KALAMAZOO — After knocking off the Wheeling Nailers in the first round of the ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs, the Kalamazoo Wings have spent this week preparing for their second round matchup with the South Carolina Stingrays.
Finishing in fourth place in the South Division, the seventh-seeded Stingrays trailed the K-Wings by a mere three points overall on the season. The two teams split their four regular season meetings, with the K-Wings winning two in Charleston and the Stingrays winning two in Kalamazoo.
With nearly a week in-between games, Bootland said that the team has had plenty of time to get reacquainted with the Stingrays.
“We really focused in on South Carolina this week,” Bootland said. “And then once we got through them and broke them down then that’s enough. Then the rest of the focus is on us and what we need to do to prepare.”
If the Stingrays’ first round series with the Gwinnett Gladiators is any indication, the K-Wings could be in for a grueling stretch.
In their three wins over the Gladiators, each was won in overtime, with one of the games going to four overtimes. Each overtime period is 20 minutes long.
“We know we are playing a team that is obviously battle-tested,” Bootland said. “They’ve played what, seven periods of overtime hockey in a five-game series.”
While the K-Wings have not played in any overtime games this postseason, they did improve in one area in the last round that should help them going forward.
“I feel that we learned to play better in tight games,” Bootland said. “You’re going to have to play in one-goal games and in those situations. We did that a few times for long periods of time in that Wheeling series.”
Paying the price as a team will be key for the K-Wings if they want to find success against the Stingrays.
“They are a very strong defensive team. They do a fantastic job in front of their net, making it difficult to score goals,” Bootland said. “They are big in stature, so we have to make sure that our game plan is set and that we are willing to pay a price to score goals against them.”
Getting through the defense is just one step for the K-Wings. The next is the Stingrays’ goaltending.
“They’ve got great goaltending, no matter what goaltender is in net for them,” Bootland said. “The bodies in front of the net make it difficult. You’re not going to see a ton of odd man rushes. So you have to make sure that when you have an opportunity that you capitalize on it.”
The K-Wings have the home ice advantage in this series, which is nice, but home ice does not mean a guaranteed win for either team. With the size advantage that the Stingrays hold over the K-Wings, Bootland feels that they are probably excited to come into Wings Stadium. “They are going to come in here, bang and crash and make things difficult for us, Bootland said. “And when we go down there, there is a little more room for our skill set.”
Either way, the K-Wings have their work cut out for them.
“It’s a combination of both, you know,” Bootland said, “we can play well at home and we can play well on the road, but it’s going to be a huge test for us.”
With the time off between games, Bootland points to the first 10 minutes of Friday’s game as key for the team. “We have to make sure the guys are doing a little extra to make sure we are prepared as a group and as individuals to make sure that we don’t come out sluggish on Friday night.”
The two teams kick off the second round of the ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs this Friday and Saturday night at Wings Stadium. Both games begin at 7:30 p.m.
K-Wings News and Notes
Haczyk returns: Forward Bryan Haczyk, who was called up to the Albany Devils late in the regular season, has returned to the team. In 63 games with the K-Wings, Haczyk scored 15 goals and 11 assists. To make room for Haczyk the K-Wings placed Prab Rai on reserve.
Player of the Month: Nick Sirota was named as the Reebok ECHL Player of the Month for March. In 15 games, Sirota scored 10 goals and seven assists. During that time, Sirota scored at least a point in 13 of 15 games and had a nine-game goal-scoring streak, which tied for the sixth-longest in the ECHL’s 24-year history.