the WCHL from the league’s inaugural season in 1995-96 until the league ceased operations following the 2002-03 season. Taylor’s ownership in hockey began in 1983 with the purchase of the Burnaby Bluehawks of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League and continued with the purchase of the Richmond Sockeyes in the BCJHL and the New Westminster Royals in the BCJHL.

Game 1 – Friday, May 3 at 7:10 p.m. MT at Idaho
Game 2 – Sunday, May 5 at 5:10 p.m. MT at Idaho
Game 3 – Wednesday, May 8 at 7 p.m. PT at Stockton
Game 4 – Friday, May 10 at 7:30 p.m. PT at Stockton
Game 5 – Saturday, May 11 at 7:30 p.m. PT at Stockton (If Necessary)
Game 6 – Monday, May 13 at 7:10 p.m. MT at Idaho (If Necessary)
Game 7 – Tuesday, May 14 at 7:10 p.m. MT at Idaho (If Necessary)