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UFHL Playoff Preview: Klein Cup Final Features Improbable Favourite as Rock Republic Faces Grizzlies

Updated: Jun 15, 2022

This is the final nobody saw coming — and the favourite nobody predicted!

In the UFHL, that is. Colorado and Tampa Bay were popular choices among NHL brackets — the Western Conference’s top seed against the two-time defending Stanley Cup champions, having finished second and eighth overall in the NHL’s regular season standings.

The UFHL also wound up with two Top 10 franchises facing off in the Klein Cup Final, where Rock Republic will have a significant manpower advantage over the Grizzlies — with or without Brayden Point and regardless of whether the Grizzlies get back Nazem Kadri — but the games will still be played on the ice, starting Wednesday alongside the Stanley Cup Final.

Rock Republic will be the betting favourite now, but nobody — or none of the 16 entrants in the third annual UFHL/NHL Playoff Pool — predicted this Newfoundland-based franchise to be a finalist as the Legends Conference champion. A handful — 7 of 16, to be exact — predicted the Grizzlies to get here as the Allan Conference champion but only one, the Grizzlies’ owner Connie Charanduk, had them winning the Klein Cup this year. And that appears unlikely, on paper — and based on the numbers’ game, with Rock Republic boasting five more forwards, three more defenders, and two more goaltenders for a total of 10 extra players on their roster.

Rock Republic will have a full lineup for the final — 14 forwards, seven defenders and two goaltenders — and had to make the difficult decision to leave off Corey Perry, opting to roll with Ondrej Palat and Valeri Nichushkin among their recruits from West Coast Express to fill empty roster spots following the conference finals. Rock Republic also added Nathan MacKinnon, Mikko Rantanen, Devon Toews and Victor Hedman as ringers through the UFHL’s innovative leasing system. The Grizzlies got Steven Stamkos, among five Tampa forwards, along with Erik Cernak and Zach Bogosian as blueliners from the Yetis after hanging on to eliminate them in a hard-fought conference final. But those reinforcements don’t stack up — in quality, besides Stamkos, nor in quantity — so Rock Republic will be heavily favoured as a result.

“Our group is excited to head to our first Klein Cup appearance in franchise history. It’s been a challenging three rounds thus far with some key injuries (Point & Girard) but our group has found a way to get the job done,” Rock Republic GM Kyle Roberts told the UFHL’s official Twitter account (@TheUFHL). “Facing off against one of the top teams in the UFHL (Grizzlies) may just be our toughest challenge yet, but we are confident in our group to bring the Klein Cup home to the rock (Newfoundland) — hometown of Alex Newhook, who is the face of the Rock Republic franchise, along with locals Dawson Mercer and Zach Dean!”

Both these franchises — who finished fifth (Grizzlies) and sixth (Rock Republic) in the regular season standings before winning three playoff rounds — are rostering primarily leased players for the Klein Cup Final. Rock Republic only have two of their own remaining — Newhook and Darren Helm as depth forwards for Colorado — while the Grizzlies are down to just Kadri, who is sidelined by injury and not expected to suit up for the Avs in the Stanley Cup Final. He had thumb surgery and is out indefinitely but had been a big impact player for both Colorado and the Grizzlies through three rounds, thus will be sorely missed as a tough loss at this time. But the Grizzlies will forge ahead, holding out hope for his return and hoping that the captains of both NHL clubs — Stamkos and Gabriel Landeskog — can somehow lead them to victory in this Klein Cup Final!

“We are excited to be in the Klein Cup Final after a disappointing loss to Red Army last year in the Division Final,” Grizzlies GM Andrea Charanduk said of bowing out to the eventual Klein Cup champions in 2021 after winning the regular season title (Founders’ Trophy) for the inaugural 2020 campaign. “It has not been an easy road these playoffs, as the Yetis gave us a battle in the Allan Conference Final — that series could have went either way! We know we are the underdogs against a powerful Rock Republic roster, but in no way are we counting ourselves out. We have some guys who have been producing steadily (Stamkos & Landeskog), and we are looking for that production to continue as we keep an eye on the status of Kadri’s injury, hoping he can give us a boost when/if he returns!”

