The smile that spanned his bearded face from ear to ear said it all. Right wing Darryl Bootland could not control his happiness after contributing the goal that touched off the Allen Americans’ offense in their 5-2 victory over the visiting Denver Cutthroats at the Allen Event Centerd. The victory clinched the five-year old franchise’s 2nd consecutive Central Hockey League Ray Miron President’s Trophy championship on Saturday, May 10, giving Allen the distinction of being the first CHL team to win back-to-back titles since the Memphis RiverKings turned the trick back in 2002-2003.
“It’s an amazing feeling,” said Bootland, whose 7th goal of the playoffs ignited a four-goal 2nd period outburst to ensure that the Cup would stay in this north Texas suburb of Dallas. “Defending the cup is so tough. For most of this year, it’s all everyone’s talked about. I don’t know where my career will take me, or whether I’ll continue playing, but I’m really going to savor these two President’s Cup championships.”
Bootland’s red light just over five minutes into Period Two tied the score 1-1, as the Americans simply took the game away from Denver with swift skating and – more importantly – a headstrong desire to win with sheer grit and determination.
“We had to put some doubt in their minds, and that’s what we did when we came out for the 2nd period,” said Bootland. “We didn’t want to have to win it like we did a year ago. (Allen needed two 3rd period goals and another in sudden death overtime of Game Seven to upend visiting Wichita for the 2012-2013 Cup in only its 4th season of existence).”
Right wing Jamie Schaafsma’s team-leading 10th goal gave Allen the lead for good five minutes later when he hit the back of the net after capturing the rebound of defenseman Daniel Tetrault’s shot. “We really took advantage of our momentum there and capitalized on our scoring chances,” said Schaafsma, who was named the CHL playoff MVP for 2013-2014. “I think once we had that, we could smell blood and we were so excited it just got the adrenaline going even more.
“(The Cup victory is) such a great honor and is very rewarding, but I couldn’t do it without my linemates or my teammates,” Schaafsma added. “I really thought our goalie (Bryan Pitton) deserved it for all the big saves he made for us, but I’m still really thankful for the honor.”
Just 1:03 later, right wing Kale Kerbashian skated the length of the rink to catch up with left wing Jonathan Lessard’s long clearing pass, cut inside a defenseman, pulled the puck onto his forehead and flipped one over the outstretched form of goalie Kent Patterson for his 3rd goal of the playoffs and a 3-1 Allen lead. “That’s the thing about Kerby (Kerbashian),” said Bootland. “You never know when he’ll turn those jets on. He’s got those ‘Kim Kardashian’ legs, and when he turns those babies on, nobody’s stopping him.”
Lessard connected for his 9th of the playoffs just :19 later, and the three goals in a span of 2:22 sent the near-sellout crowd into a frenzy.
“I really felt tonight was the night (the Americans would explode offensively),” said coach Steve Martinson after winning his second Cup in Allen. “I thought (this type of game) was coming tonight because we hadn’t really played our best game against Denver.”
Allen played a near flawless 3rd period, keeping Denver from building up any pressure on goalie Pitton, who finished with 29 saves and a 12-5 won-lost mark through the postseason. Pitton also ranked 2nd in goals against average (2.20), save percentage (.931) and shutouts (one) for the postseason.
“Even before the game, we knew it was Game Seven for them, and we knew they were going to bring everything they had,” said Allen defenseman Tyler Ludwig. “So being up by three goals, we wanted to keep pucks deep (in the Denver zone) and play the clock. They didn’t seem to have much in the 3rd period because they probably felt a little defeated, being down by three goals and losing the series three-games-to-one. They have the offense to (make a comeback), but we held them down pretty well.”
Denver’s Lee Moffit scored with a minute left in the period, but Kerbashian’s empty netter put an emphatic exclamation point on the triumph and touched off an emotional celebration.
The Cutthroats, who were skating without their leading scorer, forward A.J. Gale since early in Game Two when he was checked hard and sustained an upper body injury, played a solid first period, connecting midway through the session on one of their four power plays during the first 20 minutes when forward Kyle Fletcher slapped a rebound past Pitton for a 1-0 lead.
“The absence of A.J. Gale was a big part of the series,” said Bootland of Gale, who led the CHL in post season scoring with 11 markers, including a league single game-tying four goals in Game One that helped give Denver its only victory of the Finals, 5-4. Gale’s four markers gave him seven in two games, but his injury sent him to the hospital during Game 2 and into the press box for Games Three, Four and Five. “It changed the whole outlook on the entire series because instead of us having to worry about four big (scorers), we had to watch just three (top scorers). It was the TSN turning point of the series.”
Allen, which has amassed more than 200 regular season victories in its five-year history, was making its third trip to the CHL’s Ray Miron President’s Cup Finals. The Americans lost in six games to the Rapid City Rush to finish its first season of existence in 2009-2010.
“It’s hard to put into perspective right now, but what a great job by our guys,” said former Dallas Stars defenseman Richard Matvichuk, Allen’s assistant coach and general manager. “We know that the toughest thing in pro sports is to win back-to-back championships, but we stuck together. It was a great job by our guys. From our owners on up to the City of Allen (Texas), it’s hard to beat a place like this to play. It’s one of the best places in the league to play and that’s why we get the caliber of players that we get, because it’s so special to be here.”
“You know what? Last year the way this team came together, you can’t duplicate that,” said Ludwig, the son of former Dallas Stars defenseman Craig Ludwig. “It’s a once in a lifetime thing. But this year, we had a lot of camaraderie in the locker room, and that enabled us to win this year.
