The Thorne Cup Playoffs are here. For the first time in two seasons, the Knights will play in the playoffs. Their opponent in the Western Division Quarterfinal is the Valencia Flyers, who finished six points above the Knights in the Western Division standings.
This series is a best-of-three that begins on Thursday, March 15, with all three games taking place in Valencia. The winner of the series will face either Long Beach or Ontario in the Western Division Semifinal, depending on the outcome of the other quarterfinal series between Fresno and San Diego.
First Round Opponent: Valencia Flyers
Valencia isn’t the same team that they were at the start of the season. The Flyers overhauled their roster before the trade deadline, shipping out eleven players. Those eleven players included their top goaltender, six of their top forwards and four of the top defensemen. They started making the trades in late-January/early-February and the team’s record since that time reflects the roster shakeup. Since February 1, Valencia is 4-11-1, including a 0-2-1 record against the Knights. All four of the Flyers’ wins in that stretch were against the last-place San Diego Sabers.
The Knights and Flyers played nine games against each other this season. Valencia won the first five, while Phoenix won the last four. Each team swept a series at AZ Ice Gilbert, and the Flyers took two-of-three on their home ice against the Knights in January.
Valencia has scored 43 goals against the Knights this season, but most of those have come from players no longer on their roster. Twenty-five of the 43 goals were scored by a now-former Valencia Flyer, leaving only 18 goals scored against Phoenix by current Flyers.
Knights Playoff History
Since changing their name from the Polar Bears to the Knights prior to the 2011-12 season, Phoenix has made the playoffs in four of their seven seasons. Twice, the Knights lost in the first round. In 2012-13, Phoenix was swept by the El Paso Rhinos, and in 2015-16 the Knights lost a decisive Game 3 against the Ontario Avalanche.
The most success Phoenix has had in the playoffs came in 2013-14, when the Knights entered the postseason as the regular-season division champions. They defeated the Boulder Bison (now Superior RoughRiders) and Colorado Jr. Eagles to punch their ticket to the Thorne Cup Finals in El Paso. Phoenix went 1-2-0 in the round robin, before dropping the semifinal game to El Paso, ending their season.
Players to Watch
1. Arunas Bermejo (15G, 35A in 47GP) – The former Flyer has enjoyed playing against Valencia this season. Bermejo has seven goals and eight assists against the Flyers in nine games. He’s also had five consecutive multi-point games against Valencia, dating back to his hat-trick against the Flyers on January 12.
2. Michael Caravella (13G, 38A in 46GP) – Caravella was on fire during the month of February. He had points in all nine games, which included three against the Flyers. Over that stretch the Knights captain had five goals and 14 assists, including two goals and five assists against Valencia.
3. Ian McCollum (18G, 11A in 24GP) – Phoenix acquired McCollum from El Paso before the showcase in December, and has since been one of their best offensive threats. That storyline was still the case in the six games he played against Valencia, as well. In those six games, McCollum had five goals and five assists.
1. Daniel Klinecky (20G, 31A in 51GP) – Klinecky is Valencia’s top scorer this season. The 20-year-old defenseman leads the team in goals, assists and points, ten points better than the second highest scorer on the team. He’s done well against the Knights this season, with two goals and three assists in the nine matchups. Klinecky ended the season on a six-game point streak, collecting six goals and four assists.
2. Dylan San Agustin (19G, 22A in 39GP) – San Agustin is second on the team in all scoring categories, despite missing twelve games this season. His best game against the Knights this season came in the first matchup of the season. San Agustin had a hat-trick in the Flyers big win, and ended the year with four goals and four assists against the Knights in seven games.
3. Jacob Ulestig (14G, 15A in 49GP) – Ulestig has been a middle of the pack scorer for the Flyers all season, except when it comes to games against Phoenix. In nine games against the Knights this season, the 19-year-old Swedish forward has six goals and an assist. Ulestig struggled to pick up points down the stretch, with just three assists in his final ten games.
Western Division Quarterfinal vs. Valencia Flyers (all games played at Ice Station Valencia)
Game 1: Thursday, March 15 at 7:15pm
Game 2: Friday, March 16 at 7:15pm
Game 3 (if necessary): Saturday, March 17 at 8:45pm