LOVELAND, Colo. – Colorado Eagles Head Coach Aaron Schneekloth had no choice but to make some lineup adjustments.
After a game 5 drubbing that left Colorado on the tail end of a 5-0 Florida Everblades shutout, the former Eagles defenseman turned head coach had his work cut out for him. Not only was he faced with the task of retooling the lineup due to a crushing defeat, but also because forwards Drayson Bowman and Joey Ratelle, along with defenseman Ryan Olsen, were scratched due to presumed injuries incurred from game 4 (Bowman) and game 5 (Ratelle and Olsen).
Now, after accommodating the holes in his lineup with the grit and toughness of Chase Norrish, Ben Storm, and Teigan Zahn, the Colorado Eagles have poised themselves for a Kelly Cup repeat, with their second straight playoff series going to a winner-take-all Game 7.
Game 6 of the 2018 Kelly Cup Finals saw the neutralization of Florida’s potent offense, with Colorado only allowing two goals while producing twice as many of their own, taking their last ECHL home game in winning fashion Wednesday night by a score of 4-2. Colorado skaters Ryan Harrison, Jake Marto, and Michael Joly contributed goals to the Eagles winning effort, with Harrison and Marto tallying one apiece while Joly scored two. Florida forwards Joe Cox and Justin Kea contributed the only two goals for the Everblades in the loss.
Colorado’s Ben Storm made his impact felt early, starting the bout bumping and bruising the Everblades while mustering the game’s first shot on goal 18 seconds into the first period. Even with his eventual stat line of minus-1, two shots on goal, and 12 penalty minutes, the towering six-foot-seven product of Laurium, Michigan made a difference out on the ice, frustrating the Everblades with his teeth-rattling hits and provocation to retaliate, earning him notice as an unsung hero for Colorado.
The Eagles’ offensive effort put Florida back in its heels, as well, with Colorado jumping out to a 5-to-2 shot on goal lead after five minutes of gameplay. The fourth and fifth shots from Colorado came on a failed Derek Sheppard clearing attempt from behind Florida’s net, as Teigan Zahn fired a slap shot right off Sheppard’s errant turnover. With the puck bouncing off Florida goaltender Martin Ouellette, Harrison scored on the rebound past Ouellette stick side to give the Eagles an early 1-0 lead at 4:34 of the first.
Florida did not wait long to respond, however, as an Everblades poke check gave Joe Cox an opportunity for a foot race with Colorado’s Ryan Harrison. As the puck moved beyond center ice and into Colorado territory, Cox won the race, shrugging off Harrison’s stick attempts before juking Colorado netminder Joe Cannata back into his own net, placing the puck past his left pad for the equalizer at 7:28 of period one.
After some costly Colorado turnovers gave Florida a chance to catch up on the shot sheet, another race for the puck ended up in a goal-scoring sequence. This time, Eagles forward Michael Joly poke-checked the puck beyond the Eagles’ blue line, turning on the afterburners to blow by Everblades defenders Clark Seymour and Zack Kamrass on a breakaway, wristing a shot five-hole on Ouellette, scoring his eleventh goal of the postseason at 19:36 of the first period to make it 2-1, Eagles.
Colorado began the second segment of regulation the same way they did the first, putting pucks on net early and often. Cannata was kept alert, however, especially after a quick Steven Lorentz chance right after Florida killed off a Colorado power play at around 7:40 of the second. The Eagles were not lax in getting the puck back into Florida’s zone, creating a chance for Jake Marto a mere 30 seconds later. The defenseman cut right before switching to his backhand, lifting the puck above the extended pad of Ouellette to make it 3-1, Colorado, at 8:13 of the second.
In spite of Colorado investing a good amount of the second period in Florida’s zone, the Everblades still had their share of chances. Michael Kirkpatrick hit the post after a Stephen MacAuley feed around the 12:25 mark, starting yet another Florida opportunity to catch up regarding the period’s shots on net. With the increased shooting came increased physicality, to no surprise, as Ben Storm was called for an elbowing minor after drilling Zack Kamrass to the ice in front of Cannata’s crease. Everblades forward Mitchell Heard got in on the action, as well, when his stick became lodged in J.C. Beaudin’s visor a minute or so after the Storm hit, with no call levied from the referees.
The rough play continued into the final period of regulation, as Florida’s Brett Bulmer was whistled for roughing at 1:05 of the third for clocking Eagles captain Matt Garbowsky upside the head with two fists and a stick. Colorado did well to temper the pace of play, giving Florida one or two chances per drive before corralling the puck and clearing the zone. The stifling of Florida’s offense was manifested late in the period with a Joe Cannata diving glove save in front of his crease at 17:35, resulting in a stoppage of play and a timeout from the Everblades.
After the timeout, Ouellette was left on the bench for an extra Florida skater, leaving the Everblades cage unguarded. Michael Joly took full advantage just a minute later, as his empty-net goal made it 4-1 for the Colorado Eagles at 18:39 of period three. Justin Kea then caught the Colorado defense off guard, blazing along the right side before cutting in front of the goal to whiz one by Cannata with 33 seconds left to play. Kea was then immediately laid out by Brady Shaw for his troubles, drawing the ire of Florida skaters nearby and causing a brief scuffle before the refs broke things up.
The final horn sounded at the Budweiser Events Center with Florida unable to get two more goals in 30 seconds, forcing a decisive Game 7 Saturday night in Florida. Regardless of which team it is, a champion will be crowned in the most exciting game in all of sports, and the Kelly Cup will be raised at the Germain Arena this weekend!