Maine Mariners Back In It, Toledo's Sebastian Cossa Shining Early

Maine Mariners Back In It, Toledo's Sebastian Cossa Shining Early

2023 Kelly Cup Playoffs Notebook: FloHockey's Chris Peters takes a deeper look at some of the series and storylines dominating the ECHL postseason.

Apr 26, 2023 by Chris Peters
Maine Mariners Back In It, Toledo's Sebastian Cossa Shining Early

It doesn’t matter what level of hockey you’re at. From peewees to the pros, there is nothing like the drama of the postseason. As the ECHL’s Kelly Cup Playoffs roll on, there has been no shortage of high drama in the early goings of each series.

As the playoffs continue, we’ll be breaking down a number of storylines, statistics and individual performances right here on FloHockey, your exclusive streaming home of the Kelly Cup Playoffs.

Utah Grizzlies’ Miner Stunning Steelheads Early

There may be no more dramatic a storyline than that of the stunning start to the Mountain Division semifinal series featuring the record-setting Idaho Steelheads that clinched the Brabham Cup as regular-season champions with their historic run to 58 wins. The Steelheads had two games at home against the Utah Grizzlies, which entered the playoffs with the fewest points of any team that reached the postseason, and lost both.

The difference has been Colorado Avalanche goalie prospect Trent Miner, who shut out the Steelheads in Game 1 before turning in another sparkling performance in Game 2. Miner has stopped 74 of the 76 shots he’s faced through two games while out-dueling second team all-ECHL goalie Adam Scheel to allow the Grizzlies to open up a 2-0 series lead as it transitions back to Salt Lake City for Games 3 through 5.

Miner’s .973 save percentage is tops among ECHL goalies with at least two starts this postseason. This is his second go-around in the Kelly Cup Playoffs as he won seven of 13 starts last postseason, posting a .920 save percentage. 

Drafted in the seventh round in 2019, the Brandon, Manitoba native appears to be playing some of his best hockey right now after going 1-7-1 against Idaho during the regular season. Can he be the difference for the whole series?

Idaho had beaten Utah in 11 of the 15 meetings between the teams in the regular season. You have to figure it will be hard to keep their offense at bay for long. With home ice advantage flipped, the Grizzlies are in the driver’s seat to shock the world, but winning those next two games will be their greatest challenge yet.

Maine Mariners Battle Back

If the Steelheads need any inspiration for overcoming a 2-0 hole, they can look to the Maine Mariners who dropped the first two games against the Reading Royals before winning each of their next two including a 7-3 trouncing in Game 4. 

Carter Johnson scored a hat trick in the third period alone to key the Mariners’ series-tying win in Game 4. 

Considering they were only a goal away from falling to 3-0 in the series to Reading before winning Game 3 in overtime, the Mariners had a confidence-building win with that dramatic third-period explosion.

With home ice proving so important in this series to date, the Mariners will get their final dose of homecooking in this series in Game 5. Getting a win could be critical as Reading has been exceptional at home throughout the season with a 22-12-2 record at home during the regular season on top of the 2-0 record in this postseason series.

This is only the second trip for Maine to the Kelly Cup Playoffs in their young franchise history. They’re seeking to avenge the first-round loss to Reading last season, where they went down in six games.

Toledo’s Two-Headed Monster In Net Pushes Fuel To Brink

Toledo Walleye star Brandon Hawkins has referred to this season as the “Revenge Tour” after the pucksters from T-Town made it to the Kelly Cup Final only to lose to the Florida Everblades. With a veteran core that is hungry to bring the Kelly Cup to Toledo, the Walleye’s success or failure in these playoffs likely rest largely on the shoulders of their goaltending tandem of Sebastian Cossa and John Lethemon. 

Both players are under NHL contract with the Detroit Red Wings, with Cossa among the franchise’s top prospects as a first-round pick in 2021. Lethemon signed his first NHL deal this season based on his outstanding performance in tandem with Cossa. 

What makes this a bit tricky is Lethemon was the Goaltender of the Year in the ECHL, yet Cossa was sent to Toledo for the purpose of getting this kind of experience. It’s a delicate balance of competing and developing talent that is a dance most ECHL teams have to do over the course of the full season.

So far, head coach Dan Watson has alternated the two goaltenders. Cossa started Games 1 and 3, with Lethemon starting Game 2. How’s it going so far? Well, the Walleye are a win away from eliminating a skilled Indy Fuel squad with just four total goals allowed through the first three games.

Cossa has a .958 save percentage through his two starts, while Lethemon stopped 36 of 38 in his start for a .944 mark. You always want to make sure the goaltending position is rock solid this time of year, but for the Walleye – at least at this very early stage – two is better than one.

Kelly Cup Bites

Fanti To The Rescue?

Fort Wayne Komets goalie Ryan Fanti has been the viral sensation of the 2022-23 ECHL season, but he’s also been darn good when his team has needed him to be. That was no truer than when he stopped all 35 shots he faced against the Cincinnati Cyclones in Game 3 Tuesday night. The Edmonton Oilers prospect drew major praise from head coach Ben Boudreau after the win that got the Komets back into their series against the Central Division’s top seed.

O’Brien Continues To Be A Point Producing Machine

The Newfoundland Growlers dropped their opening game of the series against Adirondack, but as they head home for the final four games of the series, they’re rolling a little bit. The Growlers scored 15 goals between Games 2 and 3 on the road, winning each by wide margins. It should be no surprise to see Zach O’Brien leading the way.

O’Brien has been one of the most productive players in recent years in the ECHL and currently leads all players in the playoffs with six points through three games. Newfoundland actually has five of the top seven scorers in the early goings of the playoffs with Todd Skirving, Keenan Suthers, Isaac Johnson and Zach Solow each accounting for five points so far this postseason.

Dueling Shutouts In Southern Showdown

The defending Kelly Cup champion Florida Everblades started their series with the South Carolina Stingrays by shutting out their rivals. That's a heck of a way to start a title defense to be sure, but the following night, Washington Capitals prospect Clay Stevenson stopped all 27 shots he faced in his first ever playoff game as a professional That's a heck of a way to make a postseason debut.

With the series knotted 1-1, Florida gets three consecutive home games, making that Game 1 win all the more important. These two teams have met many times in the playoffs over the years, so we should probably buckle up for another tough series.