2024 Florida Everblades vs Kansas City Mavericks

Mavericks Have Impressed, But Can They Follow Brabham Cup With Kelly Cup?

Mavericks Have Impressed, But Can They Follow Brabham Cup With Kelly Cup?

The Kansas City Mavericks have a chance to do something no ECHL team has done since 2014 – follow a regular-season championship with a playoff championship.

May 30, 2024 by Justin Cohn
Mavericks Have Impressed, But Can They Follow Brabham Cup With Kelly Cup?

The Kansas City Mavericks have a chance to do something no ECHL team has done since 2014 – follow a regular-season championship with a playoff championship.

One of the great things about hockey playoffs is that they’re such a great test of any team’s mettle – especially in the ECHL where, unlike the higher-level American Hockey League, every round is best-of-seven – and time has shown that it’s incredibly difficult to sustain a consistent level of success from October through June.

The Mavericks, however, might have the chops to do it.

Really, the more I think, write and talk about the Mavericks of 2023-2024, “consistency” is the word that always comes to mind.

Fresh off a 4-2 series victory over the Toledo Walleye in the Western Conference Finals, the Mavericks will face the Florida Everblades for the Kelly Cup. Game 1 of the 2-3-2-formatted series will be Friday at Cable Dahmer Arena in Independence, Missouri.

This situation is not totally unlike last year, when the Idaho Steelheads came into the playoffs as the No. 1 overall seed – shattering the ECHL regular-season record books en route to winning the Brabham Cup – and worked their way to the Kelly Cup Finals. The Steelheads were the favorites, no doubt, but then got walloped in four games by the Everblades.

Florida now will be going for an unprecedented third straight Kelly Cup championship, while Kansas City will try to avoid the letdowns of other top seeds since the Alaska Aces won the Cup in 2014. 

Since the Aces swept the Brabham and Kelly Cups, top seeds that have failed to complete the task include the Toledo Walleye (2015, 2017, 2022), Everblades (2018, 2021), Cincinnati Cyclones (2019) and the Mavericks themselves (2016). There were no playoffs held in 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

It’s not just an indictment of those teams, it’s also just life in the ECHL. Rosters are always changing, and teams often get loaded, or decimated, by their NHL and AHL affiliates on the eve of the playoffs. Winning the Brabham and Kelly Cups in the same year, is just incredibly hard to do for myriad reasons.

How Did The Mavericks Get Here?

With a 54-12-6 regular-season record, the Mavericks were at least nine points better than everyone else in the ECHL. Toledo was second at 48-14-9. Florida, by the way, was 40-23-9, only the eighth-best record in the league.

There are all sorts of statistics I can throw at you to prove just how good the Mavericks were during the regular season, but let’s just keep it simple: No. 1 offense (4.24 goals per game); No. 3 defense (2.81 goals against per game); second-fewest penalty minutes per game (9.56), no losing skids of more than two games, and that happened only three times; and didn’t fall below fifth in the FloHockey ECHL rankings any time after October, when they debuted at nine.

The Mavericks have Patrick Curry, who was runner-up to Toledo’s Brandon Hawkins for both MVP and the scoring title. They also have top-15 scorers Cade Borchardt, Jacob Hayhurst, Max Andreev and Nolan Walker, a top-flight corps of defensemen and a formidable goaltending duo of Cale Morris and Jack LaFontaine.

Their coach, Tad O’Had, an Everblades assistant from 2013 to 2020, was runner-up for ECHL Coach of the Year this season behind the Greenville Swamp Rabbits’ Andrew Lord. 

O’Had, in his fourth season with Kansas City, did an exceptional job during the regular season in three key phases: 

First, he got terrific play from a bevy of rookies, such as Borchardt, Andreev, Kyle Jackson and Justin MacPherson.

Second, he kept the Mavericks motivated and improving even after they locked up the Mountain Division title with more than a month left.

Third, he had the Mavericks playing a style that wore opponents down, whether Kansas City was up or down on the scoreboard.

Coming into the postseason, there were some concerns, namely a weak schedule in the Mountain Division that included only six games against Idaho and none after January, and inconsistency on special teams, where the Mavericks ranked eighth on the power play (21.3%) and 13th on the penalty kill (79.3%).

