ECHL National Conference Playoff Race Shaping Up
Alaska is 35-12-2 and leads the ECHL and the National Conference with 72 points while Las Vegas is 26-9-11 and leads the Pacific Division with 63 points, two points ahead of Bakersfield (28-12-5). Idaho is fourth in the conference with 53 points (25-18-3) followed by Fresno with 52 points (24-18-4) and Stockton with 51 points (21-14-9).
Las Vegas hosts Alaska on Tuesday before traveling to Idaho for games on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday while Bakersfield will host Fresno on Monday and Long Beach on Friday and Saturday.
Phoenix is in seventh place with 48 points (22-22-4), seven points ahead of Victoria (20-29-1) which holds the conference’s last postseason spot with 41 points, one point ahead of Utah (20-29-1) and four points in front of Long Beach (17-26-3).
Victoria will host Stockton on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday while Long Beach concludes its season-long nine-game road trip by visiting Bakersfield on Friday and Saturday and Phoenix on Sunday. Continuing a season-long 10-game home stand, Utah hosts Fresno on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. The Salmon Kings, who are 6-3-0 in their last nine games including a team record five-game winning streak, are trying to reach the Kelly Cup Playoffs for the first time in their three seasons. The Ice Dogs, who picked up a pair of wins at Utah, are trying for a third consecutive playoff berth while the Grizzlies look to advance to the postseason for the second year in a row.
In the National Conference, playoff berths will be awarded to the first-place team in each division as well as to the next six-best teams, based on regular-season point totals, and all playoff series will be best-of-seven games. In the Conference Quarterfinals, which will be best-of-seven game series, the division winners will be seeded first and second in order of points and the next six-best teams will be seeded third through eighth in order of points. In the Conference Semifinals and the Conference Finals, teams will be re-seeded according to the same criteria as the Conference Quarterfinals with division leaders seeded first and second while the remaining teams will be seeded in order of regular-season points.
Attendance Continues To Grow With Florida’s Two Millionth Fan
Charlotte drew over 24,000 for three games, including the largest crowd in team history with 11,237 on Feb. 10, and Alaska had more than 16,500 for a three-game series to help the ECHL raise average attendance for the fourth straight week to 4,105 per game.
Eleven of the 23 returning teams have increased their average attendance as the league tries to raise attendance for the fourth consecutive year for the first time ever. The average of 4,372 per game in 2005-06 was the largest since 1999-2000 and 13 of 22 returning teams saw attendance grow.
Florida welcomed its two millionth fan on Feb. 10 to become the sixth ECHL team to reach two million. In their ninth season, the Everblades are the third fastest to two million behind Louisiana (seventh season) and South Carolina (eighth season). Florida has never drawn less than 220,000 fans or averaged less than 6,200 per game and has led the league in attendance five times in the last six years. The Everblades are sixth in all-time attendance behind South Carolina, Charlotte, Hampton Roads, Louisiana and Dayton.
Charlotte moved into second in the league with 6,117 per game which is an increase of more than 4.5 percent from last season when average attendance grew by more than 15.5 percent. The Checkers have sold out five of their last six games and lead the ECHL with seven sellouts. The listed capacity for the Bobcats Arena is 6,800, but additional sections can be opened to accommodate larger crowds.
Alaska had its second-largest crowd of the season on Feb. 10 and more than 16,500 watched the three-game West Division showdown with Phoenix to increase average attendance to 5,024 per game which is up 2.8 percent from last season. The Aces have increased their average attendance every year and their per-game average is up more than 15.8 percent since they joined as an expansion team in 2003-04.
Idaho has sold out three of its last five games and raised its average attendance to 4,324 per game while Fresno raised its average to 4,987 per game which is an increase of 10.45 percent from a year ago. Utah continues to lead the league in attendance growth with 14.14 percent while Dayton remains second at 13.88 percent.
Bakersfield is fourth in the league with 5,685 per game and Gwinnett is fifth with 5,657 per game. The Gladiators average is up 2.3 percent from a year ago while the Condors are up 1.4 percent as they look to raise average attendance for the fourth consecutive season since joining the league as an expansion team in 2003-04.
Stockton raised its league-leading attendance to 6,978 per game which is an increase of 9.1 percent from their league-leading attendance last season. The Thunder’s average is the largest since 2000-01 when Florida led the league with 7,086 per game and Greenville was second with 7,015 per game.
Johnstown had another strong weekend and raised its attendance to 2,471 per game which is up 2.2 percent from a year ago while South Carolina had 8,133 on Feb. 10 and raised its average to 5,010 per game.
Gladiators’ Fretter Extends Scoring Streak To 15 Games
Gwinnett rookie Colton Fretter scored a goal on Feb. 11 to extend his scoring streak to 15 games (14g-12a) while teammate Scott Mifsud had a goal and an assist to increase his scoring streak to 14 games (6g-20a).
