There is no significant history between these two teams. No bad blood. No natural geographical rivalry. Only six players on each playoff roster were there in February 2016 when they played a regular season game against each other. So what can we expect? Good hockey to be sure. And a long series to boot.
What We Know
- Toledo finished the regular season with a league-leading 106 points
- Colorado finished the regular season with 99 points, good for 3rd overall
- Toledo had the league’s best power play during the regular season, clicking at a 25.1% pace and has even improved up to 26.7% in the playoffs
- Colorado had the league’s second-best power play during the regular season, coming in at a 24.8% pace, but has regressed to just 19.0%
- Toledo took the second least penalty minutes during the regular season with only 849 PIMs
- Colorado took the second most penalty minutes during the regular season with 1415
- Toledo led the league in penalty killing during the regular season with an efficiency of 86.8% and has again improved in the playoffs, now at 87.2%
- Colorado was ninth in penalty killing during the season at 83.4%, but has struggled in the playoffs, only able to kill at 77.3%
- Toledo scored the most goals of any team during the regular season with 302
- Colorado was fifth with 265
- Toledo gave up the fewest goals of any team during the regular season with 191
- Colorado was third with 206 goals against
What Does All of This Mean?
On paper, this looks like a series Toledo should win. Games aren’t played on paper, however. The ink on paper doesn’t always translate into what should happen when you put professional hockey players onto a 200-foot by 85-foot sheet of white ice in the third round of the playoffs with a chance to go on and play for the Kelly Cup.
Special teams will play a major factor. As the numbers indicate above, Toledo has the advantage there. It will be up to the Eagles to play their typical physical brand of hockey, but stay out of the box by not taking unnecessary penalties. They proved they could do it in the series deciding game six in Allen earlier this week by not taking a single penalty in the contest.
In the few chances Colorado will see on the man-advantage, they will need to take advantage.
“They’re going to make us work to get some power plays,” said Eagles forward Johnny Lazo, who has three goals and five points in 11 playoff games so far. “We will have to be effective, we will really have to try and draw them into taking some penalties. We aren’t going to change the way we play, we just have to be smart.”
Colorado has the luxury of three potent scoring lines and will need them to all produce in this series.
“Our depth is unmatched in the league with three really solid lines right now. Knock on wood, we are pretty healthy, let’s hope it stays that way,” said Lazo, who himself came back from a fractured femur earlier this year.
The Eagles have the benefit of getting high-scoring forward Alex Belzile back after serving a two-game suspension incurred during the Allen series. Belzile’s averaging more than a goal a game and nearly two points per game (ten goals, seven assists) in nine games. This series will feature the top three point scorers in the playoffs thus far with Toledo forwards Tyson Spink and Kyle Bonis coming in with 15 and 14 points respectively through their 12 games played.
Belzile plays a highly-skilled, yet gritty type of game that suits this series well and Lazo loves when he’s on the ice with him.
“He’s an incredible player and has the ability to take over games by himself. He’s so skilled and can play a tough game as well. All you have to do is get open and let him do his thing.”
Who Wins and How?
For the Eagles to win this series, they are going to have to do something neither Kalamazoo nor Fort Wayne was able to do in the first two rounds of the playoffs; beat Toledo in their own barn. Toledo is a stellar 7-0 at home in the playoffs, but just 1-4 on the road. Colorado conversely is just 2-3 at home, but a perfect 6-0 on the road. Colorado’s best players during the regular season will need to step it up and start finding the back of the net with some consistency. Eagles forwards
Colorado’s best players during the regular season will need to step it up and start finding the back of the net with some consistency. Eagles forwards Casey Pierro-Zabotel, Matt Garbowsky, and Luke Salazar were more than point-per-game players in the regular season and will need to rediscover their scoring touches this series.
Toledo hasn’t seen a dynamic defenseman like ECHL defenseman of the year Matt Register thus far in the post-season. He leads all defenseman in scoring with 12 points in 11 games, including the series-clinching goal late in game six in Allen on Tuesday. Register has a knack for scoring big goals, tallying seven game-winners during the regular season and leading all players in his position.
The Walleye will win if they keep winning at home and if they can draw the Eagles into taking undisciplined penalties. They are a highly skilled, puck possession type of squad and are very effective on special teams. These are two contrasting teams, and it will be interesting to watch this highly anticipated series.
What They Are Playing For
The winner of the Western Conference Finals receives the Bruce Taylor Trophy. The trophy is named in recognition of Bruce Taylor, who was the founding father of the West Coast Hockey League. In the early 1990s, Taylor purchased teams in Fresno, Reno and Bakersfield and in 1995 joined them with teams in Anchorage, Fairbanks and San Diego to form the West Coast Hockey League. The Taylor Cup was presented to the playoff champion in the WCHL from the league’s inaugural season in 1995-96 until the league ceased operations following the 2002-03 season. Taylor’s ownership in hockey began in 1983 with the purchase of the Burnaby Bluehawks of the British Columbia Junior Hockey League and continued with the purchase of the Richmond Sockeyes in the BCJHL and the New Westminster Royals in the BCJHL.