Two goals in just 5:06 of playing time snatched a 3-2 Game 7 sudden death overtime victory over the Wichita Thunder from the jaws of defeat and delivered the Allen Americans their first Central Hockey League Ray Miron President’s Cup on Mother’s Day Eve in only their fourth season of existence.
The Americans certainly did not take the easy route, falling behind 2-0 after 40 minutes to the Wichita Thunder in only the sixth decisive Game 7 in league Finals history.
Truth be told, Allen fans were wondering aloud whether the “real” Amerks would ever emerge as they milled about the Allen Even Centre before period three. They pondered the possibility of their team delivering just one more overpowering, wide-open skating performance similar to their one-sided 5-2 and 5-1 home ice victories in Games 2 and 5, respectively.
Wichita, making its second consecutive CHL Finals appearance (they lost to Fort Wayne in 2012), had forced the winner-take-all match with a gritty 3-2 victory in Kansas the previous evening and were dominating Allen as the third period beckoned.
But Head Coach Steve Martinson and Assistant Coach Richard Matvichuk implored their determined skaters to make one last impassioned charge at the championship, and the red-shirted Americans responded by dominating the third stanza. They attacked the net while pouring frozen rubber toward standout Thunder goalie Torrie Jung, outshooting Wichita 16-4 in the session (and 37-23 for the game).
Tenacious forward Jarret Lukin, the only skater who has performed for “the Red” in each of the franchise’s four campaigns, halved the lead at 2-1 by beating Jung on a rebound with less than 13 minutes to play. With the drama building to a fever pitch throughout the building, defenseman Trevor Hendrikx – in his second tour of duty with Allen – pushed a rebound through rush hour-like traffic and into the net with 2:19 remaining in regulation to forge only the second Game 7 overtime in CHL Finals history. The preceding Game 7 Finals sudden death match was won by Laredo vs. Bossier-Shreveport in 2004.
The plot twist thrilled the hometown fans (and disappointed the dozens of Wichita faithful who made the five-hour trip south to support their squad) and climaxed when forward Todd Robinson potted the cup-winner just 2:47 into the extra session.
Robinson, a crafty playmaker and goal scorer who competed against Allen as a member of the Odessa Jackalopes in 2010-2011, had requested his released from Evansville of the East Coast Hockey League a few months earlier to join Allen, which had lost several key players who’d been promoted to the American Hockey League when the NHL lockout ended. Todd will turn 35 in June and is one of those romanticized grizzled veterans who keeps lacing ‘em up for the love of the game and a last-gasp opportunity to skate in the AHL and perhaps the NHL. He turned pro in 2000-2001 and has done most of his playing in Muskegon, Michigan.
On this night, he earned an indelible niche in CHL and franchise history after taking a long, accurate pass from defenseman Mike Montgomery and launching a shot that slowly hung in the air before eluding Jung. The President’s Cup-winning goal touched off a tumultuous celebration for most of the 6,125 fans in the cozy arena. Robinson emerged as the team’s leading post-season scorer with 22 points in 19 games, and forward Brian McMillan scored 12 goals and 20 points in the playoffs to earn Finals MVP honors.
Goaltender Aaron Dell played another outstanding game between the pipes, allowing goals by Wichita forward RG Flath in the first and second period while making 23 saves to earn his 12th playoff victory. The Thunder’s Flath finished with a team high nine playoff goals.
“This is an incredible feeling,” said Americans’ Captain and forward Jason Deitsch, the CHL Finals MVP for the 2008-2009 Cup-winning Fort Worth Brahmas. “This (Cup-winning feeling) never gets old.”
The continuously growing legion of Americans fans will also covet that sensation when they think back to their inaugural 2009-2010 squad dropping a Game Six overtime verdict at Rapid City and could only watch as the rival Rush skaters toted the trophy on their home ice. The Americans actually led that series two-games-to-one and were up 2-0 in Game Four before the tide turned.
The Allen franchise has been a hallmark of success both on and off the ice, earning post season berths in each season and taking great pains to add talented, fan-friendly players. One of their former skaters, defenseman Jordie Benn, was a member of this year’s Dallas Stars squad.
In addition, former Dallas Stars icons Craig Ludwig, Eddie Belfour and Mike Modano along with former NHL defenseman Steve Duchesne are minority owners, and the majority owner local businessman Douglas Miller. (Two of Ludwig’s sons, defensemen Tyler and Trevor, have been among the squad’s standouts the last two seasons. Trevor missed much of the series after suffering a broken jaw in Game 3 at Wichita).
This year’s Allen sextet had raced out to a big lead atop the CHL standings after winning nine of its first 10 regular season games. But after losing several players, including high-scoring forward Scotty Howes to the American League, they slumped during an extended home stand in January that had them questioning their talent and drive as league rivals closed in on their lead.
An affiliate of the NHL’s Dallas Stars and the AHL’s Houston Aeros and Texas Stars, the Americans added key players such as scoring forwards Robinson and Kale Kerbashian and the return of checking forward Jim McKenzie to strengthen their roster. During the season’s final week, they lost at home to the Thunder in the waning minutes before winning 2nd place Wichita, then lost at home to Missouri before winning 3-2 at Tulsa (which missed the playoffs) to earn the regular season title (and home ice in the post-season) by one point.