The Eagles set the tone early Monday night, playing one of their best periods of the post-season. They were not going to sit back and let the game come to them, they dominated possession and outshot the South Carolina Stingrays 22-6 in the opening frame. Despite that they went to intermission tied 1-1 thanks once again to the stout goaltending of SC’s Parker Milner, who made a case for Kelly Cup MVP from the losing side. Luke Salazar scored just over a minute into the 2nd period and that’s all the Eagles would need to sweep the series and take the championship. It was their 10th 1-goal win of the playoffs against zero losses.
Matt Register was named Kelly Cup MVP after winning ECHL Defenseman of the Year in the regular season. 24 points, 2nd only to Alex Belzile both on the team and in the league, and late-game heroics cemented the award.
A lot of Avs fans wonder about how a playoff run like this will effect the young prospects involved. It’s not a common occurrence to have NHL prospects spend time in the ECHL winning a championship so we’re in uncharted waters here. What we do know is that they would have been sitting at home for the past two months so any experience is good experience and being part of a championship sure can’t hurt development. I saw definite signs of development from the 4 Avs players involved over the past 20 games.
Julien Nantel started out lower in the lineup but ended up a fixture on the top line, scoring 8G/8A including 3 game-winners. This was the second year in a row that he won a league championship, having taken the President’s Trophy with Rouyn-Noranda last Spring. He’s not projected to be a top-line scorer but after a season where he struggled to produce on a dysfunctional Rampage club having some success and showing real progress can only help.
Despite missing a couple games with an injury and drawing down the Eagles lineup in favor of Nantel, Shawn St-Amant had a great playoff run as well. He ended with 5G/10A and three 2-point games in a row, also was the 2nd leading SOG/game producer among the forwards. Assuming the Avs sign him to some sort of contract, hopefully an NHL ELC, seeing him develop some offensive skills makes him even more attractive as a prospect. Prior to this Spring he’d been pegged as mainly a PK/defensive specialist.
We’ve come to love Sergei Boikov for his happy-go-lucky attitude in interviews, smooth skating, a knack for getting shots through from the point and an occasional violent side on the ice. A healthy scratch twice in the 1st round, he earned the coaches’ trust and put up 3rd most points from the blueline. Like Anton Lindholm, we’ve seen Boikov’s offensive production go from barely detectable to almost a strength. Winning the Cup should be extra special for Boikov since he didn’t see much success in the QMJHL with Drummondville.
Mason Geertsen’s season with San Antonio was derailed by an injury in training camp followed by another injury soon after returning. By the time he was healthy the Rampage were at the bottom of the canyon with Wile E Coyote. Thankfully the Eagles rescued what was a lost season for young Mason. Out of these 4 prospects, Geertsen’s role was probably the closest to what he’s projected to be in the AHL and above. He was a solid defensive D that allowed his partner, often Jake Marto, to be active offensively and also worked the top PK unit.
The best way to look at this from a development view is that if your AHL team is a mess and your ECHL team ends up league champions then there’s plenty that youngsters can learn by being there. One thing we kept hearing about the Eagles was how cohesive and focused they were as a group. This is an element consistently lacking in the Avs AHL and NHL programs. Geertsen especially now will have some gravitas and ability to take on a leadership role, as well as some more confidence to back it up on the ice. The big challenge over the past few years is overcoming incompetent management and playing meaningful games at the AHL level past December. It’s too early to tell what the bulk of the lineup will look like next October but I can’t help but feel that the Eagles winning the Kelly Cup and the subsequent effects will be a very positive step going forward.
As far as the effects on winning the Kelly Cup are for the Eagles themselves it’s also tough to say. The fans are stoked, the players are stoked, the Avs seem to have taken quite an interest and they must be stoked as well. If everyone involved wants to take the franchise to the AHL level next Summer the road to do so is paved that way. Attendance was good, the location will always be desirable for an Avs affiliate and the Eagles management has shown to be very professional. This might be just the beginning of the story.