The results in the postseason on special teams have been mixed. The power play ranks seventh (16.7%), but the penalty kill is second (92.9%), which is terrific, considering who they’ve played thus far. As for the strength of schedule, well, that was much ado about nothing.

The Mavericks dispatched the Tulsa Oilers in four games, which was no surprise, then they overwhelmed the Steelheads in five games. Taking down Toledo in six, though, that was masterful because the teams were similar in so many facets – dangerous in transition, opportunistic, deep – but Kansas City’s execution was cleaner in most departments, especially goaltending.

Toledo fans will, no doubt, remind you that playmaking forwards Trenton Bliss and Orrin Centazzo suffered injuries in Game 4. I’d remind them, Toledo played its best game of the series the next night, winning 3-1, and that the wild 3-4 format of the series should have benefitted the Walleye until they lost Games 1 and 2 at the Huntington Center.

Kansas City’s best work came in Game 1, a 3-2 victory cemented by a Hayhurst third-period goal that broke a 2-all tie, and Game 4, when Toledo squandered a 1-0 third-period lead by allowing a goal to Jake Jaremko and then, in overtime, to Cole Coskey.  

What stood out from those games is that at no point did Kansas City look unsure about what the outcome would be. Good teams find a way to scrap out a win, and the Mavericks do that time and time again by gluing themselves to opposing forwards and pouncing on the smallest opportunities.

What Needs To Happen Next For the Mavericks?

The best player in the Kansas City-Toledo series was LaFontaine, who won Games 2, 4 and 6, stopping 97.2% of the shots he faced. Cale Morris stopped 90.2% of the shots he faced. If O’Had continues alternating goalies, which he’s done with only one exception in the Idaho series, we’ll see Morris in Game 1.

The Mavericks are going to have to keep getting great goaltending against a Florida team that’s persistent offensively – Bobo Carpenter leads Florida in scoring with eight goals and 15 points in the playoffs – and has had the best defense in the entire ECHL playoffs, allowing only 2.06 goals per game. It helps that the Everblades have the league’s best big-game goaltender, Cam Johnson, who was Playoff MVP in 2022 and 2023.

One has to wonder if O’Had will stick with the goalie platoon, because it historically has not worked for championship teams. That Alaska team in 2014 alternated goalies until the Kelly Cup Finals, then road Gerald Coleman to the six-game victory over Cincinnati.

Kansas City’s offense ranks second in the playoffs with 3.67 goals per game, paced by Jeremy McKenna’s eight goals and 17 points in 15 games. Against Toledo, he had four goals and nine points, but McKenna and the rest of the Kansas City offense likely are going to face a more physical onslaught from the Everblades than anything the teams in the Western Conference playoffs threw at them, and they’re going to have go get Curry and Andreev gong more offensively. 

Kansas City might be able to use Florida’s physical aggressiveness to its advantage; Florida is averaging 16.33 penalty minutes per game, almost twice as many as Kansas City.

But Florida is a smart team with a lot of proven winners – such as Joe Pendenza and Logan Lambdin – and it has the ECHL’s most respected coach, Brad Ralph, who mentored O’Had from 2016 to 2020. 

The thing Ralph does best is play the long game. It’s how he got his team primed to upset every opponent the Everblades faced in the 2023 playoffs. It’s how he got this year’s team playing great hockey at the right time again this season.

Florida has taken down some good foes in this postseason – Jacksonville, Orlando and Adirondack – but Kansas City is a different animal altogether. Will it be one that can do what Idaho and Toledo have failed to do in recent years, follow the Brabham Cup with the Kelly Cup? Only time will tell.

How Can I Watch The ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs?

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Kelly Cup Finals Schedule

Kansas City Mavericks (66-15-6) Vs. Florida Everblades (52-22-9)

Game 1 – Friday, May 31 at 7:05 p.m. CT at Kansas City
Game 2 – Saturday, June 1 at 7:05 p.m. CT at Kansas City
Game 3 – Wednesday, June 5 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Florida
Game 4 – Friday, June 7 at 7:30 p.m. ET at Florida
Game 5 – Saturday, June 8 at 7:00 p.m. ET at Florida *
Game 6 – Monday, June 10 at 7:05 p.m. CT at Kansas City *
Game 7 – Wednesday, June 12 at 7:05 p.m. CT at Kansas City *

* - If Necessary

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