Kevin Baker of Texas has the longest scoring streak of the season with 16 games from Oct. 20-Nov. 28 (16g-12a). Fretter’s teammate Brad Schell had a 15-game scoring streak from Nov. 25-Dec. 30 (8g-24a) while Augusta’s Ryan Lang had a 15-game streak from Dec. 22-Jan. 28 (6g-20a).
Fretter has a four-game goal streak during which he has scored seven goals, including his second career hat trick on Feb. 9 against Texas, raising his season total to 34 goals in 48 games. He is tied for the ECHL goal-scoring lead with Mike Pandolfo of Trenton and could become the first rookie since 1991-92 and only the fourth in history to lead the league in goal scoring. Darren Colbourne of Dayton had 69 goals in 64 games in 1991-92 while Bill McDougall of Erie had 80 goals in 57 games in 1989-90 and Mike Chighisola of Virginia had 45 goals in 59 games in 1988-89. Fretter leads ECHL rookies with 34 goals, 16 power-play goals and 63 points and he is second with 29 assists while he is second among all players in power-play goals and tied for third in scoring.
Mifsud is second in the league with 53 assists and 72 points in 46 games, trailing Schell, who has 73 assists and 94 points in 48 games. Schell remains on pace to surpass the ECHL record of 93 assists set by Dan Gauthier of Knoxville in 1990-91 and is trying to become the first player to reach 100 points since 2002-03 when Buddy Smith of Arkansas led the league with 104 points and 74 assists.
Schell, Mifsud and Fretter could become the first ECHL teammates since 1993-94 to finish in the Top Five in scoring. Greensboro’s Phil Berger led the league with 139 points (56g-83a) while teammates Dan Gravelle (38g-66a) and John Young (35g-69a) tied for third with Richmond’s Darren Colbourne (69g-35a).
Schell and Mifsud are trying to become only the second set of teammates in league history to finish first and second in assists, joining Louisiana’s Ron Handy and John De Pourcq, who led the ECHL with 67 and 63 assists in 1996-97.
The assist and scoring leaders each of the last two years have been from the Alaska Aces. Scott Gomez had 73 assists and 86 points during the NHL lockout in 2004-05 and Alex Leavitt had 65 assists and 91 points a year ago. Leavitt’s teammate Mike Scott was second in the league with 87 points, marking the first time since 1996-97 and only the fourth time in ECHL history that teammates have finished first and second in scoring.
South Carolina’s Ed Courtenay (54g-56a) and Mike Ross (50g-60a) tied for the lead with 110 points in 1996-97. Erie’s Scott Burfoot led the league with 97 points (29g-68a) and teammate Stephane Charbonneau was second with 91 points (50g-41a) in 1994-95. Stan Drulia of Knoxville led the league with 140 points (63g-77a) and teammate Dan Gauthier was second with 134 points (41g-93a) in 1990-91.
Defending Champion Alaska Leads ECHL With 72 Points
Extending its team record home winning streak to 12 games after sweeping three games from Phoenix, defending Brabham Cup and Kelly Cup champion Alaska leads the ECHL with 72 points and a 35-12-2 record. The Aces are 16-2-0 in their last 18 games and 24-4-2 in the last 30 games to improve to 29-6-2 since beginning the season 6-6-0.
The Aces, who improved to 20-6-1 at home, won 11 consecutive home games from Oct. 30-Dec. 30, 2005 and finished 30-4-2 to tie the ECHL record for most home wins.
If Alaska remains in first place they would become the first team in ECHL history to repeat as the regular season champion. The Aces were 53-12-7 and had the second-highest point total in history with 113 points while tying the record for second-most wins.
Alaska became only the second team in history to win both the regular season point championship and the postseason championship, joining the South Carolina Stingrays who captured the Brabham Cup and the Kelly Cup in 1997. The Aces became the first team to win the postseason by defeating three teams that had 100 points in the regular season and their 113 points is the highest point total to win the postseason championship.
The Aces play at Las Vegas on Tuesday before traveling to Phoenix on Friday and Saturday. Las Vegas swept the first three games of the season series as Alaska lost three consecutive home games for the first time since Jan. 12-15, 2005 and only the second time since joining the ECHL as an expansion team in 2003-04. The Aces are 9-1-0 all-time against the RoadRunners including 3-1-0 at Phoenix.
The five leading plus-minus performers and 10 of the 13 leaders are from Alaska. Matt Shasby leads the league at +34 followed by Vladimir Novak at +24, Kimbi Daniels and rookie leader Julian Talbot at +23 and Florian Iberer, who is tied for fifth at +20 with Chad Starling of Cincinnati.
Derek Gustafson has won his last nine starts at home and is 13-3-3 with four shutouts, a goals-against average of 1.94 and a save percentage of .927 at Sullivan Arena. He has allowed three goals or less 12 times in his last 14 games going 13-1-0 with three shutouts to improve to 19-8-1 while lowering his goals-against average to 2.44 and raising his save percentage to .913. He is tied for second in the league with four shutouts while ranking sixth in goals-against average and wins.
The Aces lead the ECHL in goals-against average with 2.41 and they are second in the league in scoring with 4.02 goals-per game.
