ECHL Playoff Preview: Wichita Thunder vs. Fort Wayne Komets
The first round of the 2020-21 ECHL playoffs get underway starting on Tuesday when the Wichita Thunder take on the Fort Wayne Komets in the Western Conference semifinals.
This is only the second playoff appearance for Wichita since joining the ECHL. Their last trip was back in 2018. This is the seventh consecutive year that Fort Wayne has made the playoffs.
The Tale of the Tape:
(overall ranking in the ECHL is listed in parenthesis)
Record: 41-22-8 (third)
Home Record: 19-12-4
Away Record: 22-10-4
Last 10 Games: 4-6-0
Goals Per Game: 3.07 (fifth)
Goals Allowed Per Game: 2.68 (second)
Power-play: 14.3% (13th)
Penalty-killing: 86.4% (second)
Team Leader Goals: Matteo Gennaro (26)
Team Leader Assists: Anthony Beauregard (49)
Team Leader Points: Anthony Beauregard (71)
Team Leader Penalty Minutes: Jacob Graves, Mathieu Gagnon (113)
Team Leader Goals Against Average: Evan Buitenhuis (.931)
Team Leader Wins: Evan Buitenhuis, Evan Weninger (16)
Team Leader Save Percentage: Alex Sakellaropoulos (.934)
Fort Wayne Komets:
Record: 29-17-5 (fifth)
Home Record: 16-8-0
Away Record: 13-9-5
Last 10 Games: 4-5-1
Goals Per Game: 3.33 (second)
Goals Allowed Per Game: 2.67 (first)
Power-play: 25.9% (first)
Penalty-killing: 86.8% (first)
Team Leader Goals: Brandon Hawkins (23)
Team Leader Assists: Randy Gazzola (29)
Team Leader Points: Brandon Hawkins (39)
Team Leader Penalty Minutes: Morgan Adams-Moisan (123)
Team Leader Goals Against Average: Dylan Ferguson (1.96)
Team Leader Wins: Dylan Ferguson, Stefanos Lekkas, Robbie Beydoun, Justin Kapelmaster (7)
Team Leader Save Percentage: Dylan Ferguson, Robbie Bedoun (.920)
Fort Wayne: 1-2-0
May 21 – Wichita 1, Fort Wayne 2
May 22 – Wichita 4, Fort Wayne 2
May 23 – Wichita 3, Fort Wayne 1
Fort Wayne enters the playoffs as one of the best all-around teams in the league. They were second in goals scored and first in goals allowed and were first on both the power-play and when killing penalties. So, this is a very formidable team to say the least.
The point totals are dwarfed in comparison to Wichita, but that is primarily due to the fact that the team played about 25 games less than the Thunder did. They have some scoring punch, as Brandon Hawkins scored 23 goals in 37 games and posted a 1.05 points per game average.
Dylan Ferguson will be the guy between the pipes for Fort Wayne, and he has been outstanding. In 11 games he went 7-3-1 with a 1.96 GAA, so the Thunder are going to have their work cut out for them. In his one game against Wichita, he allowed a single goal in the 2-1 victory back on May 21.
Wichita was led by Anthony Beauregard, but he sat out the last couple of weeks of the season and the Thunder struggled. This team truly moves the direction of their forward, and when he is not in the lineup, they are simply not the same. Beauregard finished with 71 points, and would have won the league scoring title had he not missed nine games.
Wichita goes three lines deep, as the line of Spencer Dorowicz–Brayden Watts–Stephen Johnson is excellent defensively and can score goals. Matteo Gennaro led the team with 26 goals and the additions of the four sent down by the Toronto Marlies (Bobby McMann, Gordie Green, Noah Hoefenmayer, and Jeremy McKenna) adds a lot of talent, but this team still needs Beauregard to win.
Evan Buitenhuis has arguably become the best goaltender in the ECHL since joining Wichita. His story is a spectacular one, and he has gone 16-6-4 with a 2.29 GAA since joining the team. He is capable of stealing this entire series for the Thunder if they need him.
On paper, the Komets should dominate the series. They are first or second in most offensive and defensive categories, and they have the top goalie in terms of stats in the playoffs. However, playoff series are not won on paper, and the Thunder have proven that they can win in Fort Wayne.
The interesting thing about this series is that it’s a weakness against weakness and strength against strength. Fort Wayne has not been very good on the road, but Wichita has not been great at home. The Komets have been spectacular at home, and Wichita was the best road team in the regular season. This should make for an interesting series.
Take Wichita to win in four.
By Robert Pannier