2024 Kansas City Mavericks vs Toledo Walleye

Kansas City Vs. Toledo: ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs Western Conference Finals

Kansas City Vs. Toledo: ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs Western Conference Finals

The Kansas City Mavericks will face the Toledo Walleye in the Western Conference Finals of the 2024 ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs.

May 14, 2024 by Justin Cohn
Kansas City Vs. Toledo: ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs Western Conference Finals

The Mountain Division-champion Kansas City Mavericks will face the Central Division-champion Toledo Walleye in the Western Conference Finals of the 2024 ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs.

The Mavericks are coming off a 4-1 series victory over the Idaho Steelheads, which came on the heels of a 4-0 victory over the Tulsa Oilers. 

The Walleye swept the Wheeling Nailers after doing the same to the Kalamazoo Wings.

The matchup for the Eastern Conference Finals has not yet been determined. 

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Western Conference Finals

Kansas City Mavericks (54-12-6) Vs. Toledo Walleye (48-14-9)

Game 1 - Friday, May 17 at 7:15 p.m. ET at Toledo
Game 2 - Saturday, May 18 at 7:15 p.m. ET at Toledo
Game 3 - Monday, May 20 at 7:15 p.m. ET at Toledo
Game 4 - Friday, May 24 at 7:05 p.m. CT at Kansas City
Game 5 - Saturday, May 25 at 7:05 p.m. CT at Kansas City (If Necessary)
Game 6 - Monday, May 27 at 4:05 p.m. CT at Kansas City (If Necessary)
Game 7 - Wednesday, May 29 at 7:05 p.m. CT at Kansas City (If Necessary)

Toledo And Kansas City Top Scorers

Toledo’s Brandon Hawkins, the ECHL regular-season MVP, had 40 goals (first in the ECHL) and 93 points (first in the ECHL). In the playoffs, he has five goals and 11 points and is tied for the team scoring lead in the playoffs with Riley Sawchuk (seven goals) and Sam Craggs (six goals). 

For Kansas City, Patrick Curry, the MVP runner-up, had 39 goals (second in the ECHL) and 87 points (second in the ECHL) during the regular season. In the playoffs, he leads the Mavericks with six goals and 12 points.

What You Need To Know About The Toledo Walleye

Coming off sweeps of Kalamazoo, which had given Toledo fits during the regular season, and Wheeling, the Walleye have extended their winning streak to 22 games.

To think, coming into the season, the biggest question was whether or not Pat Mikesch, who had come from the junior-level USHL, could match the success of his predecessor, Dan Watson. 

Mikesch, who missed the playoffs four times and never made it out of the postseason in eight USHL seasons as a head coach, is in the ECHL’s conference finals – a spot the Walleye reached in 2015, 2017, 2019, 2022 and 2023. All but one of those seasons was under Watson’s guidance.

The Walleye reached the Kelly Cup Finals in 2019, losing to the Newfoundland Growlers, and in 2022, losing to the Florida Everblades. 

This year may be the Toledo’s best chance of winning it all – the team has a multifaceted offense and is riding a ton of momentum – but Kansas City is a more formidable opponent than either Wheeling or Kalamazoo. Way more.

One part of Toledo’s identity that has really surfaced in the postseason has been its resiliency. 

After come-from-behind victories in Games 2 and 3 against Kalamazoo, the Walleye got their biggest victory of the season in Game 1 against Wheeling – when Hawkins scored to win it 2-1 in overtime from a ridiculous angle after an equally ridiculous setup by Trenton Bliss.

In the clinching game, Sawchuk scored an overtime power-play goal for a 3-2 victory – after a delay-of-game penalty on David Drake – and that came after the Nailers’ Justin Addamo tied it midway through the third period to push the momentum Wheeling’s way.

Toledo always has been explosive, but right now, the team is particularly focused. If opponents don’t mind their end at all moments, then the Walleye will find a way to score.

What You Need To Know About The Kansas City Mavericks

Kansas City was the ECHL’s regular-season behemoth, but it was with understandable intrigue most everyone waited for the Mountain Division Finals against the Idaho Steelheads, who had a record-setting 2022-2023 season, before losing to the Florida Everblades in the Kelly Cup Finals, then had the third-best record in the league this season.

