The expansion Allen Americans do not want their inaugural season to end without sipping the nectar of victory from the Ray Miron President’s Cup. They proved that by simply dominating host Odessa in a 4-2 Game Seven victory that short-circuited a furious Jackalopes’ rally from a three-games-to-one deficit in their Central Hockey League Southern Conference Final series.
“Obviously I’m real proud of our hockey team,” Allen Head Coach Dwight Mullins told reporters after his team qualified for the 2009-10 President’s Cup Finals against Northern Conference champion Rapid City. The Finals begin Friday night, April 23 in the South Dakota-based club’s home rink. “We faced a lot of adversity and were pushed to the limit against the best team in the league all year.”
“I don’t think we played our best hockey (tonight),” Jackalopes’ Coach and former NHL standout forward Paul Gillis said. “I thought we were tentative early and really, I thought we handed them the goals that they got… we certainly didn’t execute as well as we should have and we didn’t play as well as we should have.”
The Americans took the crowd of nearly 4,000 at the Ector County Coliseum out of the game early by outplaying Odessa in the opening period and grabbing a 1-0 lead. Forward Tobias Whelan converted the rebound of Jarret Lukin’s shot and beat Odessa goalie Joel Martin inside the left post with three minutes remaining in the session.
Allen made it 2-0 five minutes into the second period to stall Odessa’s mounting attack when forward Colton Yellow Horn took a pass from defenseman Ryan Fairbarn, skated into the left faceoff circle and fired a hard wrist shot that trickled between Martin’s pads and into the net.
Odessa’s Collin Circelli halved the lead at 2-1 with a power play marker later in the period that seemed to ignite the Jackalopes, who exhibited a burst of energy and began pressuring the Americans in their defensive zone. But Allen defenseman Erik Adams picked off a clearing attempt in the Odessa zone and fed forward Justin Bowers, whose rebound was rapped into the net by linemate Nino Musitelli with :44 remaining in the period for a 3-1 Americans’ lead.
Bowers finished the series tied with Odessa’s Sebastien Thinel for the league lead in both post season assists (15) and points (23).
“That was a huge swing for us,” said Musitelli after scoring his team-leading ninth goal of the playoffs. “Having a two-goal lead heading into the third period, we were able to relax a little bit and play our game (in the third session). But we didn’t want to let them back in the game. They have a great team and we just needed to keep it simple.”
Yellow Horn converted on the power play for his second goal of the game and fifth of the playoffs that extended Allen’s lead to 4-1 six minutes into the third period. “The first thing I noticed, from their first power play (in the opening period), is that they have been real passive the first six games, and (in Game Seven) they really started coming at us (with the man advantage),” said Odessa forward Kory Karlander, who returned to action after serving a one game suspension.
The Jacks’ Jeff Pierce netted a power play goal – his league-leading 11th marker of the post season — in the game’s final minute.
“It was a battle, and I think we wanted to make a couple of adjustments that we hadn’t made all series to help us a little bit,” said Americans’ Coach Mullins after his Americans outshot the Jacks, 38-28. “But when you get down to Game Seven, it’s about bounces and grit. Both teams have guys who are playing with a lot of determination and I think we got some timely bounces.”
Allen goaltender Chris Whitley stopped 26 shots to earn his eighth victory of the playoffs, while Martin made 34 saves for Odessa.
Odessa, which dropped a Game Seven conference finale for the second straight year, forced the showdown with victories in Games Five and Six. Defenseman Garrett Gruenke decided Game Six with an overtime goal to give Odessa a 4-3 victory in West Texas. Philippe Plante forced the extra session on a game-tying goal with three minutes left in regulation. Musitelli gave Allen a 3-2 lead with just under five minutes left in the third period. Odessa took a 1-0 second period lead on a marker by Dominic Leveille, and the Jacks’ Thinel knotted the game at 2-2 on a breakaway late in the second period. The Americans had taken a 2-1 lead in the middle session on goals by forwards Matt Radoslovich and Bruce Graham. Goalie Chris Whitley made 29 save while Odessa’s Martin stopped 31 shots.
In Game Five in Allen, the Americans lacked some of the crispness that had fueled their first three victories in the series while Odessa’s veteran makeup helped maintain its composure in a 6-3 victory. Karlander (a nephew of former NHL forward Al Karlander) tied the scored at 2-2 late in the first period and Mike Ramsey netted consecutive goals in the first and second stanzas to give Odessa a 4-2 lead. After Bowers brought the Americans to within a goal a 4-3 in the final minute of the period, Odessa forward Mike Lesperance made it 5-3 with a one-time slap shot with 6:18 left in the third period. Thinel, who had a game-high three assists, added an empty netter. Bruce Graham and Bowers had given the Americans a 2-1 lead in the first period after Odessa’s Dave Van Drunen had opened the scoring. Martin made 38 saves for Odessa while Chris Whitley stopped 30 shots for the Americans as Allen outshot its visitors, 41-36.
Allen grabbed a three-games-to-one lead with a hard-fought 6-4 victory in Game Four. The host Amerks held a 6-4 lead against the hard-charging Jackalopes heading into the third period, and their disciplined play resulted in just one Odessa power play and a scoreless final 20 minutes. The Americans grabbed 3-0 and 5-1 leads in the first and second periods, respectively on two goals by team captain Lukin and one apiece from Musitelli, Yellow Horn, and Bowers. The Jackalopes stayed on the Amerks’ heels as sniper Pierce scored three goals and Karlander converted a penalty shot that was awarded during a five-on-three disadvantage to bring Odessa to within a goal at 5-4. But Fairbarn’s power-play one-timer restored the two-goal lead on the five-on-three advantage to give his team a 6-4 lead after two periods. Allen defenseman Tyler Wooddisse finished the game with a game-high three assists, and Amerks’ goalie Chris Whitley made 39 saves while Odessa’s Juha Toivonen stopped 24 shots as the Americans were outshot 43-30.
The Rapid City Rush finished the regular season with a 43-17-7 record good for 93 points and the Northern Conference title, while Allen was 42-17-5 to earn 89 points and second place behind Odessa in the Southern Conference. Rapid City defeated Bossier-Shreveport (Louisiana) in seven games to reach the Final.
The Rush won two of the three games against Allen during regular season play
Game Two of the President’s Cup Finals will be played at the Rushmore Plaza Civic Center in Rapid City on Saturday, April 24 beginning at 8:05 MDT. Games Three, Four and Five will be played at the Allen Event Center beginning at 7:35 p.m. CDT on Wednesday, April 28, Friday, April 30 and Saturday, May 1 (if necessary). Tickets for games at the Allen Event Center can be purchased by calling (972) 912-1000 or logging onto www.gettix.net. Games Six and Seven will be played (if necessary) in Rapid City on Tuesday, May 4 (beginning at 7:35 p.m. MDT) and Friday, May 7 (beginning at 8:05 p.m. MDT). Tickets for games in Rapid City can be purchased by calling (800) 468-6463 or logging onto www.GotMine.com
The defending President’s Cup Champion Texas Brahmas were eliminated by Odessa in the Conference Quarterfinal round.