STOCKTON, Calif. – The ECHL is set to begin the 2013 Kelly Cup Finals on Saturday May 18, staring the Reading Royals from the Eastern Conference versus the Stockton Thunder of the Western Conference. This marks the first time in franchise history for each of these teams to appear in the finals.
Reading completed the regular season with the best record in the East, securing their home ice advantage for the Eastern Conference Finals, with 46-9-3-4, 99 points. They were 8-1-0-1 in their last 10 games of the regular season. The Royals worked their way to the Kelly Cup Finals by defeating the Greenville Road Warriors in five games, the Florida EverBlades in seven games and the Cincinnati Cyclones in five games (all best of seven series).
Since Eastern and Western teams seldom face one another during the regular season, these two teams have only played three games in their history. In the 2005-06 season Reading won all three games, one of those in overtime, which was also Stockton’s inaugural season.
Stockton finished their season with 83 points, 37-26-9, which was fourth place in the Western Conference. They worked hard to defeat the Las Vegas Wranglers in seven games, the Alaska Aces in six games and finally the Idaho Steelheads in five games (all best of seven series). The Aces finished the season at number one in the league.
Stockton’s goaltender Olivier Roy (12-5-1) has played in all of the post season games, with the exception of 49 minutes of one game. He has posted 2.55 goals against average, with .918 save percentage. He has been a key member of the Thunder squad making several pivotal saves and keeping the opponent out of the net.
Coach Matt Thomas has been impressed with his play. “You never get this far without your goaltender being tremendous. Olivier [Roy] was the difference.”
Right Wing Ryan Hayes leads the team in goals and assists in the 18 post season games, with eight goals and 14 assists. Both Andrew Clark and Harrison Reed are tied with seven goals each, Clark has 18 total points, while Reed has 15. Team captain and four time winner of fan favorite Garet Hunt has 12 points (3 goals, 9 assists), and leads the team with a plus-12. Shawn Weller and Matt Bergland lead in shots on goal with 72 and 57, respectively.
On the defense Shawn Boutin, Mike Little, Tony DeHart and Nik Pokulok have helped to make plays happen at both ends of the ice. Boutin leads among the D’s with a plus-8, while DeHart has six, and Little and Pokulok each have plus-five.
On paper, there are no real standouts as far as players. They all contribute. The real problem in the final series will be the test of the special teams. The power play unit has been lacking. In the previous games this post-season, there have been far fewer penalties called by officials for both teams, meaning that the few power play chances are must-score opportunities, in which the Thunder has had a serious problem taking advantage. In 70 chances overall, the Thunder produced a goal only five times, or seven percent. The only saving grace here might be Readings 13 percent, which isn’t much better. When it comes to the penalty killing record, the two teams are similar at 85 percent.
Stockton has been known as the come-back kids of the post-season, and leads the ECHL with four wins when trailing after periods. They are 5-1 in overtime, which ties the ECHL playoff record for the most overtime wins in a season.
Coach Matt Thomas knows getting to the Kelly Cup Finals is an extraordinary feat in and of itself, but actually getting your name engraved on the cup is something he knows firsthand about. Thomas was the assistant coach for the Atlantic City Boardwalk Bullies when they won in 2003.
Catch the action beginning in Reading, on Saturday, May 18.