The defending Central Hockey League Ray Miron President’s Cup champion Allen Americans are not an easy team to quantify as the 2013-14 post-season gets underway. They did finish the regular season with a league-leading 249 goals, but their 214 goals allowed ranked 6th in the 10-team circuit.
Then there was the continuous retooling of the roster required by general manager and coach Steve Martinson due to injuries and American Hockey League call ups during the second half of the season. In fact, the New Year saw Allen go on a veritable roller coaster ride of success and slumps that left them in third place and looking at an opening round date with the 6th place and first-year Brampton Beast (Ont.). The teams split their six-game regular season series at three wins apiece, but have not seen each other since Dec. 21
In other CHL first round best-of-seven action, first place Missouri faces off against 8th place Arizona, second place Denver skates against 7th place Tulsa, and fourth place Quad City locks horns with fifth place Quad City.
Allen went out like a lamb as March ended, dropping two of its last three regular season games – all at home. The Americans finished with 39 victories for the third straight season and a respectable 83 points, but far short of the 2011-2012 team’s franchise record 47 wins and 97 points.
Conversely, the season-ending mini-slump came on the skate heels of 12 wins in 15 games from February 21 through March 23, which had followed a downturn that saw Allen lose seven of eight (including five straight) from January 31 to February 17.
The Americans (39-22-5) were served by youth throughout the season. CHL Rookie of the Year Alex Lavoie set a team first year skater scoring mark and led all league rookies with 76 points (including 25 goals), while newcomers Jonathan Lessard contributed 28 goals and 57 points and fellow rookie Spencer Asuchak (21 goals, 56 points) led the CHL with five shorthanded goals (an Allen single season mark).
“I really believe that we have the best young team in the league,” said Martinson, who guided Allen to its first President’s Cup title last season in his first year behind their bench. “Our kids played better as the season continued. We are also the most physical team in the league, and when you can be physical and also have a good offense, it makes for very entertaining and successful hockey.
“For awhile, we were among the best teams in the league, certainly the best roster,” added Martinson, who is assisted by former Dallas Stars Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Rich Matvichuk. “We need to return to that level, and I think we can do that in the playoffs.”
The Americans will begin defense of the Cup on Wednesday, April 2 and Thursday, April 3 at the Allen Event Center without Lavoie (25 goals, 76 points), who is with the AHL’s Oklahoma City Barons, Edmonton’s top farm team. “We’ll miss Alex, he’s been exactly what we thought he would be,” said Martinson, whose team eclipsed the franchise’s 200th victory. “Leading the league in rookie scoring and getting an opportunity to play at the American Hockey League level just reinforces our initial thoughts about his talent level.”
Allen will have standout CHL Most Outstanding Defenseman of the Year and Amerks power play quarterback Tyler Ludwig (the son of former Stars Stanley Cup-winning backliner Craig Ludwig). The righthanded-shooting Ludwig led the league’s defenders with 20 goals and 55 points (both new Americans single season marks) and established new Allen career scoring marks for a blueliner.
In addition, former Flyers farmhand Garrett Klotz set a new team mark with 257 penalty minutes, contributing to the Americans’ league-leading 1498 minutes in the sin bin (which pales in comparison to the 1570 last year’s championship squad had amassed).
The Americans, who had a CHL-leading seven players with 50+ points this season, will also get scoring from veterans such as Jamie Schaafsma (21, 55), and Gregor Hanson (21, 52). Schaafsma is a holdover from last year’s Cup team, while Hanson skated with the Wichita sextet that lost to the Americans in overtime of the 7th game last May.
Martinson was able to add several important and experienced players in forwards Brian McMillin, a key cog for the Cup-winning team who netted 13 goals and 31 points in 39 games after his mid-season signing, and the 6-foot-5 Bruce Graham (6 goals, 21 points in 15 games), a holdover from the five-year old franchise’s first three seasons. These additions helped fill the void left by injured players Darryl Bootland (34 points in just 45 games), who should be available for post-season goal-scoring duty.
The Americans will be without center Jarret Lukin, the unquestioned team leader of last year’s Cup-winning squad who has been out since Thanksgiving. Also missing due to injuries will be defenseman Trevor Ludwig (Tyler’s brother) and forward Phil Fox.
In goal, Allen will rely on Bryan Pitton, who was 27-10-4 with a shutout, a 2.75 goals against average and a .916 save percentage in 43 games. His backup is Willie Yanakeff, who was signed only last week and looked good in his only decision – a loss.