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2021 Kelly Cup Finals Preview

Thursday, June 24th
2021 Kelly Cup Finals Preview

Fort Wayne, South Carolina to open 2021 Kelly Cup Finals on Friday

Series Matchup Sheet // 2021 Kelly Cup Playoffs Bracket // Playoff LeadersDownload the 2021 Kelly Cup Finals Media GuideThe battle to determine the national “AA” hockey champion begins Friday when the Eastern Conference champion South Carolina Stingrays host the Western Conference champion Fort Wayne Komets in Game 1 of the 2021 Kelly Cup Finals at 7:05 p.m. ET at the Carolina Ice Palace in North Charleston, South Carolina.

Celebrating its 33rd Season in 2020-21, the ECHL is the Premier ‘AA’ Hockey League and is the third-longest tenured professional hockey league behind only the National Hockey League and the American Hockey League. 

The Kelly Cup trophy is named for Patrick J. Kelly, who presents it each year to the postseason champion. Kelly was one of the founding fathers of the ECHL and was the second inductee 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 celebrates his 68th season in professional hockey in 2020-21, 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. 

Game 2 will be Sunday at 6:05 p.m. ET at South Carolina before the series shifts to Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana where the Komets will host Game 3 on Wednesday, June 30 at 7:30 p.m. ET. If Necessary, the Komets will host Game 4 on Friday, July 2 at 8:00 p.m. ET and Game 5 on Saturday, July 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET.

The ECHL is the primary development league for the AHL and the NHL. The ECHL and the AHL are the only two minor professional hockey leagues that are recognized in the Collective Bargaining Agreement between the NHL and the National Hockey League Players' Association. The CBA states that any player on an NHL entry-level contract designated for assignment to a minor league must report if assigned to a team in the ECHL or the AHL. A player on an NHL entry-level contract assigned to a minor professional league other than the ECHL or the AHL is not required to report and can request reassignment to a team in the ECHL or the AHL.

Fort Wayne is the ECHL affiliate of the Vegas Golden Knights while South Carolina is the ECHL affiliate of the Washington Capitals. 

How they got here  

Fort Wayne finished in third place in the Western Conference during the regular season with a 29-17-5 record for a .618 points percentage. The Komets defeated Wichita 3 games to 2 in the Western Conference Semifinals and Allen 3 games to 1 in the Western Conference Finals. Both of Fort Wayne’s series-clinching wins have come in overtime.

South Carolina was the final ECHL team to secure a playoff berth on the next-to-last day of the regular season. The Stingrays ended the regular season on a six-game winning streak to finish fourth in the Eastern Conference with a record of 34-23-13 for a .579 points percentage. The Stingrays defeated Florida 3 games to 2 in the Eastern Conference Semifinals, winning the final two games of the series on the road, before eliminating Greenville 3 games to 1 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Komets in Kelly Cup Finals for first time

Fort Wayne joined the ECHL prior to the 2012-13 season, and is making its first-ever appearance in the Kelly Cup Finals. The Komets, who are in their 69th season of operation, have previously won nine titles across the International Hockey League, United Hockey League and Central Hockey League.

South Carolina seeks record fourth ECHL crown

The South Carolina Stingrays are in the Kelly Cup Finals for a record seventh time. The Stingrays won the first-ever Kelly Cup title in 1997, and added championships in 2001 and 2009, while reaching the Finals in 2015 and 2017. South Carolina’s three ECHL championships are tied with Alaska and Hampton Roads for the most in League history.

Working overtime 

Fort Wayne and South Carolina have combined to play four of the five games in the 2021 Kelly Cup Playoffs which have gone to overtime. The Komets are 3-0 in games decided in overtime, including both of their series-clinching wins, while the Stingrays are 1-0 in games decided in extra time.

Scoring leaders on both sides  

Fort Wayne is led in the playoffs by Anthony Nellis, who is tied for the playoff lead with five goals and nine points, and Stephen Harper, who has a playoff-best seven assists and is also tied for the overall lead with nine points. Harper’s nine points paces all rookies in the Kelly Cup Playoffs while Oliver Cooper is tied for second among first-year players with three goals. Randy Gazzola is second among defensemen with two gaols.

Andrew Cherniwchan paces South Carolina in the postseason with four goals while Matthew Weis has nine points (3g-6a) to share a tie for the overall playoff lead. Max Gottlieb has five assists, which is tied for first among defensemen, and his five points are tied for third among blueliners.