The Allan Conference reps were bound to be underdogs after Colorado swept Edmonton, eliminating Draisaitl for the Grizzlies and McDavid for the Yetis — both of whom were loaded with Oilers. They would have been more evenly matched had the Rangers beat Tampa, which would have seen the Allan Conference champs backstopped by Igor Shesterkin with the likes of Mika Zibanejad, Chris Keider and Adam Fox in the fold. But without them and without a goaltender advancing to the final, the balance of power swung in favour of the Legends Conference, with Rock Republic already reaping the benefits of Andrei Vasilevskiy, Nikita Kucherov and Cale Makar from the previous round before getting MacKinnon, Rantanen and Hedman to put them over the top.

Forget the aforementioned manpower advantage and assume Point and Darcy Kuemper won’t be available for the final, Rock Republic would still be the favourite with those six stars headlining their roster. But barring another setback, Point should be good to go for Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final by the sounds of it, and not having to make a nightly goaltending decision with only one starter could be a blessing for Rock Republic, who would struggle to sabotage themselves through roster management. They should be able to ride it out and sail off into the sunset with the Klein Cup this summer!

Here is a recap of the third round results and a preview of the final round matchup with the updated bracket for the Klein Cup Playoffs:

Third Round Results

Allan Conference Final

G1) Grizzlies defeated L3) Yetis 238.81-231.51

Legends Conference Final

O2) Rock Republic defeated H2) West Coast Express 261.62-192.49

Final Round Matchup

Klein Cup Final

G1) Grizzlies vs. O2) Rock Republic

Here is a closer look at the finalists, with a roster comparison followed by a bit of analysis.

NOTE: These two finalists are leasing players from the 16 non-playoff franchises and the 14 franchises that were eliminated through three rounds (listed in parenthesis).

Klein Cup Final


Forwards (9)

Nazem Kadri – Colorado vs. Tampa Bay

Gabriel Landeskog – Colorado vs. Tampa Bay (Blades of Steel)

J.T. Compher – Colorado vs. Tampa Bay (Godfathers)

Artturi Lehkonen – Colorado vs. Tampa Bay (Red Army)

Steven Stamkos – Tampa Bay vs. Colorado (Dynasty)

Ross Colton – Tampa Bay vs. Colorado (Brutes)

Brandon Hagel – Tampa Bay vs. Colorado (Ice Vikings)

Patrick Maroon – Tampa Bay vs. Colorado (Stingrays)

Pierre-Edouard Bellemare – Tampa Bay vs. Colorado (Duckman’s Domination)

Defenders (4)

Bowen Byram – Colorado vs. Tampa Bay (Red Army)

Erik Johnson – Colorado vs. Tampa Bay (Mystics)

Erik Cernak – Tampa Bay vs. Colorado (Stingrays)

Zach Bogosian – Tampa Bay vs. Colorado (Stingrays)

Goaltenders (0)


Rock Republic

Forwards (14)

Alex Newhook – Colorado vs. Tampa Bay

Darren Helm – Colorado vs. Tampa Bay

Nathan MacKinnon – Colorado vs. Tampa Bay (Gators)

Mikko Rantanen – Colorado vs. Tampa Bay (Godfathers)

Valeri Nichushkin – Colorado vs. Tampa Bay (Royals)

Andre Burakovsky – Colorado vs. Tampa Bay (Titans)

Logan O’Connor – Colorado vs. Tampa Bay (Titans)

Nicolas Aube-Kubel – Colorado vs. Tampa Bay (Titans)

Nikita Kucherov – Tampa Bay vs. Colorado (Bentley Jacks)

Anthony Cirelli – Tampa Bay vs. Colorado (Monarchs)

Ondrej Palat – Tampa Bay vs. Colorado (Royals)