While the rest of the hockey world has gone crazy with upsets in their respective leagues, the Federal Hockey League went down the more traditional path, with its two best teams earning sweeps, hard-fought sweeps, but sweeps nonetheless, to set up the Commissioner’s Cup Final that we all sort of knew was coming.
And let’s be honest, unless you’re a fan of Port Huron or Watertown, we all wanted to see the Carolina Thunderbirds and Elmira Enforcers square off in the final for a wide range of reasons.
As we noted above, these were the two best teams during the regular season, and the only two teams during the year that posted a positive goal differential, and it’s probably no coincidence that these were the two best teams in the league in terms of goals against. To give you an idea of how far ahead of the rest of the league these teams were on defense and in goal, Elmira gave up 173 goals this year, the team that gave up the third-most goals this year gave up 256, and difference of 83 goals. Meanwhile, Carolina gave only 116 goals this year, the fewest in league history.
But don’t think there won’t be offense in this series, because Carolina boasts arguably the deepest offense in league history, led by league MVP Josh Pietrantonio and his 83 points. The Enforcers counter with the FHL’s all-time leading scorer, Ahmed Mafouz, who had 82 points in just 37 games this year. Again, there is a reason these were the only two teams with a positive goal differential, and it’s because they are the most well-rounded, complete teams the FHL had to offer this year.
And then there’s the storylines each team is trying to finalize in this series. For Carolina, winning the Commissioner’s Cup would put a cap on what is likely the greatest season by any team in FHL history. One that has seen a record winning streak, the record for most wins in a season, and the record for highest points percentage in a season. A title would basically leave no room for anyone to argue that any other team in FHL history was better.
For Elmira, it’s about proving they can actually beat Carolina, and having a chance to cap what might be the best expansion season from any team in league history. Elmira has been great this year, going 33-25 overall during the regular season, but were absolutely paddled by the Thunderbirds during the regular season, with the Birds posting a 13-0-0-1 against the Enforcers. But if you’re Elmira, you point at that and say, “Yeah it was an ugly mark, but only two of those 13 losses were by more than two goals, and six of those losses were by one goal.” They can most definitely hang with Carolina, and in a short five-game series, maybe they end up getting the one or two bounces needed to take down the giant.
But beyond all the on-ice talent these teams boast, it’s turned into one of the most intense rivalries in recent memory in the FHL.
Flat out, these teams do not like each other. From the coaches, to the players, to the broadcasters, and down to the fans, this series is going to get nasty.
Let’s not forget that these were the two teams involved in the game that gave the FHL national attention this year, when Enforcers owner Robbie Nichols pushed a ref following a hotly contested first period in Game 3 of a three-game weekend. The teams have played since then in a two-game set that was for the most part uneventful, but put a title on the line, as well as bragging rights for the year, and who knows what fireworks we might see between these two teams.
And now we get up to five uninterrupted games between these two teams, in what could be the most exciting, and drama filled championship series the league has ever had. From a pure entertainment standpoint, this is the best and really only series we as fans of hockey could have hoped for.
Game 1: Friday, April 19 at Carolina – 7:35 PM EDT
Game 2: Saturday, April 20 at Carolina – 6:05 PM EDT
Game 3: Friday, April 26 at Elmira – 7:05 PM EDT
Game 4: Saturday, April 27 at Elmira – 7:05 PM EDT (if necessary)
Game 5: Tuesday, April 30 at Carolina – 7:35 PM EDT (if necessary)