For the first time since 2015, the Federal Hockey League’s Commissioner’s Cup Finals will feature two teams who’ve never played one game in the final round before.
The seasoned-rookies of the Carolina Thunderbirds (second year), and the new-cops-on-the-block the Elmira Enforcers (first year). These two teams were the outright one-and-two teams all season, and it’s not surprise that they’ll have one final 2018-2019 meeting for Kirnan’s cup itself, the Commissioner’s Cup.
While neither team themselves have played for the cup, scattered across the roster and bench of both are those with experience in the final weekends, including the bench bosses of Andre Niec (2017 Runner-Up, Berlin) and Brent Clarke (2015 Champion, Watertown). Both Carolina (5-4, 3-2 vs. Port Huron) and Elmira (5-4, 7-4 vs. Watertown) swept their respective opponents in the First Round/Semi-Finals.
With two impressive regular seasons (Carolina 48W-1OTW-3OTL-6L, Elmira 28-5-5-20), we should definitely prepare for a fun-final.
Carolina won the season-series over Elmira in dominant-fashion, 13-0-1-0, where Carolina scored 42 goals to Elmira’s 19. Carolina shutout the Enforcers three times in their 14 meetings.
With all that in-mind, it’s time to take a look at the BLH Staff’s predictions for the 2019 Commissioner’s Cup Final!
Shawn – Carolina 3-0
This season has been a more-than-historic one not just for the Thunderbirds, but for the City of Winston-Salem, and the Federal Hockey League as a whole. With technically just nine losses the ENTIRE 58 game-season plus two playoff games, this team is on an absolute Andre Niec-fronted seek-and-destroy.
Elmira is a very talented team, and what they’ve been able to do this season as a franchise on-and-off the ice (sans one weekend) has been crucial for the League. With former-SPHLer Mitch Atkins – a gritty, strong-shooting forward – and one of the league’s top-goaltenders in Troy Passingham, there’s no doubt on the abilities of this roster. Brent Clarke has lead a team to the promised land before in the ’15 Wolves, but he’s never had as daunting a task in his coaching career as trying to figure out this Thunderbirds team. Anything can happen in the playoffs, but my expectation-level for the Enforcers is a hard-fought close series that ultimately ends up in an effort just-short.
Coach Niec has been to the Cup before and fallen. Coach Niec turns on the intensity-meter with his team to 11 when it comes to the Enforcers – so much so that he himself scored the game-winning “$25,000 Goal” against the team in the controversial game.
This is a Thunderbirds team of destiny, and the Winson-Salem flock has been waiting for so long to finally reached this promised land. With former-SPHL Player of the Week Beau Walker returned to the Thunderbirds ahead of the Finals after his call-up to the Peoria Rivermen, one of the top-goaltenders in league history in Christian Pavlas, and a core-group that is so tightly-knit and full of depth, it’s honestly so difficult to see this series going in any direction except for a sweep.
Elmira will be a championship team, but this year is not theirs. Not yet. This is the Year of the Thunderbird. This is the year that records continue to shatter for Carolina.
With a series-win, this would be the first FHL Championship for the Carolina Thunderbirds, but the Sixth [’83, ’85, ’86 ACHL Thunderbirds, ’88 AAHL Thunderbirds, ’89 ECHL Thunderbirds] under the moniker (and sixth hockey championship in Winston-Salem hockey history).
Ron – Carolina 3-1
I keep coming back to one stat: 13-0-0-1.
That was Carolina’s record against Elmira this season, a pretty dang good Elmira team in fact. But when you’ve just been dominated all season long, and the team that did that dominating went on to finish with the most wins, the highest points percentage, and gave up the fewest goals in league history, it’s insanely hard to pick against them.
Now, I know Elmira fans, players, media and whoever else will point out that six of those losses were by one goal, and 11 of the 13 losses were by two goals or less, but close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades, and at the end of the day, you lost 13 times in 14 attempts. That’s domination, even if the games were close along the way.
Now, this isn’t to say that this won’t be an entertaining or close series, but I think Carolina is just better in every way, and that gives them the edge. Yes, Elmira probably has the best offensive player in Ahmed Mafouz, but Carolina rolls out three lines that can all score and defend. Elmira has a solid defense and a pretty dang good goalie in Troy Passingham…but again, Carolina can basically send out three defensive pairs, including the Defenseman of the Year in Mike Baker, as well as the Goalie of the Year in Christian Pavlas.
I still think Elmira finds a way to win a game, and I think all four of the games will be within two goals, much like the regular season games were, but I think Carolina is too good, too deep, and too motivated to close out the best season in FHL history with a championship.
But, if there is a way for Elmira to win this thing, it’s going to take an all-world performance from both Mafouz and Passingham to do it.
Mat – Carolina 3-1
I think it goes four. Elmira pulls one game off, but realistically Carolina has owned them much of the season. Either way, the fans are in for a treat.
So there it is, our sure-fire, never-wrong FHL Commissioner’s Cup picks. What are your predictions for the series?