There were several candidates – including Dylan Ferguson, Anthony Nellis, Brandon Hawkins and Alan Lyszczarczyk – and that was a testament to the Komets' depth.
It truly did seem that every night, a different player would step up and take the spotlight.
Ultimately, it was Stephen Harper, a rookie forward, who stole the show. He was selected the Playoffs MVP by the ECHL staff, after he totaled six goals and 13 points in 12 postseason games – none better than what he did Friday with two goals in a 2-1 victory that captured the Komets the Kelly Cup as ECHL champions.
“It hasn't really sunk in yet, to be honest,” Harper said. “I just wanted to go out there and help this team win. It's my first championship and I just tried to do my part.”
The Komets ousted the South Carolina Stingrays 3-1 in a best-of-5 series.
On Friday, in front of 10,477 raucous fans, Harper scored 8:16 into the second period by flicking a 12-foot shot above goaltender Hunter Shepard, who had just made a flurry of saves. Harper made it 2-0 at 15:30, accepting a Randy Gazzola cross-ice pass and blasting a slapshot into the top of the net.
Harper was foiled later on a breakaway by Shepard, who stopped 23 of 25 shots, but the rookie out of Acadia University in Wolfville, Nova Scotia, had already provided the necessary offense.
Especially since Ferguson was on his game, stopping 26 of 27 shots, his only error allowing a Justin Florek shot to get past him 17:56 into the second period.
“I think we were tentative in the first 20 minutes,” Fort Wayne coach Ben Boudreau said. “The atmosphere was absolutely incredible. We just made sure that we were living in the moment, shift by shift. It was a next-man-up mentality, a lot of emotions at stake there, but it was the same game plan we had all year – take everything a day at a time, a shift at a time, and we just found a way to battle all the way to the very end.”
Nellis was also a revelation in the postseason, totaling eight goals and 13 points in 13 games. Lyszczarczyk had three goals and 11 points in 11 games, and could go down as the centerpiece of the greatest trade in team history – he was acquired from the Tulsa Oilers for Curtis Leonard, a defenseman who couldn't break into the lineup.
Hawkins' hat trick in Game 1 of the series, a lopsided 7-2 victory in North Charleston, South Carolina, helped him to six goals and 11 points in 13 postseason games. But the Playoff MVP selection probably came down to Harper and Ferguson, the Vegas Golden Knights prospect who reignited his young career with this postseason run, going 8-4 with a 2.93 goals-against average, a .907 save percentage and a 29-save shutout against the Wichita Thunder in the first round.
Ironically, the one game Harper sat out – Game 2 against the Allen Americans – was probably the most pivotal one of the season. Having already lost the series opener, the Komets were down three goals in the third period but came back to win 5-4 in overtime on a Morgan Adams-Moisan redirection of an Oliver Cooper shot. After that game, the Komets lost only once, in Game 2 against the Stingrays.
“I remember, I was in the stands for Game 2 at Allen and that big comeback, and it was unbelievable,” Harper said. “I remember going to (teammate Matthew) Boudens in the locker room and being like, 'To get that OT series winner in Wichita and then to have this comeback, there's something special in this room.' I just knew we were going to pull it off.”
He had four goals in the finals and joined other playoff MVP from Fort Wayne: Pokey Reddick (1993), Tom Lawson (2003), Justin Hodgman (2008), David Hukalo (2009), Matt Syroczynski (2010) and Mike Vaskivuo (2012), though no MVP trophy was awarded for the Komets' titles in 1963, 1965 and 1973.