The Allen Americans began writing the prose for the tale of their exciting comeback in Game 3 at Odessa, and their raucous fans helped insert the exclamation point as the backdrop for a 3-1 victory in Game 5 of their Berry Conference Semifinal series on Friday night, April 22.
As a result, the regular season Central Hockey League points champion Amerks used the best-of-five games conquest to advance to the conference finals against Bossier-Shreveport (LA), a best-of-seven game affair that begins in Allen on Friday, April 29. Defending President’s Cup champion Rapid City, which upended Allen in six games last Spring, takes on Colorado in the Turner Conference Finals.
The series’ first victory by a home team was also Allen’s third triumph in four days as they stayed on track to battle for their second straight appearance in the finals of the Ray Miron Presidents Cup Playoffs.
“It was great to get this win in front of a full house of (4,912) home fans,” Allen Head Coach Dwight Mullins minutes after forward Colton Yellow Horn’s empty net goal with 29.2 seconds remaining ensured the team’s second consecutive playoff triumph over the Jackalopes. “(Our) fans were great tonight. This was probably the loudest it’s been in (the Allen Event Center) since we started the franchise (in 2009-2010).”
The Americans, who dropped the first two games of the series at home before winning twice in West Texas to force the fifth and deciding game, continued their dominant play throughout the deciding match. They finished with a 41-19 advantage in shots and took a 1-0 lead when defenseman David Strathman lit the lamp midway through the first period.
But it was forward Dave Bonk’s tally that regained the lead at 2-1 for Allen and turned the game completely in Allen’s favor. Bonk, who also assisted on Yellow Horn’s empty netter, buried a rebound behind Odessa goalie Joel Martin (who finished with 38 saves) with only six seconds remaining in the second period. Bonk finished the game tied for 10th place among CHL scorers with 10 points (including four goals), while center Jarret Lukin is tied for 6th with 11 points (four goals).
“That was a huge goal (because) we went back to the locker room and talked about how we only had 20 minutes to go,” said Mullins. “Obviously, you’d rather be ahead than trying to catch up.”
Goaltender Chris Whitley, who recovered from losses in the first two in which he allowed eight goals, held fast between the pipes by turning aside the only five shots allowed by Allen’s stifling defense. He finished the game with 18 saves, allowing only a power play goal to Odessa forward Mike Ramsey that tied the score 1-1 with just 10 seconds remaining in the opening period.
“Chris did a good job of narrowing his focus as the series went on,” Mullins said of his goalie, who allowed just five goals in the series’ final three games and ranks 4th among all CHL goalies with a 2.26 goals against average, 6-2 won-lost record and a .920 save percentage. “Like most guys, he started to play better once his confidence (increased).
“After Game 2, we felt like the pressure shifted to them,” Mullins said of Odessa, whose franchise is departing the CHL for the North American Hockey League (NAHL) next season. “We were the top seed and a lot was expected from us, but we were down 2-0 and the pressure was on them to close us out. We (seized on) some things to believe in during Game 3 and were able to build from there.”
Game 4 Recap
The Americans forced the deciding game with a gutsy 5-3 victory at Odessa’s Ector County Coliseum on Thursday, April 21. Forward Judd Blackwater netted the game-winner, his second of the night, just :24 into the third period to give Allen a 4-3 lead. After goaltender Whitley preserved the slim lead by making 12 of his 23 saves in the session, forward Tobias Whelan’s shorthanded empty netter sealed the verdict.
Jackalopes’ forward Todd Robinson opened the scoring just over a minute into the contest, and Blackwater evened things later in the session. Allen regained the lead, 2-1 with just over a minute remaining in the period on Bonk’s power play goal.
After Odessa forward Jeff Pierce tied the score at 2-2 in the middle period, Allen regained the lead on a goal by Lukin. Robinson of the Jacks netted his second marker of the game on a power play to tie the score again at 3-3 with less than five minutes to play in the stanza. Forward Sabastien Tinnel and defenseman Alex Dunn each dealt two assists for the ‘Lopes, as did Allen forward Colton Yellow Horn. The Americans outshot their hosts, 38-26 as Odessa netminder stopped 33 shots.
“I thought we really battled through adversity there through the first two periods, where some weird things were happening,” Jackalopes’ Coach Paul Gillis said. “In the third period, we won the opening faceoff and had a play to make and didn’t make it and they got us. We fought hard, and our guys gave it everything they had. It was one miscue (at the outset of the third period) that cost us the game. Our team, we are giving it everything we’ve got.”
Game 3 Recap
Allen avoided elimination with its first victory of the series, 3-1 at the Ector County Coliseum on Tuesday, April 19. Bonk gave the Amerks a 1-0 lead in the opening period, and Lukin made it 2-0 just over five minutes into the third stanza. After Jackalopes’ firward Phillippe Plant tallied to cut the lead to 2-1 midway through the session, Lukin set up forward Nino Musitelli for a lamp lighter late in the period for insurance. Both teams launched 40 shots goalward, as Allen’s Whitley rose to the occasion with 39 saves, and Odessa’s Joel Martin Allen stopped 37 shots.
“(Odessa) did a good job in (winning twice in) Allen and we need to keep taking every inch that we can,” said Mullins. “I just think we were a little more patient tonight, we didn’t try to force too much.” Added Odessa’s Gillis, “We didn’t have the energy we should have had, especially early in the game. But in saying that, I thought it was a well-played game on both sides. Obviously we had to open it up in the third period and they ended up getting that third goal on us. We were throwing everything at them that we could and I thought (Whitley) played extremely well and our goalie (Martin) played well.”
Game 2 Recap
The Jacks took a two-games-to-none series lead in Allen on Sunday, April 17 with a 3-2 victory as the visitors took advantage of a five minute major in the opening period. Robinson and Thinel scored while Odessa had the man advantage, and defenseman Patrick Mbaraga’s second period tally made it 3-0.
After Lukin cut the lead to 3-1 with his second period goal, defenseman Matt Gens and Pierce scored less than three minutes into period three for a 5-1 lead. Lukin set up Whelan for a goal in the third period to complete the scoring. Robinson finished the night with three assists while Gens provided two helpers. Odessa goalie Martin made 26 saves while Whitley stopped 18 pucks as Allen outshot the Jacks, 28-23.
Game 1 Recap
Odessa won the series opener on Thursday, April 14 in Allen with a 3-2 victory. Robinson assisted on goals by Thinel and Ramsey to give the visitors a 2-0 lead in the opening period. After forward Bruce Graham halved the lead for Allen before the end of the session, Jacks’ defenseman Garrett Gruenke beat Whitley early in the second session for a 3-1 Odessa lead. Bonk scored late in the third period off a rebound, but the Amerks could not slip another shop past Odessa netminder Martin, who finished with 30 saves. Whitley stopped 27 shots for Allen, which outshot the visitors 32-30.