The feeling was they were two heavyweights who were going to slug it out after only six regular-season meetings, none after Jan. 13, which is uncommon for division opponents. 

Any thoughts that maybe Idaho had been overlooked because of the Mavericks’ dominance during the regular season quickly were put to rest, though, with the Mavericks taking the series 4-1.

In most respects, the Mavericks were as-advertised in the series: The offense was multi-faceted, with 10 players scoring goals, paced by David Cotton’s four (in only four games) and three from Curry, Nolan Walker and Jeremy McKenna; the clean, physical play helped set the tone, as the power play had seven more opportunities than Idaho’s (19-12) and three more goals (4-1); and the defense held up reasonably well against maybe the best offense in the league.

Of course, the Kansas City defense could improve – the Mavericks allowed three or more goals in every game after the series-opening 4-2 victory and had to navigate a 7-5 victory in Game 3 – but some hiccups were to be expected against the cavalcade of Idaho offensive stars.

What really was impressive was Kansas City, coached by Tad O’Had, taking all three games on the road – and Boise is not an easy place to play – after dropping Game 2, 3-2, in Kansas City. The series-clinching game in Boise, capped by a Cade Borchardt overtime goal, was emphatic.

But the quest for a Kelly Cup now gets tougher against a Toledo team that’s even better offensively than Idaho, plays a more disciplined game and could take advantage of a quirkily formatted series. 

Because of graduation ceremonies occupying Cable Dahmer Arena in Kansas City, the series will start at the Huntington Center in Toledo, Ohio, with a 3-4 format. I tend to think it’s actually an advantage for Kansas City, if it can steal a game or two on the road; that’s what happened in the first round when Norfolk took two at Trois-Rivières and comfortably won in six games.

But I know people who argue strongly the 3-4 format is an advantage for Toledo, and I get their perspective, since the Walleye haven’t lost at the Huntington Center since Feb. 25 (to the Fort Wayne Komets). 

Last year, in the Eastern Conference Finals, Florida started at home in a 3-4 formatted series with Newfoundland, took Games 1 and 2, and then upset the Growlers in six games.

Kansas City has been the favorite to win the Cup for a long while, and this will be its biggest challenge so far. The teams didn’t meet during the regular season.

No team has been as consistent from game to game, and has shown more balance between offense and defense, than the Mavericks. The Walleye would be the closest in all departments, though, so this should be a doozy of a series.

Two Players To Watch In The Kansas City-Toledo Series

Not to take the low-hanging fruit here, but it’s tough not to talk about arguably the top two offensive players in the league – Toledo’s Brandon Hawkins and Kansas City’s Patrick Curry – going head-to-head in the Western Conference Finals.

Hawkins won the ECHL’s MVP Award during the regular season. Curry finished second.

We all know Hawkins loves to shoot. And shooting he has been. He has taken 74 shots in eight playoff games. Next is the Adirondack Thunder’s Tristan Ashbrook with 42 shots, and he’s done that in 12 games.

If Hawkins weren’t so good at shooting the puck, it might be a complaint, but his NHL-caliber shot is such a weapon at this level, and he scores in so many ways (from The Michigan, to the poke-check goal that won a first-round game in overtime, to the tough-angled overtime winner in the last series), you can’t blame Brandon “The Hammer” Hawkins for trying to drop it whenever he can.

Really, when it comes to Hawkins, it’s not just the quantity, or even the quality of his shots, it’s the timing. He has a nose for the big moments and delivers. This isn’t to say shooting is all Hawkins does, because it’s not; he’ll get physical, he’s decent on the forecheck and reliable defensively (he’s a team-best plus-10).

You could tell Hawkins had the potential to be something special when he was as rookie with Wheeling during the 2019-2020 season. He became something special while helping the Komets to the 2021 Kelly Cup. And now, even at age 30, it’s just weird he’s never been given much of a chance to carve out a role in the AHL doing what he’s doing for the Walleye.

