ECHL North Division Finals under wayWritten by Scott Calhoun | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Following its dominant North Division semifinals series sweep of Johnstown Toledo’s perceived edge on its fellow North Division rival and divisional final series foe Wheeling Nailers may be anything but.
In a teasing fashion for the Storm and its fans the team has lost ECHL top goalie Drew MacIntyre for the rest of the playoffs as MacIntyre was summoned to perform backup duties for Grand Rapids in the AHL immediately after Toledo completed its playoff-opening sweep of the Chiefs.
Sans MacIntyre the Storm will plug exchanged netminder Logan Koopmans back into the crease and rely on its depth across the rink to carry it past a Wheeling team it owned 7-4-1 in regular season tangles. Koopmans spent a majority of the 2005-06 season boxed up with a shoulder injury but did post a 7-2-1 personal slate for Toledo with a 2.93 GAA and a .912 save percentage.
Meanwhile on offense the Red and Blue will again look to its young, speedy skates in forwards Bracken Kearns and Scooter Smith along with ECHL All-Star forward Ken Magowan to tattoo the net of the ECHL’s second leading goalie in Andy Franck.
In 13 meetings Magowan scorched Wheeling for five goals and Smith five, as well. Team scoring leader Kearns has continued into the postseason with his rookie romp, slapping in four goals against Johnstown, including a hat trick in the series clincher.
Franck definitely punched his time card full for the Nailers in 2005-06, logging in 55 regular season games in goal and all four in the team’s opening round series. With a 33-15 record and a 2.28 GAA during the regular season Franck will be a standout obstacle to overcome for Toledo, especially without MacIntyre to counter at the opposite end of the ice. In three of its four regular season losses to Wheeling the Storm only penetrated Franck for one goal each time.
On a positive note for the Storm Franck went 3-1 against Reading in Wheeling’s division semifinal series win but saw his 2.28 regular season GAA disappear in exchange for a 3.21 playoff rate against the Royals. If Franck continues to struggle versus Toledo the red light could be in strobe mode for the loaded Storm offense.
In Wheeling’s frontline attack Koopmans and Co. will have to subvert Nailers’ season and playoff leading scorer Sean Collins. In the four playoff games versus Reading Collins dizzied the Royals for five goals and four assists to average over two points per game. Two of those goals were game-winners in games decided by a single tally.
As teams the Storm and Nailers are virtual twins. Toledo will be dealing with Wheeling’s third best scoring defense in the league that gave up 186 goals in 72 games. But the Storm rings in as the fourth best defensive stalwart in the ECHL with 189 tallies gifted to opponents.
Offensively, Wheeling scored 247 goals on the year, finishing eighth as a team while Toledo followed up in ninth with 244 team goals. Toledo came into the playoffs with a 46-21-5 record and the Nailers trailed them by a mere tie at 45-21-6.
Edge: Toledo – with home ice advantage and too many weapons for even the ECHL’s second best tender to turn away three times in five games, the Storm holds a decided advantage even without the services of MacIntyre. After all, MacIntyre only played in four of Toledo’s seven wins versus the Nailers this season. Toledo has won the last four meetings with the Nailers and has played its best hockey in the latter third of the season, a trend spilling over into the 2006 Kelly Cup playoffs.