Augusta Heats up, South Division Gets Stronger
Back-to-back wins against division leader Gwinnett allowed Augusta to extend its winning streak to three games and improve to 7-2-1 in the last 10 games while moving into fourth place in the South Division with 58 points (28-20-2).
The Lynx have won six road games in a row tying the team record set Dec. 31, 1991-Jan. 25, 1992 in the inaugural season when the team played in Raleigh. Augusta trails third place Florida (29-14-2) by two points and co-leaders Gwinnett (28-14-6) and Texas (27-14-8) by four points. The Lynx, who are looking for their first back-to-back playoff appearances since 2000 and 2001, host the Everblades on Friday and Charlotte on Saturday. The Everblades have reached the postseason in all of their first eight seasons including reaching the Kelly Cup Finals in 2004 and 2005.
South Carolina won back-to-back games to move into fifth place with 55 points (26-18-3), two points ahead of Charlotte for the South Division’s last berth in the Kelly Cup Playoffs. The Stingrays have not missed the postseason in any of their 13 seasons, holding the ECHL record for most appearances and most consecutive appearances, while Charlotte is looking to reach the postseason for three straight years for the first time since 1996, 1997 and 1998. South Carolina, which has won its last eight home games, hosts Charlotte on Friday and Florida on Saturday and Sunday.
Gwinnett plays at Florida on Wednesday and hosts Charlotte on Sunday while Texas will visit Columbia on Tuesday before hosting Pensacola on Friday, Saturday and Sunday. The Gladiators lead the ECHL with 204 goals and 4.25 goals per-game after leading the league a year ago with 304 goals and 4.29 goals-per game. Gwinnett leads the ECHL with 91 power-play goals and on the power play with 25.5 percent and is on pace to score 136 power-play goals which would easily break the record of 115 power-play goals by Nashville in 1995-96. The Gladiators led the league a year ago on the power play with 24.1 percent, which was the highest percentage since Greenville had 24.3 percent in 1999-2000, and had the second-most power-play goals in ECHL history with 114.
The Wildcatters, who have not qualified for the postseason in their first two seasons since relocating to Beaumont in 2003-04, have already surpassed their team highs with 27 wins and 14 road wins and need only one more win to tie the record of 14 home wins set in 2003-04. Texas has 17 more points than it had in its last season in 2004-05 and 12 more points than it had in its first season in 2003-04.
In the South Division, berths in the Kelly Cup Playoffs are awarded to the first-place team as well as to the next four-best teams based on regular-season point totals. The fourth seed and the fifth seed will play a best-of-three game series in the Division Quarterfinals with the winner advancing to meet the division leader in the Division Semifinals, a best-of-five series that also had the second seed playing the third seed. The winners will advance to the best-of-seven Division Finals with the winner advancing to the American Conference Finals to meet the winner of the North Division.
North Division Race Gets Tighter
The race in the North Division got more interesting as only two teams picked up points last week and only eight points separate six teams battling for five berths in the Kelly Cup Playoffs.
Extending its winning streak to a season-high five games with three victories, Johnstown improved to 21-20-4 to move into fifth place with 46 points, two points ahead of Reading (19-23-6) for the North Division’s fifth and final spot in the Kelly Cup Playoffs and only six points behind leader Cincinnati (24-17-4). The Chiefs, who are scoring 4.20 goals-per game and allowing only 1.60 goals-per game during the current streak, visit Trenton on Wednesday and Cincinnati on Friday before hosting the Cyclones on Saturday and Trenton on Sunday. Johnstown is looking for its first back-to-back playoff appearance since 2001 and 2002.
In the North Division, berths in the Kelly Cup Playoffs will be awarded to the first-place team as well as to the next four-best teams, based on regular-season point totals. The fourth seed and the fifth seed will play a best-of-three series in the Division Quarterfinals with the winner advancing to meet the division winner in the Division Semifinals, a best-of-five series that also had the second seed playing the third seed. The winners will advance to the best-of-seven Division Finals with the winner advancing to the American Conference Finals to meet the winner of the South Division.
Dayton moved into third place with 48 points (22-16-4), one point in front of Toledo (23-20-1) and one point behind second-place Trenton (22-18-5). The Bombers, who are looking for their first postseason trip since advancing to the Kelly Cup Finals in 2002, host Toledo on Tuesday, Reading on Friday and Saturday and Columbia on Sunday. The Titans, who have reached the postseason six times in seven seasons, host Johnstown on Wednesday and Wheeling on Friday and Saturday before visiting the Chiefs on Sunday.
Cincinnati, which continues to lead the division with 52 points (24-17-4), will host Reading on Wednesday, Johnstown on Friday and Toledo on Sunday while visiting Johnstown on Saturday.
Toledo, which reached the conference finals a year ago, plays at Dayton on Tuesday and at Cincinnati on Sunday while hosting Columbia on Friday and Saturday. Reading, which has not missed the postseason the last three years, concludes a five-game road trip playing at Cincinnati on Wednesday and at Dayton on Friday and Saturday before hosting Wheeling on Sunday.
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