The majority of the franchise’s player names and faces are ever-changing, but the winning remains a constant for the Central Hockey League’s Allen Americans.
Allen, a third year franchise and affiliate of the NHL’s Colorado Avalanche and the AHL’s Lake Erie Monsters, overcame the early-season hurdle of playing 10 of its first 15 games on enemy ice through November to perch just one point out of first place atop the Berry Conference standings on Super Bowl Sunday. Their impressive surge included a stretch primarily at home in the plush Allen (Texas) Event Center in which they captured seven of eight contests in late-January and early-February. As a result, they had first placed Wichita locked squarely in their sights while creating some daylight (11 points) between themselves and the third place Texas Brahmas.
The 14-team CHL is a Double-A caliber circuit positioned one rung below the American Hockey League and two skate strides from the National Hockey League.
General Manager and Head Coach Dwight Mullins’s skaters were playing a dominant style of hockey that kept opponents back on their skates. Mullins, who likes to send three and four forward lines in waves to simply wear down opposing defenses and goaltenders, has celebrated 114 victories against 43 losses and 15 overtime losses (a 73.1 winning percentage) as the club’s only bench boss and GM since they first hit the ice for the 2009-2010 CHL campaign.
Under his strong, keen guidance (and that of Assistant Coach Bill McDonald), Allen celebrated its inaugural season by recording a very strong 2nd place finish (42-17-5) in the CHL’s Southern Division. They followed with an exhilarating post season run that brought them to within an overtime goal of a Game 7 Ray Miron President’s Cup Finals winner-take-all match against Rapid City.
For an encore last season, they amassed an amazing 47-16-3 win-loss-overtime loss slate and a league-best 97-point performance before bowing in the second round of the post-season.
Only three players have worn Americans colors in each of the club’s three seasons — forwards Bruce Graham, Colton Yellow Horn and Jarret Lukin. The trio has consistently blended with a new mix of talented forwards, defensemen and goalies each of the last two seasons. As a result, Allen has won at such a steady pace that the Amerks surpassed the impressive milestone of 100 franchise victories in mid-December.
Their accomplishment is all the more amazing when you consider the frequent purging of a roster that has been relieved of four players by AHL franchises this season alone – defenseman Scott Langdon and goalie James Reid to Lake Erie, blueliner Mike Berube to the Texas Stars and standout netminder Marco Cousineau to the Syracuse Crunch.
While this is a bittersweet compliment that certainly credits the franchise as an impressive developer of talent, it conversely weakens the Amerks at keys junctures of the regular season. Thankfully for Allen’s growing, enthusiastic and knowledgeable fan base, Mullins and McDonald have proven quiet adept at filling the gaps with skaters who make strong contributions.
The Americans thought they had lost their latest standout puck stopper, Rejean Beauchemin, who was called up by San Antonio of the AHL the first week of February. But after playing in one game – a tryout — for the Rampage, he was returned to Allen and promptly backstopped 3-2 and 5-1 home ice victories February 3 and 4 over the Tulsa Oilers.
In late-January, Beauchemin posted consecutive shutouts over Arizona and Wichita, and was less than three minutes from another whitewash in the February 4 triumph. At one point, Beauchemin – who aggressively challenges shooters zeroing in on him during odd-man rushes and reacts quickly on deflections and bouncing pucks — had recorded 177 minutes of scoreless hockey.
In addition to the Oakley Goalie of the Week honoree for January 23-29, local fans had plenty of other Americans skaters to cheer for as well.
Graham, the 6-foot-6 behemoth who has the talent and skating ability dominate a game by himself, ranked 2nd in league scoring with 58 points (25 goals). He single-handedly lifted the club in a 4-1 victory Jan. 29 game against visiting Rio Grande Valley, setting up one goal and scoring two more in the 3rd period.
Also ranking among the league’s scoring leaders are former Texas Brahmas standout Jason Deitsch (34 assists and 44 points) and Yellow Horn (19 goals, 43 points), who scored twice in the Feb. 3 win and set up a pair of 1st period Brian McMillin goals in the 5-1 triumph less than 24 hours later.
First year Allen’ skaters Jim McKenzie (15 goals, 35 points), Nick Layton (11 goals, 31 points), and Keith Johnson (10 goals, 24 points) have combined with holdover Lukin (16 goals, 31 points) have provided balanced scoring through the lineup.
In addition, second year American McMillin (10 goals, 29 points) and recent acquisitions Jeff Martens (7 goals, 12 points after being acquired from the Arizona Sundogs) and Mark Nebus (4 goals, 7 points after arriving from the Laredo Bucks) have also made measurable contributions, while hard-nosed Brett Clouthier (111 penalty minutes) has kept opponents honest.
Along the blue line, Tyler Ludwig, son of former Dallas Star and NHL standout blueliner Craig Ludwig, has posted a plus-16 to go with 19 assists and 21 points. (His twin brother, defenseman Trevor, is rehabbing a knee injury that ended his season after 13 games; he expects to be ready for next season’s training camp). Fellow defensive standouts include hard-hitting Dominic D’Amour (plus-8, 76 penalty minutes), Joshua Hepditch (plus-14), Trevor Hendrikx (plus-6, 95 PIM), Dylan King (plus-6, a second year American), and Matt Register (plus-6).