NORTH CHARLESTON, S.C. – After a fantastic end to the regular season and push through the playoffs, the Stingrays fell just short in their quest for a fourth Kelly Cup. The Komets were led by fantastic goaltending from Dylan Ferguson throughout the series, as well as balanced scoring. The Stingrays fall to 3-3 all-time in ECHL championship series, having lost the last two Kelly Cup Finals they’ve played in.
The first period started slow for the Stingrays as the Komets controlled the pace of play. After Tyler Nanne took a high puck and had to leave the ice, the Stingrays found their groove. They controlled play for the majority of the period. Dylan Ferguson was equal to the task and stopped several quality chances. Hunter Shepard stopped everything that came his way in the first. The Stingrays outshot the Komets 11-10 in the period.
The second period started off with several back-and-forth chances. The game was back and forth and the Stingrays seemed to control the pace of play. Stephen Harper scored his first of the game at 8:16 of the second period. The Stingrays had just came off of two back-to-back scoring chances featuring a puck that sat in the crease next to the goal line until Fort Wayne cleared it. On the Komets next chance, they swarmed the net, and Harper was left alone at the top of the crease where he was able to put it in. Marcus McIvor and Justin Vaive got the assists.
After the goal, a back-and-forth game ensued with the Stingrays again controlling the tempo. At 15:30, Fort Wayne got some sustained offensive pressure and Harper once again beat Shepard. Harper was left by himself behind the defense and Randy Gazzola fed Harper a perfect pass and he just beat Shepard’s glove as he tried to close down the open net.
The Stingrays initially had a sluggish response to the two-goal deficit. The Stingrays then got things going and picked up the pressure. Justin Florek, arguably the best player for the Stingrays all night, batted a shot out of the air and past Ferguson to bring the Stingrays back into the game at 17:56. Max Gottlieb and Andrew Cherniwchan recorded assists on the Stingrays goal. The Stingrays outshot the 13-8 in the second frame and generally controlled the tempo of the period.
Another sluggish start to the third period saw Shepard stop Harper on a breakaway (and hat-trick) attempt 30 seconds into the period. Both teams played hard through the period. Tempers flared at the 15:49 mark when A.J. Jenks hit Zach Malatesta high on an offsides play. Gottlieb then crosschecked Jenks to the head and a large scrum broke out. Gottlieb was sent off with a major penalty. The Stingrays were then forced to kill off three minutes of Komets power play time and never had any sustained pressure to end the game.
The Stingrays played well enough to win the game but the Komets were equal to the task. The Komets defense limited the Stingrays to three shots on goal in the final frame. Shepard had a solid bounce-back game in the loss stopping 23 of 25 on the night.
The Fort Wayne Komets won their first Kelly Cup, and 10th league championship overall, in front of a league-high for attendance this season, 10,477. Moreover, the attendance in Fort Wayne for game four was the sixth-largest crowd to watch a league finals game ever, and the third Finals game since 1997 to have an attendance of more than 10,000.
According to Justin Cohn, the Komets are believed to be the first team to win championships in four different professional leagues; the ECHL, Central Hockey League, International Hockey League, and United Hockey Leagues.
Stephen Harper was named playoff MVP, piling up 13 points (6G, 7A) in the Komets 13 playoff games. For the Stingrays, Matt Weis & Cole Ully each had 12 points, good for the team lead in that category.
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