Aces, Bulls will encounter new faces in playoffs

Doyle Woody

When it comes to the ECHL's Kelly Cup playoff match-ups, past performance is not necessarily indicative of future results.

That stems from the circuit's status as a developmental league, which means players come and go with regularity, shuffling between the ECHL and the American Hockey League. Teams also often bring in players late in the regular season from the amateur ranks of college and major-junior hockey.

So it is that the Alaska Aces and San Francisco Bulls, who played nine times in the regular season, open their Western Conference quarterfinal series Friday night at Sullivan Arena with an abundance of players the other team never faced in the regular season.

San Francisco has five players on its active playoff roster who didn't play a single game against Alaska this season -- former UAA winger Tommy Grant, defenseman Antoine Corbin, and wingers Daultan Leveille, Nick Czinder and Brett Findlay.

Grant, who spent nearly the entire season in the AHL, played in the minimum five ECHL games required for a pro to qualify to skate in the Kelly Cup playoffs. And he did it the hard way. Grant played games for the AHL's Worcester Sharks on Wednesday and Thursday, March 27-28, then flew all day cross-country on March 29 and suited up that night for San Francisco on the penultimate day of the ECHL regular season.

Corbin, who spent nearly the entire season with AHL Hamilton, played six games with San Francisco. Leveille split the season between AHL Hamilton and ECHL Wheeling before he was assigned to the Bulls last month. Czinder and Findlay joined the Bulls late in the regular season after finishing their seasons in the Ontario Hockey League. Leveille, Czinder and Findlay each played six regular-season games for San Francisco.

Alaska, meanwhile, has four players -- defensemen Corey Syvret and Brett Ponich, and wingers Tim Hall and Andy Taranto -- who did not face the Bulls in the regular season. All are likely to be in the lineup Friday.

Syvret missed an early-season series with San Francisco when he was injured, and missed the rest of the meetings because he was in the AHL. Ponich was in the AHL for almost the entire season. Hall was injured nearly all of the regular season and Taranto joined the Aces for their last two regular-season games after finishing his college career at UAF.

Playoff rosters can also change during the ECHL playoffs.

San Francisco, for instance, included leading scorer Peter Sivak and dangerous forward Yanni Gourde on its roster. Both are with AHL Worcester at the moment, but are eligible to play for the Bulls if they are assigned to San Francisco.

For what it's worth, Alaska went 7-1-1 against San Francisco in the regular season. Both clubs enjoyed success on the other's ice. The Aces swept a three-game series in San Francisco earlier this month. The Bulls won two of three games in Anchorage, one of them in overtime, in a three-game series at Sullivan Arena in late January.


Shuffling the deck

No suyprise Thursday when South Carolina's Ryan Zapolski was voted the ECHL's Goaltender of the Year.

All he managed was a league-record 1.64 goals-against average, an league record-tying eight shutouts and a .942 save percentage that tied for the second-best in league history. In a vote of league coaches, media, media relations directors and broadcasters, Zapolski became the first rookie to win the award since Alaska's Jean-Philippe Lamoureux in 2009, when Lamoureux posted eight shutouts.

Zapolski previously was named Rookie of the Year and voted onto the All-ECHL first team and All-Rookie Team. He appears the odds-on favorite to be revealed as league MVP on Friday.

Aces goaltender Mark Guggenberger finished second in balloting and Idaho's Josh Robinson was third.


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