LOVELAND, Colo. – There are moments in a hockey game where you feel it…the seismic shift of a play that completely changes the tone of the match-up. It could come on a momentum-building goal, or perhaps a minor penalty committed at the worst possible time. It can even come on a big body check that leaves a player on the receiving end dazed and reeling.
With the latter in mind, you have Game 1 of the 2018 Kelly Cup Final between the Colorado Eagles and Florida Everblades.
After a clean, stand-up hit by Colorado defenseman Gabriel Verpaelst laid out -and knocked out- Florida center, Michael Kirkpatrick, at 15:43 of the third period, the cup of aggression ran over for the Everblades. The hit garnered the ire of Florida’s enforcers – left winger David Dziurzynski and forward Stephen MacAulay – who sparked a brawl at 19:27 of the third that resulted in 69 penalty minutes being doled out by the referees.
The madness overshadowed a solid Eagles victory over the Everblades, as Colorado took Game 1 by a score of 3-1. Matt Register, Drayson Bowman, and Shawn St-Amant graced the scoresheet for Colorado, while Sam Warning was the lone goal-scorer for Florida.
Period one showcased the home-ice advantage for Colorado, who came out blazing and finished the first frame of regulation with 17 shots on goal to Florida’s eight. Shoring up their mistakes from the Western Conference Final, the Eagles defenders stayed tied to their designated opponents early on, while also applying offensive pressure to Florida netminder Martin Ouellette.
Even with their first power play opportunity at 3:18 of the first, the gaunt 7% conversion rate from round three seemed a distant memory, as Register scored his first goal of the playoffs on that very same power play. The wrist shot clocked in at 4:45 of the first period, good for a Colorado 1-0 lead and Register’s fourteenth point of the postseason.
Colorado’s second man-advantage (on a Matt Mackenzie elbowing call at 8:23 of the first) yielded quality scoring opportunities in the likes of a Jake Marto setup for Michael Joly and a deja-vu wrist shot from Register where he scored his goal about six minutes earlier. However, goal number two for Colorado came from a driving Bowman at 19:33 of the first frame, when he took the puck in Colorado’s zone and started a rush himself. Juking by an overcommitted Dziurzynski and shooting past Florida forward Steven Lorentz, Bowman tallied his fifth goal of the playoffs to notch the Eagles up, 2-0.
Moving onto period number two, however, Florida became familiar with the schemes of Colorado, turning it around on the Eagles with a 12-3 shots on net advantage. The home team seemed to regress back into all the old habits that got them in trouble in previous rounds: the turnovers deep in their zone, not putting shots on net, the undisciplined penalties, and the uninspired power play. The first habit bit Colorado bad near the 8:00 mark of the second; Bowman’s passed to Jake Marto was poke-checked by Florida forward John McCarron to a wide-open Warning, who then capitalized on the turnover. Netting one past Eagles goalie Joe Cannata brought Florida within one.
The final period of play evened out regarding shots on goal, as both teams focused more on physical play to compliment their offensive firepower. The little nuances of physicality were apparent even as early as the beginning faceoff, where Florida’s Mitchell Heard was seen violently chopping down on St-Amant’s stick before the puck dropped. St-Amant was also whacked by Ouellette as he skated by the Quebec native around the 8:00 mark, while Cannata experienced pain of his own as he was clipped by a Florida player around the 12:00 point of period three.
All of these minor events led up to the Verpaelst hit on Kirkpatrick with less than five minutes remaining in regulation. Verpaelst and Florida foward Brett Bulmer would sit for matching unsportsmanlike conduct minors at 17:12 of the third period before Ouellette was pulled for an extra skater around the 18:30 mark. St-Amant found himself alone shortly after, waiting until the last possible moment to score an empty-net goal at 19:04 before Dziurzynski took offense and white-washed him.
As Florida sought a second goal in the final minute of regulation, a Cannata cover of the puck was all it took before the aforementioned melee ensued. The referees could not make up their minds as to whether they should allow the carnage to play out or stop the fights, and were caught between punches multiple times while trying to break up players mid-fight. One ref was even injured when he ended up on the receiving end of a punch in the Verpaeslt-Dziurzynski scuffle. A fight between Colorado’s Travis Barron and Florida’s Derek Sheppard with 11 seconds to go in the game rounded out the 98 total penalty minutes handed out in Game 1.
Game 2 will be Sunday night at the Budwesier Events Center in Loveland, Colorado. The puck drops at 7:05 MT, and as always, @SinBinEagles will be on Twitter with live game coverage and score updates.
News of Note
Colorado’s Verpaeslt and Nicolas Meloche were ejected from the game with ten-minute game misconduct penalties. Florida’s Dziurzynski and MacAulay were also ejected for such major penalties, as well. These four men alone racked up 68 of the 98 penalty minutes incurred by both teams tonight.
One goal and one assist in tonight’s first period gave Colorado’s Bowman his second two-point game of the 2018 ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs. His first two-point endeavor of the playoffs came in Game 2 of the Mountain Division Semifinal against the Wichita Thunder on April 16, where he notched two assists in the Eagles 5-2 win.
The 27-save win for Eagles goaltender Cannata marked the fifth time this postseason “Concrete Cannata” has posted one goal or less against an opponent. His four previous games were: Game 1, Mountain Division Semifinal (vs. Wichita, one goal allowed); Games 1 and 4 of the Mountain Division Final (vs. Idaho, both shutouts); and Game 4 of the Western Conference Final (vs. Fort Wayne, one goal allowed).