Between the pipes 

Dylan Ferguson has played all but 23 minutes for Fort Wayne through the first two rounds of the playoffs with a 5-3 record, one shutout, a 3.01 goals-against average and a save percentage of .902. Ferguson leads all goaltenders in the playoffs with 240 saves and is tied for first with 519 minutes played.

For South Carolina, Hunter Shepard has been a workhouse as well, playing all but 20 minutes of the Stingrays nine contests. A two-time NCAA National Champion at the University of Minnesota-Duluth (2018 and 2019), Shepard is tied for the playoff lead with 519 minutes played and is second with 234 saves.

Behind the Benches 

Fort Wayne’s Ben Boudreau has compiled a 60-40-13 in two seasons as head coach. Boudreau’s father, Bruce, led Mississippi to the 1999 Kelly Cup title as they become the first father-son combination to both lead teams to the Kelly Cup Finals.

South Carolina’s Ryan Blair completed his first season as the team’s head coach after serving as an assistant coach with the club in 2019-20. Blair is the fifth coach to lead his team to the Kelly Cup Finals in his first season as a head coach.

Players returning to Finals  

There are five players in the 2021 Kelly Cup Finals who have previously appeared in a Finals series. Fort Wayne’s Randy Gazzola and A.J. Jenks were both with the Toledo Walleye for their loss in six games to Newfoundland in 2019. South Carolina’s Caleb Herbert was with the Stingrays for their loss in seven games to Allen in 2015 and Andrew Cherniwchan was on the Stingrays’ roster for the four-game loss to Colorado in 2017. Assistant coach Brenden Kotyk played for Toledo in the 2019 Finals.

FloHockey broadcasts Kelly Cup Finals  

For the 17th year in a row every game of the Kelly Cup Finals will be available online, through FloHockey.

2021 Kelly Cup Finals Schedule 

Game 1 – Friday, June 25 at 7:05 p.m. ET at Carolina Ice Palace in North Charleston, South CarolinaGame 2 – Saturday, June 27 at 6:05 p.m. ET at Carolina Ice Palace in North Charleston, South CarolinaGame 3 – Wednesday, June 30 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, IndianaGame 4 – Friday, July 2 at 8:00 p.m. ET at Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana *Game 5 – Saturday, July 3 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana *

* – If Necessary

Kelly Cup Champions2020 – Playoffs were canceled due to COVID-192019 – Newfoundland defeated Toledo, 4 games to 22018 – Colorado defeated Florida, 4 games to 32017 – Colorado defeated South Carolina, 4 games to 02016 – Allen defeated Wheeling, 4 games to 22015 – Allen defeated South Carolina, 4 games to 32014 – Alaska defeated Cincinnati, 4 games to 22013 – Reading defeated Stockton, 4 games to 12012 – Florida defeated Las Vegas, 4 games to 12011 – Alaska defeated Kalamazoo, 4 games to 12010 – Cincinnati defeated Idaho, 4 games to 12009 – South Carolina defeated Alaska, 4 games to 32008 – Cincinnati defeated Las Vegas, 4 games to 22007 – Idaho defeated Dayton, 4 games to 12006 – Alaska defeated Gwinnett, 4 games to 12005 – Trenton defeated Florida, 4 games to 22004 – Idaho defeated Florida, 4 games to 12003 – Atlantic City defeated Columbia, 4 games to 12002 – Greenville defeated Dayton, 4 games to 02001 – South Carolina defeated Trenton, 4 games to 12000 – Peoria defeated Louisiana, 4 games to 21999 – Mississippi defeated Richmond, 4 games to 31998 – Hampton Roads defeated Pensacola, 4 games to 21997 – South Carolina defeated Louisiana, 4 games to 1

Riley Cup Champions1996 – Charlotte defeated Jacksonville, 4 games to 01995 – Richmond defeated Greensboro, 4 games to 11994 – Toledo defeated Raleigh, 4 games to 11993 – Toledo defeated Wheeling, 4 games to 21992 – Hampton Roads defeated Louisville, 4 games to 01991 – Hampton Roads defeated Greensboro, 4 games to 11990 – Greensboro defeated Winston-Salem, 4 games to 11989 – Carolina defeated Johnstown, 4 games to 3

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