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Published: Wednesday, 4/2/2003

Storm unfazed by Brabham jinx

BY DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITER

It's the East Coast Hockey League's most prized regular-season award.

Presented to the team that accumulates the most points from October to March, the Brabham Cup is the symbol of excellence for the 27-team league.

If you're superstitious, it's also the ECHL's most unlucky form of recognition.

Only once in the 14-year history of the league has a franchise won the Brabham Cup and the post-season championship in the same season. Tonight at the Sports Arena, the Storm begins its quest to join the 1996-97 South Carolina Stingrays and collect both pieces of hardware.

Toledo hosts Lexington at 7 in Game No. 1 of the best-of-five Northwest Division Kelly Cup semifinal series.

“Oh, really?” Storm netminder Doug Teskey said when informed of the Brabham Cup's history. “I don't think it'll faze us one bit. It's a challenge. I don't think a little statistic is going to get in the way of our ultimate goal.”

A statistical comparison between Toledo and the first team that stands in the way of the ultimate goal shows that, aside from overall records, there's not much difference between the two teams.

Lexington finished fourth in the division this season with a record of 34-31-7. Toledo was 47-15-10. Head-to-head, the Storm was 5-3-1 against the visitors, but 3-1-1 at the Sports Arena, where Toledo lost just three times in regulation.

The goaltending tandem of Mike Smith and Dan Murphy leads Lexington.

“They're really defensive,” Storm defenseman Brandon Fleenor said. “We've had problems with that. We've struggled to score against them, especially in our rink.”

Toledo outscored Lexington 14-12 in the five games at the Sports Arena this season.

Because Lexington's Rupp Arena is booked, all five games of this series are set for 1 Main St.

“You never know how key home-ice advantage is going to be until you're there,” Storm forward Jim Brown said. “Then it's like, `Thank God we're home for this big game.' Especially when you're playing in an arena like we have with the fans that we have.

“I used to despise this town. I used to hate playing in this arena; now it's probably my favorite arena to play in. I imagine other teams are thinking the way I did.”

Toledo coach Claude Noel doesn't want his team thinking about anything but the task at hand.

“We will not underestimate them,” Noel said of Lexington. “If we need to raise our play in the first round, it will only make us better.”

Better to avoid the supposed curse of the Brabham Cup?

Said Teskey: “If anything, it's more motivation.”

CUP CLEANUP: It's no concidence that the Brabham Cup was in the locker room when the Storm returned from Wheeling Sunday night. Toledo earned the prize by virtue of a win over the Nailers and second-place Peoria's setback at home to Dayton.

Storm vice president and general manager Mike Miller had league officials ship the chalice here. He kept it at home in the event it was needed.

“It made no sense to me that it wasn't in Toledo or Peoria,” Miller said. “Since they weren't concerned about it, I was concerned about it. I wanted to have it here in case we won it.”

Before the team returned from West Virginia, cleanup work was done on the trophy named after Henry Brabham, one of the founders of the ECHL.

“I'm going to send the league office a bill for the Pledge and the metal polish I purchased,” Miller said, grinning.

“I had [assistant general manager] Tony Gill make up an invoice and we're going to shoot it out to them. I think they should take better care of their trophies.”

The invoice reads as follows:

Remove dings from Brabham Cup

Run through buffer

Spit shine

Total Charges = $350

League Discount = $0

TOP SCORER: Buddy Smith of the Arkansas RiverBlades won the ECHL scoring title.

Smith led the league with 74 assists and 104 points.

He had a career-high 30 goals.

No player from Toledo has ever won the Leading Scorer Award.

BEST PLUS: Columbia defenseman Dennis Vial and Pee Dee forward Mike Glumac were the league's Plus Performers of the Year.

Vial and Glumac tied with a plus/minus rating of plus-37.

Vial scored 22 points in 37 games while helping Columbia to the Southeast Division and Southern Conference titles.

Glumac led ECHL rookies with a team-high 37 goals and tied for the rookie lead with seven game-winning goals. He scored 69 points.



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