Curry, on the other hand, spent 66 games last season in the AHL and returned to the ECHL level with a bevy of confidence that has helped make Kansas City the behemoth it is today. Not every player can channel a demotion to the ECHL as well as Curry has; the game is slower than in the AHL, and he’s taking advantage.

Curry, 28, played for the Walleye in 2021-2022, though he spent most of that season in the AHL, and we got to see his potential in the postseason when he had seven goals and 12 points in 21 games.

While Hawkins has been electric from start to finish this season, it actually took Curry a little bit to begin outshining the bevy of offensive stars with the Mavericks – Max Andreev, Cade Borchardt, Jacob Hayhurst and Nolan Walker.

But Curry is so consistent – he’s got a point in 7 of 9 playoff games – that over time, you begin to see how strong he is at this level, where he uses superior vision and hockey smarts. He’s not going to be a prodigious shooter like Hawkins – Curry has 34 shots in the postseason – but he’ll do a better job of looking for, and supporting, his teammates.

This isn’t to say Hawkins doesn’t use the likes of Bliss, Mitchell Lewandowski or Brandon Kruse, it’s just that when you face Toledo you’ve got to spend an incredible amount of time trying to figure out how to shut down Hawkins’ rocketing shots – particularly when he sets up shop in the circles during power plays. 

Defending Curry requires keeping the speedy, shifty Curry away from the net, where he’ll score or put someone else in position to do it.

He’s going to be really on his game early in this series, if you believe that a 3-4 formatted series – beginning in Toledo – give the advantage to the home team. Curry at least knows just how difficult it can be to play at the Bank Tank.

X-Factor For Kansas City-Toledo Series


As I wrote recently, platooning goalies throughout the postseason hasn’t often been a path to winning the Kelly Cup. So, it’ll be interesting to see if the coaches of the teams in this series keep doing what they’ve been doing, especially in a series that looks so close on paper. 

If a goalie has an absolutely stupendous game, will his coach be as willing to sit him the next game and maybe lose some momentum against a dangerous offense? I’m not so sure.

Kansas City has alternated between Cale Morris and Jack LaFontaine throughout the postseason, with the exception of giving Morris back-to-back starts in Games 3 and 4 against Idaho, which seemed particularly gutsy after Morris allowed five goals on 40 shots in a 7-5 victory in Game 3. But the Mavericks won Game 4, too, and maybe there were some reasons, such as illness or injury, for the back-to-back starts.

Toledo has been switching back and forth between John Lethemon and Jan Bednar throughout its win streak.

Here are the postseason numbers on all four goalies: Morris is 5-0 with a 2.60 goals-against average and a .923 save percentage; LaFontaine is 3-1 with a 2.16 GAA and a .944 SP; Lethemon is 4-0 with a 1.90 GAA and a .923 SP; and Bednar is 4-0 with a 2.20 GAA and a .925 SP.

I’d personally rank them as such, in terms of who I’d trust in a huge playoff game: Lethemon, LaFontaine, Morris, Bednar. But it’s really close. Any of these guys can get hot, but any of them can get cold, too, and that’s the problem in a series with two explosive offenses and a weirdly formatted 3-4 series; neither team can afford a stinker, because it would sway the series so much.

Kansas City Mavericks Vs. Toledo Walleye Prediction

I’ve expected this matchup for a long while, and if you’d asked me six weeks ago, I would have said Kansas City would win this series quickly. Toledo’s play lately has given me much pause. I don’t care who you’re facing, a 22-game winning streak, including eight in the postseason, is just remarkable.

But Toledo hasn’t faced anyone like Kansas City, really all season long. They’re just a polished machine from top to bottom. Not that Kansas City’s schedule to this point has been all that great, because it hasn’t, but taking down Idaho in five games looks a lot more amazing on the résumé than beating Wheeling in four.

I’m still picking Kansas City to win this series – but I’m predicting seven games – for one reason: physicality. 

The teams that have had any success against Toledo have done it by bruising the Walleye and getting them off their game. That’s in Kansas City’s wheelhouse, and the Mavericks are really good at staying out of the penalty box.

The rest is about equal, including the level of speed, so in a physical sport, I’ll take the team that plays a more physical brand – Kansas City.

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