Texas Brahmas @ Wichita Thunder tonight!
Game One of the Berry Conference Finals set to begin
So tonight's the night...the battle begins for the right to represent the Berry Conference in the 2012 Ray Miron President's Cup Championship Series. The underdog Texas Brahmas versus the top-seeded Wichita Thunder will begin their best-of-seven series tonight at the Intrust Bank Center with the opening puck drop set for 7:05 pm CST.
The Brahmas, hardly the favorite to win their opening round series against the second-seeded Allen Americans, did so in six games in a true team effort - 10 different players scored goals, led by fifth-year forward T.J. Fox with five goals (two of them on the power play and two of them game-winners).
In fact, the Brahmas, as Greg Rajan pointed out in his CHL Conference Final Predictions, had some unexpected heroes step up against Allen, namely (but certainly not limited to) Brad Fogal, Mike Hellyer, Sy Nutkevitch and Calin Wild.
Fogal, who joined the Brahmas just prior to the start of the post-season, did not see ice time until Game 3 when he relieved starter Mark Guggenberger mid-way through the first period with the Brahmas down 2-0. He went on to stop 19 of 21 shots, setting his team up for a comeback and the eventual 5-4 win.
Fogal had his first career playoff start in Game 5, where he earned his first professional shutout with 23 saves. He got the start again in Game 6 where he stopped 22 of 24 shots faced, earning his third post-season win and finishing the series with a league best 1.41 GAA and a .941 Save Percentage (2nd in the league).
Hellyer, who signed with the Brahmas on March 23rd, tallied four points (2 G, 2 A, +4) including assists in Games 4 and 5 and tallied the game-winner in Game 6 as well as an empty-netter which sealed the 4-2 victory. A recent graduate of the University of Manitoba, Hellyer made an immediate impact upon joining the Brahmas with his speed and presence on the ice.
Nutkevitch, one of a rookie quartet (including Fogal, Hellyer and Brett Findlay) of late additions to the Brahmas roster, impressed all upon joining the team. He tallied five points (2 G, 3 A, -2) in the last seven games of the regular season and has added four assists in the post-season.
Wild, one of the few returnees from last season's squad, was one of the heroes of Game 5, scoring the lone goal of the contest. A consistent, hard-working forward, Wild tallied 23 points (8 G, 15 A, -5) during the regular season and has three points (1 G, 2 A) thus far in the playoffs.
Wichita ended the regular season in first place in the Berry Conference with 87 points, as well as first place in the league, winning the Bud Poile Governors’ Cup.
Interesting facts from Rajan: A regular-season champion hasn't won the President's Cup since Colorado in 2005. And since then, Colorado in 2008-09 is the only Governors' Cup champ to make it to the President's Cup Final. Interesting to note, though, that both of Wichita's CHL championships (1994 and 1995) came after winning the regular-season points title.
Wichita was matched against the Rio Grande Killer Bees in the first round and beat them in five games (4-1) taking advantage of their home ice advantage - three games were won at the Intrust Bank Center.
Players to watch on the Thunder roster include Alex Bourret, who scored eight points (4 G, 4 A, +5) with a surprising three points (1 G, 2 A) while short-handed. R.G. Flath has also been solid this post-season and has already notched seven points (6 G, 1 A, +5) in five games played. He has recorded one hat-trick, two short-handed goals and two game-winning goals. The other two forwards on Flath’s line, Chris Greene (1 G, 2 A, +2) and Chris Chappell (3 A, +3) are also playing solid hockey this post-season.
Goaltender Adam Russo is 4-1-0 in the post-season with a 2.31 GAA (4th in the league) and a .904 Save Percentage (7th in the league). Backup Bryan Hogan played just 38:31 on the road at Rio Grande Valley, allowing one goal.
On special teams, the Brahmas are 4th in the league (!) with their 20.0 power play percentage and 8th with their 75.0 penalty kill percentage. Wichita is 7th in the league with their 4.5 power play percentage and 4th with their 85.0 penalty kill percentage. The Brahmas have scored five power play goals in the post-season, the second highest amount in the league. Wichita has only scored one power play goal on 22 attempts, the second worst percentage.
Once again, Dan Wildfong's Brahmas will face a Kevin McClelland-coached team in the playoffs. In 2008, the Brahmas defeated the Mississippi RiverKings two-games-to-one in the opening round of the playoff's to advance to the Quarter Finals, where they went on to sweep the Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs. In 2009, the Brahmas beat the Colorado Eagles four-games-to-one to win the whole thing.
The Thunder have a lot of heart and a lot of talent, but I'll base the outcome of this series on coaching. Add in two hot rookie goaltenders, our offense-minded defense and those "unexpected heroes" who will step up when needed and the boys in purple and black will prevail.
Rajan (wow, three mentions in one post) said the Brahmas are in for a steep challenge against Wichita - I say the Thunder are in for a steep challenge against Texas...In Fonger we trust.
Photo Credit: Robert Keith