Battle for Turner Cup down to Four Teams
The IHL’s Eastern and Western Conference Finals are now well underway. There could, potentially be a rematch of the Chicago-Grand Rapids final that we witnessed last season as both teams are still alive and well. Let’s take a look at the match-ups and quickly summarize how each team advanced.In the East, Grand Rapids swept Cleveland aside in four straight games. The Griffins, the IHL’s top team this season continue to ice a lineup that consists of a nice blend of youth and veteran talent. Chris Neil and Petr Schastlivy consist of the former while David Oliver, John Gruden, Todd White and Kip Miller have all spent a decent length of time in the NHL.The Orlando Solar Bears carried their momentum from a solid second half of the season to roll over the Cyclones in five games. They are a very offensive-minded group that relies on league-MVP Norm Maracle to provide a solid final line of defence. Top players are Curtis Murphy, Todd Richards, J.P. Vigier, Hugo Boisvert, Brian Pothier and Jarrod Skalde.
The Solar Bears won the first game of this series 4-3 in triple overtime. The Griffins then rebounded with a 4-2 win in game two. And, Orlando bounced back for a 5-3 win in game three. The series now switches back to Grand Rapids for the next two games as arena booking conflicts called for a 1-2-2-1-1 format rather than the usual 2-2-1-1-1. Expect Mike Fountain to redeem himself in game four after a poor showing in game three and look for the Griffins to take this series.In the West, Chicago rolled over Milwaukee in five games. Manitoba fell behind 3-1 to Houston before miraculously stringing together two straight double-overtime wins and three in a row to advance. These two lineups are steeped in veteran talent. The Moose are led offensively by Steve Brule, Brett Hauer and Rusty Fitzgerald and rely on the combination of Ken Wregget and Jeff Salajko between the pipes.To take a page out of the Dallas Star’s book, you may call the entire Wolves squad the “grumpy old men.” After starting the season miserably, Chicago had a strong second half to win the division. They are led by Rob Brown, Steve Larouche, Steve Maltais, Jesse Belanger, Glen Featherstone, Dallas Eakins, Wendell Young, et al. These guys definitely know what it takes to get the job done.
After Manitoba won the first game of the series, Chicago stormed back to take game two 5-0. It has been a good run for the Moose after they lost key players Scott Thomas, Johan Hedberg, Philippe Boucher and John MacLean to NHL clubs down the stretch. However, their emotional victory in the first round must have sapped some of the energy the Wolves now have in reserve after a decent break between rounds. Expect the Wolves to move on once again.Therefore, by my predictions, it looks like we will see a rematch of last year’s Turner Cup Finals. Time will tell.