Through two games of the ECHL's Kelly Cup Finals, the two hockey teams chasing a championship on the ice have shared a consistent trait off of it: An abiding respect for their opponent.
And the words coming from the Alaska Aces and Cincinnati Cyclones seem genuine. Neither appear to carefully craft comments with the purpose of remaining off the opponents' dressing-room whiteboard -- c'mon, no one actually uses bulletin boards, get with it -- or staying out of their coach's doghouse.
So, when Cincinnati goaltender Rob Madore, after his club's 2-1 win in Saturday night's Game 2, heaped praise on Alaska's defensemen for their strong skating, penchant for joining the rush and dangerous shooting, it didn't seem like he was simply pumping the Aces' tires.
Likewise, Aces goaltender Gerald Coleman, after surrendering first-period goals 21 seconds apart to Byron Froese and Jonathan Hazen -- "two great individual plays,'' said the masked man -- did not lament a lack of puck luck or what he might have done differently. He marveled at the breadth of skill and cleverness exhibited by Cyclones scorers.
"This is not a team that is going to roll over,'' Coleman said. "They showed off their offensive prowess. They've got depth on three lines, and they can all score.''
Hazen similarly lauded the Aces' high-tempo offense on the international-sized ice at Sullivan Arena.
"They're very good,'' he said. "On the big ice, they really use their speed.''
The best-of-7 series is tied 1-1 -- the Aces won Friday's opener 5-3 -- heading into Game 3 Monday night at Sullivan. The series then moves to Cincinnati, where the teams will play Game 4 on Friday.
The bench bosses on each side -- Rob Murray of the Aces and Ben Simon of the Cyclones, both of them former NHLers -- also appreciate the quality of their opponent.
Simon said he was so convinced the Aces were an overwhelming favorite to come out of the Western Conference that he began scouting the Aces through video a couple weeks ago to prepare in the event the teams met in the Finals.
"We'd banked they'd go deep,'' Simon said.
And Murray after Game 1, in a comment that echoed the feelings of many involved in this series, said he wasn't the least bit surprised at Cincinnati's quality.
"You're not at this point of the season, playing for a championship, without being a very good team,'' Murray said.
Just as the Aces are buoyed by Coleman, who backed them to the 2011 Cup, the Cyclones are grounded by Madore, who has shown himself a battler. Among his work in Game 2 was a denial of Brendan Connolly's first-period penalty shot, and he also benefitted when the Aces twice struck iron.
"He was good, and he got some help,'' Connolly said. "And they blocked some shots when it looked like we had empty nets. Hats off to them.''
Shuffling the deck
The Aces' standing-room-only crowd of 6,438 for Game 2 not only marked their first sellout in nine home playoff games this season, but the first crowd that surpassed the 5,000 mark.
The crowd pumped up the Aces' average attendance by 254, pushing them to 4,404 fans per home game in the postseason.
Friday's Game 1 crowd of 4,859 stands as the only non-sellout in 10 Finals games at Sullivan Arena in franchise history.
The Aces outshot the Cyclones 36-23 in Game 2 and 42-28 in Game 1, and have outshot their opponent in all 17 playoff games this postseason. Alaska averages 37.29 shots per game and opponents average 22.29, a plus-15.0 differential for Alaska.
Find Doyle Woody's blog at adn.com/hockeyblog
2014 ECHL Kelly Cup
Cincinnati Cyclones vs. Alaska Aces
Best of 7
Series tied 1-1
Game 3 - Monday, Sullivan Arena, 7:15 p.m.
Radio - Live, AM-550 and FM-103.7 KFQD
By DOYLE WOODY