The ECHL schedule-makers knew what they were doing in the offseason.
Already pitting the Quad-City Mallards and Fort Wayne Komets against each other 12 times this season, the league also set up a playoff preview, scheduling a home-and-home series between the teams Friday and Saturday.
The Mallards host the Komets on Friday at 7:05 p.m., then travel to Fort Wayne to play the Komets on Saturday at 6:30 p.m. The two teams open their best-of-seven playoff series next Friday.
Though neither team has anything left to play for in terms of seeding or playoff positioning, the momentum that's up for grabs gives the Mallards all the motivation they need.
"Like it's a playoff game, both of them," forward Justin Kovacs said. "We want to play as well as we can and go into the playoff series with some confidence."
The Mallards have gone 4-6-0 against the Komets this season, but have won the last three meetings, including a 4-3 overtime win on March 24. If the Mallards sweep the weekend, they'll even up the series, which is big for the confidence of the team heading into the playoffs.
"I think we just go at it with the mentality that we want to win, you don't want to change that going into the playoffs," Kovacs said. "We don't really have much to play for but we want to have that confidence going into the playoffs and want to put together a 60-minute game."
The Mallards are trying to balance keeping that competitive momentum going into the playoffs along with getting healthy. Grant Arnold, Alex Petan, Brady Brassart, Josh MacDonald and Adam Gilmour all missed Tuesday's game against the Indy Fuel, though Pavel Jenys returned after missing the last 24 games and the Mallards also received defenseman Dylan Labbe from the Iowa Wild on Wednesday.
Still, the team plans to go as full bore as possible this weekend.
"I don't think it changes," head coach Phil Axtell said. "They're going to come out and play hard, we're going to have to come out and play hard and I think it sets the tone moving into the first round."
Playoff tickets to go on sale: Playoff tickets for the first round of the playoffs between the Quad-City Mallards and Fort Wayne tickets go on sale Friday at 10 a.m. Fans can purchase tickets at the iWireless Center box office, or Ticketmaster outlets. Tickets are available for $10, $16, $20, $24 and $30.
Francis says goodbye to Aces: Saturday's win over Alaska was slightly bittersweet for Mallards captain Chris Francis. He scored a goal in the game, likely to be his last against his former team, as the Aces are ceasing operations following this season.
Francis played one season with Alaska, scoring 26 goals and adding 36 assists in 69 games with the Aces in the 2014-15 season.
"It's sad. I really did enjoy my time there," he said. "The organization treated me unbelievable. I have nothing bad to say about that organization. They've always been a good team, great fans and it's sad to see them come to an end but they had a really good run."
With the Aces now one game back of a playoff spot heading into the final games, there's a strong chance that this Saturday might be the last game ever for Alaska. If that's the case, Francis was glad he had one last chance to face his former team and see some familiar faces.
"I was glad to see (head coach Rob) Murray on the bench again and got to see (Aces equipment manager Michael Burkhead) back there," he said. "It was good to see them again and I wish them nothing but the best."
Brampton clinches first ECHL playoff spot: The Brampton Beast clinched their first-ever ECHL playoff spot with a 5-2 win Saturday over the Reading Royals. The Beast last made the playoffs in 2014 as members of the Central Hockey League. Colin Chaulk has been the head coach the last two seasons, going 23-38-11 in his first year and then engineering a turnaround to post a 38-23-8 record heading into Wednesday's game with the Wheeling Nailers.
Courville fired in Reading: The Reading Royals fired head coach Larry Courville on Monday, one day after Courville led the Royals to their eighth consecutive playoff appearance. The Royals promoted assistant Kirk MacDonald to replace him.
Courville had already decided in February he was going to leave the team when his contract expired following the season, and the team had originally planned to keep him in place until the completion of the playoffs.
Courville has been head coach of the Royals since January 2009 and led the Royals to their only Kelly Cup four years ago and has the second-most wins with one team in ECHL history. He was 343-212-56 all-time with the Royals.
Central dominates all-rookie team: The ECHL released its all-rookie team Wednesday and four of the six selections came from the Central Division.
Toledo led the way with three selections — defenseman Nolan Zajac and forwards Tylor and Tyson Spink — while Fort Wayne forward Mike Cazzola was also named.
Zajac has scored 10 goals and added 37 points with a plus-26 rating in 58 games, Tylor Spink has scored 27 goals and added 45 assists in 63 games while Tylor Spink has scored 33 goals — tops among rookies — and added 39 assists in 66 games.
Cazzola scored 27 goals and has 45 assists in 64 games as all three forwards are tied for the scoring lead with 72 points.
Wheeling defenseman Kevin Schulze and Idaho Steelheads goalie Landon Bow were also recognized. Schulze leads rookie defensemen with 57 points in 65 games. He has scored 12 goals and added 45 assists this season.
Bow is 18-6-2 and leads all goaltenders with a 2.17 goals against average and is second with a .931 save percentage.
Players of the week: Florida Everblades forward Brendan O'Donnell was named the Sher-Wood Hockey player of the week after scoring three goals and adding six assists with a plus-5 rating in three games last week.
Indy Fuel goaltender Eric Levine was named the CCM goaltender of the week after going 2-0-0 with a 1.44 goals against average and a .958 save percentage in three appearances last week.