BY MIKE GRIFFITH Californian staff writer firstname.lastname@example.org
For the franchise as a whole, this is unchartered waters. The first time the Condors have advanced to the ECHL Western Conference Finals.
A showdown with the Alaska Aces, who had the best regular-season record in the Western Conference and steamrolled over Las Vegas and Idaho, 8-1 overall, to reach this point.
But the Condors, who finished sixth, have never felt they were a sixth seed.
Since rebounding from a 1-10-1 start, the Condors have been one of the best teams in the conference as they clawed their way out of the basement. They finished the season winning six of their last seven games and reached this point by beating Utah and Stockton, going 4-1 in each series.
Now they have the opportunity to prove they are the best as they begin the best-of-seven series on Friday night on the Olympic-sized ice at Sullivan Arena in Anchorage.
While certainly respectful of the Aces, the Condors are not in awe of them or the over-sized ice they will be playing on.
Just another set of obstacles to overcome in a season that has had many.
"We're going to have to keep playing our game which is very structured, and take advantage of the opportunities we do get and stick to our game," Condors defenseman Erik Burgdoerfer said. "We can't worry too much about what they're going to do up there."
The Aces certainly have a built-in advantage with the larger ice surface, but Condors coach Troy Mann said the Condors simply have to adapt and adjust.
"For a team that doesn't go up there very regularly, you gotta go up there and just kind of work at it and make some adjustments on the fly," he said. "You've certainly got to play a different way, but it's like anything. Think about the Olympics, the Canada and U.S. going over there and making the adjustments. Unfortunately, we don't have a tremendous amount of time to make those adjustments."
The Condors are 1-1 at home against the Aces this season and just 1-5 in Anchorage. That lone win came at the end of a three-game set in early March with Joel Broda, Jordan Knackstedt and Wes Cunningham all out of the lineup.
"We had a lot of offensive power out of the lineup, but when you look at how we played 5-on-5 there, I'm certainly encouraged," Mann said. "It's the special trams that did us in."
The Aces are averaging a league-high 3.80 goals per game thus far in the playoffs, thanks in part to a potent power play -- a league-best 22.9 percent overall and a whopping 27.8 on their home ice.
"We've dissected the numbers this week, It's going to be a test," Mann said. "Our penalty kill has been great all year. We certainly had a little bit of a hiccup up there, but Collins missed a game, Broda hasn't even played there. We'll be fine.
"And it's playoffs. Everybody is motivated."