The Colorado Eagles are four wins away from a Kelly Cup championship, with only the South Carolina Stingrays standing in their way.
Colorado begins the best-of-seven final series on Friday at home at the Budweiser Events Center in Loveland at 7:00 p.m. before hosting Game 2 on Sunday at 7:30 p.m. If necessary, the Eagles will also be the home team for Games 6 and 7, scheduled for June 9-10. Games 3-5 will be in North Charleston, South Carolina, June 4-5 and 7.
The Stingrays have won three Kelly Cups in their history, their most recent being in 2009 when Colorado Avalanche head coach Jared Bednar was the bench boss of the club. Bednar also won championships in 1997 and 2001 as a player with the team.
The Eagles, the Avs' ECHL minor-league affiliate, are in their first Kelly Cup Finals and are looking for their first title after winning two Ray Miron President's Cups in the Central Hockey League. Colorado is in its 14th year of existence and sixth in the ECHL since joining the league in 2011.
The Western Conference-champion Eagles are rolling into the series after defeating the league's regular-season titleholder Toledo Walleye in five games. Colorado won the final four games of the matchup and outscored Toledo 21-17 in the tightly-contested battle.
"I think we're a good team in close games," said Avalanche prospect Julien Nantel after the Game 5 series-clinching victory last Saturday. "A lot of games during the playoffs, even in the first round or second round, the score was tied, so we're used to it. I think another advantage that we have at home is the crowd."
Confidence is high right now for the Eagles, which rosters a team that also features Avs prospects Sergei Boikov and Mason Geertsen, as well as Alex Belzile, Sam Jardine, Kent Simpson and Shawn St-Amant, who all saw action with Colorado's American Hockey League affiliate in San Antonio this past season.
Prior to taking down the Walleye, the Eagles dethroned the defending champs in the Allen Americans--winners of the last two ECHL Kelly Cups and two CHL championships prior to that--and the Idaho Steelheads in another series in which they won the final four contests.
"It's fun to see everybody going," Geertsen said. "Our team is good enough that if someone is not going, someone else is going. That is the biggest thing of all. You shut down one line, and another line is going to score, so it is tough to play against us."
Since Colorado closed out its series against Toledo on Saturday, the team will have had almost a full week between games.
The Stingrays won't have the luxury of having plenty of time to prepare. It will be a quick turnaround for the Eastern Conference champions, as they defeated the Manchester Monarchs 4-3 in Game 7 on Wednesday night and will have to fly cross country to begin the finals two days later in Loveland.
"All of the guys are proud to be here and thrilled to go to the finals. I think it is going to be a good matchup," said Nantel on Saturday, not knowing who the Eagles would face next at the time. "We'll prepare and have a good week in front of us to rest and prepare ourselves. I think it is an advantage for us."
There is belief with Colorado that the club can take down any opponent as long as it plays its game. That was the focus during the first few days of practice this week with the Eagles opponent still to be determined.
"Honestly, we just need to stick to our system," Geertsen noted. "We know that if we stick to our structure, we can go with any team so that is what we need to do. Just focus on ourselves."
Colorado and South Carolina played six times during the regular season, three games each in the other team's arena. The Eagles went 4-2 in those contests, winning two in each rink.