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2023 Kelly Cup Playoffs

Picking the 2023 Kelly Cup Playoff Field and Champion

Welcome to opening weekend, where 27 teams take the ice with dreams of hoisting the Kelly Cup in mid-June.

Picking the 2023 Kelly Cup Playoff Field and Champion

WICHITA, Kan. – Welcome to opening weekend, where 28 teams take the ice with dreams of hoisting Mr. Kelly’s chalice in mid-June. Over the next six months, we’ll ride out a 1,008-game regular-season schedule as we whittle the field of title contenders down to 16.

Will the Florida Everblades repeat? Which team will top the standings in each division?

I’m here to offer my picks for each division champion and its playoff teams, how the playoffs will go, and who the 2023 Kelly Cup champion will be!

Let’s get after it!

2022-23 ECHL Regular Season Predictions

North Division:

Champion: Newfoundland Growlers
Wild Card Teams:  Reading Royals, Adirondack Thunder, Maine Mariners
Reasoning: Since their inception, the Growlers have been the cream of the crop in the North Division, and this year should be no different, thanks to their bountiful affiliation with the Toronto Maple Leafs. A very deep team with two to three lines of AHL-caliber players, steady defensemen, and good goaltending is very hard to plan for each night. The only hitch to this pick might be if the Leafs run into injury problems in both the AHL & NHL.

Had Reading retained more of their offensive firepower from last year, they would have been my pick to win the North, but they should still have a very competitive squad.

South Division:

Champion: Jacksonville Icemen
Wild Card Teams: Florida Everblades, South Carolina Stingrays, Atlanta Gladiators
Reasoning: For years on end, it seems the balance of power in the South has ping-ponged back and forth between Estero and North Charleston. That began to change last season with the emergence of the Jacksonville Icemen. This season, the Icemen are even deeper in every position and have more experience and knowledge of head coach Nick Luukko‘s systems. Expect the Icemen to bust onto the scene in full force this season and wrangle control of the South away from Florida and South Carolina.

Speaking of the Stingrays, they’ll be much improved from where they were a season ago and will return to the playoffs after a year away. This division will be tight, with good teams sitting on the wrong side of the fence.

Central Division:

Champion: Fort Wayne Komets
Wild Card Teams: Toledo Walleye, Wheeling Nailers, Iowa Heartlanders
Reasoning: While there might be a struggle for power in the South this season, there won’t be in the Central, as Fort Wayne and Toledo continue to be the class of the division. I chose the Komets because of their depth, size, and affiliation with Edmonton. If there’s one thing that could hold them back, it’s that Colton Point has been shaky at times in net through the course of his career. It will be interesting to see if Ryan Fanti can seize the moment if Point has a few bad nights.

I have Iowa entering the playoff fray for the first time this season, and one key piece that swayed me in that direction was the signing of Matthew Boucher, a rookie of the year winner at this level. He and Patrick Curry are two pieces your offense can revolve around. Toward the end of last season, the Heartlanders played a tighter defensive game, and with better goaltending coming back, it should be enough to get them into the tournament.

Mountain Division:

Champion: Rapid City Rush
Wild Card Teams: Utah Grizzlies, Idaho Steelheads, Kansas City Mavericks
Reasoning: This division really is a coin flip, as you could make a case for four teams mentioned as playoff teams to win it. I chose the Rush based on the returning group and the addition of Alex Aleardi to the team. It will be interesting to see how the new player affiliation with Calgary works out for the Rush over the course of the season.

The case could be made for Utah winning the division, especially given their prowess on defense. But the offense lost up front gives me pause…five players lost is hard to redeem.

2023 Kelly Cup Playoff Predictions

Division Semifinals:

North:

Newfoundland defeats Maine
Reading defeats Adirondack

South:

Jacksonville defeats Atlanta
Florida defeats South Carolina

Central:

Fort Wayne defeats Iowa
Wheeling upsets Toledo

Mountain:

Rapid City defeats Kansas City
Idaho defeats Utah

Division Finals: 

North: Newfoundland defeats Reading
South: Jacksonville defeats Florida
Central: Fort Wayne defeats Wheeling
Mountain: Rapid City defeats Idaho

Conference Finals:

Eastern: Jacksonville defeats Newfoundland
Western: Fort Wayne defeats Rapid City

Kelly Cup Finals:

Fort Wayne wins its second Kelly Cup in six games over Jacksonville.

There you have it, my forecast for the 16 playoff teams that will play for and win a championship in June. I’ll be back with an update on my predictions on Black Friday and check on them again at the end of the regular season.

Download the Field Pass Hockey app from the iTunes or Google Play stores or follow @FieldPassHockey on Twitter for the latest news on the AHL, ECHL, and SPHL throughout the 2022 season!

    Matthew Harding is the Managing Editor for Field Pass Hockey, covers the ECHL and the Wichita Thunder. Follow and interact with him on Twitter @FPHThunder.

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