2021 ECHL Kelly Cup Finals Preview

After having last season cut short as a result of the pandemic, the ECHL looks to crown a champion for the first time since 2018-19 when the Eastern Conference champion South Carolina Stingrays face the Western Conference champion Fort Wayne Komets through a best-of-five series in the Kelly Cup Finals.

How We Got Here

Fort Wayne finished the regular season placed third in the Western Conference while owning a record of 29-17-5. They defeated the Wichita Thunder three games to two in the Western Conference Semifinals and the Allen Americans three games to one in the Western Conference Finals.

South Carolina finished their season on a six-game winning streak to finish fourth in the Eastern Conference while owning a record of 34-23-13. That secured them a playoff spot on the second last day of the regular season. The Stingrays defeated the Florida Everblades three games to two in the Eastern Conference Semifinals before eliminating the Greenville Swamp Rabbits three games to one in the Eastern Conference Finals.

Andrew J. Whitaker/Post And Courier

The two teams met each other during the regular season for a three-game weekend series on March 19th-21st in Charleston. The Stingrays, who were coming in on a 10-game losing streak at the time, swept the Komets, picking up a 2-1, 5-1 and 5-2 win in the process.

What’s At Stake?

Fort Wayne, who joined the ECHL before the 2012-13 season, is making its first-ever appearance in the Kelly Cup Finals. The South Carolina Stingrays, on the other hand, are back in the Kelly Cup Finals for a record sixth time, having won it all in 1997, 2001 and 2009. They also reached the Finals in 2015 and 2017. South Carolina’s three ECHL championships are tied with the defunct Alaska Aves and Hampton Roads for the most in league history.

Stingrays head coach Ryan Blair was asked about that weekend series sweep ahead of game one and had this to say:

“That series was a little bit of a turning point. At the same time, that was three months ago and we’re a different team now. We feel like we’re better, and I’m sure they feel like they are a better group now. They are in the finals for a reason, and so are we.”

Stingrays Head Coach Ryan Blair speaks on the Fort Wayne Komets

Players To Watch

Fort Wayne will be led into the finals by forward 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.

South Carolina is led by captain Andrew Cherniwchan, who’s recorded four goals, and forward Matthew Weis, who has three goals and six assists for nine points to share a tie for the overall playoff lead. Defensemen Max Gottlieb has also been a player to watch this postseason, recording five assists, which is tied for first among defensemen.

Andrew J. Whitaker/Post And Courier

Dylan Ferguson will be the man in the crease for Fort Wayne, holding a record of 5-3 record, along with a GAA of 3.01 and a save percentage of .902 so far in the playoffs. For South Carolina, Hunter Shepard will look to continue to be the workhouse that has helped his team pull off shocking upsets of both Greenville and Florida.

What To Expect

While we don’t know who is going to come out on top at the end of it all, expect a hard fought, back-and-forth series to be played by both South Carolina and Fort Wayne. Who comes out on top? Will the Komets take it all in their first ever finals appearance, or will the Stingrays be crowned king of the ECHL for the first time since 2009?

Games one and two of the series will take place at the Carolina Ice Palace on Friday, June 25th at 7:05pmET and Sunday, June 27th at 6:05pmET. Game three, along with games four and five if necessary, will take place at Memorial Coliseum June 30th at 7:30pmET, July 2nd at 8:00pmET and July 3rd at 7:30pmET. As always, all games are available for viewing and can be streamed with subscriptions using FloSports online.

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