Wednesday night was a big one for the ECHL. Both Conference Finals were decided in thrilling Game 7 fashion. Now that the dust has settled from those contests it will be the Allen Americans and South Carolina Stingrays facing off in this year’s Kelly Cup Finals.
~2015 ECHL Kelly Cup Finals~
(1 – West) Allen Americans vs. (1 – East) South Carolina Stingrays
Game 1 – Sun, May 31 – @ Allen, 7:05pm CST
Game 2 – Tue, June 2 – @ Allen, 7:05pm CST
Game 3 – Wed, June 3 – @ Allen, 7:05pm CST
Game 4 – Sun, June 7 – @ South Carolina, 6:05pm CST
Game 5 – Tue, June 9 – @ South Carolina, 6:05pm CST
Game 6 – Wed, June 10 – @ South Carolina, 6:05pm CST
Game 7 – Sun, June 14 – @ Allen, 7:05pm CST
The Allen Americans came all the way back from 3-1 down in their series against the Ontario Reign to advance to the Kelly Cup Finals in their first year of existence within the ECHL. The Americans were part of the Central Hockey League (CHL) from 2009 up until the league ceased operations October 2014. They would join the ECHL as an affiliate to the San Jose Sharks and, well, look where they are now.
The game-winning goal in the Americans’ Game 7 was none other than Gary Steffes. In all competitions (regular season and playoffs), between the Allen Americans (ECHL) and Milwaukee Admirals (AHL), Steffes has scored 88 points (57 goals, 31 assists) in 90 games. He’s been outstanding and should be up in the AHL for the 2015-16 season.
As for the Eastern Conference Finals? That roller coaster ride ended with Scott Ford‘s South Carolina Stingrays taking down the Toledo Walleye in their Game 7. About that: the Walleye were down 3-0 in the series but came all the way back to force Game 7, that Game 7 was played in Toledo, and that Game 7 became the longest scoreless deadlock in ECHL history.
It wasn’t until 5:35 into triple overtime when Joe Devin scored the game’s only goal to help the Stingrays from blowing a 3-0 series lead. The heroes of that game, as you’d expect, were both goaltenders: Jeff Jakaitis (South Carolina) stopped all 44 shots en route to the shutout while Jeff Lerg (Toledo) stopped 41/42 shots.
With no Cincinnati Cyclones to cheer for this means exactly what I was hoping for all along: Ford vs. Steffes. The Sheriff against The New Guy. Two members of this year’s Admirals team, teammates for a brief while, and they should be matching up throughout the series. I feel like most Admirals fans will be backing Ford here. Me? I’m happy that both made it to the 2015 ECHL Kelly Cup Finals and it’s great that one will come out a champion. These were the top two teams in the entire ECHL this season. It’s fitting that it boils down to South Carolina and Allen.
~Meanwhile in the American Hockey League~
The AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals were nowhere near as dramatic or long lasting. The top seeded Manchester Monarchs swept the third seeded Hartford Wolf Pack to advance to the 2015 AHL Calder Cup Finals.
This is a bit of a swan song season for Manchester. The Los Angeles Kings moved their AHL affiliate as part of the new Pacific Division and will be known as the Ontario Reign next season. Manchester, who began operations in 2001, are sort of a question mark moving forward. Will they survive in name like the Peoria Rivermen? Perhaps, but the great thing here is that they are going out from the AHL with a bang. This is the first time in the franchise’s history that they will be playing in the Calder Cup Finals. As a fan of the game itself that makes me pretty happy for the people of Manchester.
Now all that is left is to await the winner of the AHL Western Conference Finals between the Utica Comets and Grand Rapids Griffins. The Griffins were able to take a game in Utica to make the series 1-1 before shifting back to Grand Rapids. The next three all take place in the Griffins barn so they have the opportunity to punch their ticket to the 2015 Calder Cup Finals without needing to travel back to Utica. That’s a tough ask. First part of which starts with Game 3 tonight.
Who are you rooting for, the Stingrays (Ford) or Americans (Steffes)? Do you think that the Manchester Monarchs will be hurt or helped by waiting a long time before the Western Conference Finals ends?