“This is a tough league,” added Ludwig, whose brother Trevor was injured but plans to return to the Americans next season. “Coming off a championship, there was a lot of hype because it’s a tough thing to win back-to-back Cups. But we really came together as a group when the going got tough.”
Allen sets the stage for Saturday’s Cup Celebration
Lessard potted his 2nd goal of the night less than four minutes into sudden death overtime to give Allen a 4-3 victory and a three-games-to-one series lead on Friday, May 9 at the Allen Event Center. Denver led twice in this game, 1-0 on a first period goal by Robin Soudek and 3-2 after Aaron MacKenzie and Jean-Philippe Chabot (power play) connected within a six-minute span in the 2nd period. But Tetrault scored with less than three minutes left in the 2nd period to tie the match at 3-3 and set the stage for Lessard’s overtime heroics.
Lessard’s first goal of the game with five and a half minutes left in the first period tied the score, 1-1, and Schaafsma’s red light early in Period Two gave the Americans a short-lived 2-1 advantage.
Americans take a two-games-to-one series lead
Left wing Greger Hansen broke a 1-1 tie with 5:42 left in the 3rd period when he rushed into the Denver zone from center ice on the left wing side, deftly cut behind the net and whipped a wraparound shot into the net to lead Allen to a 3-1 victory and a two-games-to-one series lead at the Allen Event Center on Wednesday, May 7.
Hansen netted his 7th goal of the playoffs by hooking his stick around the puck at the far post of the Cutthroats’ net as he skated behind the Denver net before netminder Patterson could slide across his crease.
“I knew I was going to try a wraparound even as I skated in on goal,” said Hansen. “Their defense made a good play keeping me to the (left wing) side, and although I had the speed advantage, I knew I didn’t’ have a shot. I didn’t’ think I’d beat him as cleanly as I did – maybe (Patterson) was expecting a shot, but he couldn’t get over to the other post to cover in time.”
Kerbashian iced the victory when he hit the empty net on the fly from center ice with 1: left. Tetrault gave Allen a 1-0 lead five minutes into the game with a slap shot red light. Denver tied the game less than two minutes later when Fletcher beat Pitton on a backhanded rebound shot.
But Pitton came up with three spectacular saves in a two minute span later in the period to keep Denver from taking the lead, and finished with 28 saves.
Americans Even Series With Overtime Victory in Denver
The Americans tied the series at a game apiece on Saturday, May 3 in Denver when Schaafsma took a pass from defenseman Ludwig and slipped behind the defense for a breakaway goal early in the 2nd sudden death overtime period. Schaafsma netted 2nd goal of the night and his 4th in the opening two games of the series when he slipped the puck behind Denver goalie Patterson just beneath the crossbar.
Denver played most of Game 2 without forward Gale, who entered the match having tallied a CHL-record seven goals in his last two games. Gale was checked hard into the boards and was helped to the locker room with a lower body injury in the opening period. No penalty was called on the play. He was later taken to an area hospital, according to Denver coach Derek Armstrong. “It was a huge loss for us,” the Cutthroats’ Troy Schwab. “In my opinion he’s the best player in the league.”
Later in the 1st period, Schaafsma scored to give Allen the lead, and Lessard beat Patterson high on his stick side for a 2-0 Americans lead. Denver, a 2nd year franchise which was ousted by Allen in five games during the opening round of the 2012-13 playoffs, cut the lead in half before end of 1st period on a goal by Soudek.
The Cutthroats took the lead, 3-2 in the 2nd period on a wraparound by veteran Garett Bembridge and Schwab’s slap shot that beat Pitton. Denver’s Chabot appeared to add to the lead on a power play later in the session, but the referee ruled he had kicked the puck into the net.
Allen defenseman Steve Tarasuk of Allen tied the score at 3-3 on his 1st goal of the post season with 12:41 left in regulation, but Daniel Barczuk put the Cutthroats back in front 4-3 later in the 3rd period.
Allen right wing and Denver university alum Anthony Maiani rescued Allen when he tied the score, 4-4 by lighting the lamp with only 1:14 left in regulation. Maiani’s 2nd goal in two games and 6th of the playoffs crossed the goal line as a Denver penalty was expiring and with goalie Pitton having been pulled for an extra attacker.
Defenseman Jonathan Zion of the Americans finished with three assists, while goalie Pitton won his 9th game of the postseason with 47 saves as Denver outshot Allen, 51-41.
Four Gale Goals Give Denver Opening Game Win
Forward A.J. Gale scored a CHL single game record-tying four goals to help host Denver win the opening game of the series, 5-4 on Friday night. Gale potted his 3rd and 4th goals of the game in the 3rd period after Allen had rallied from a 3-0 deficit to tie the game, 3-3 in the final minute of the 2nd period. Gale finished the match with a league record seven goals in his last two games. “He’s pretty close to the sun right now — he’s hot,” said coach Armstrong.
After Cam Reid and Gale (twice) had scored to give the Cutthroats a 3-0 lead early in Period Two, Lessard, Maiani and Schaafsma each lit the lamp behind Patterson in less than 12 minutes of the 2nd period. Schaafsma’s 2nd of the game cut Denver’s lead to 5-4 with just over six minutes left in regulation. Goalie Pitton made 28 saves in a losing effort.
The Cutthroats, named for a species of trout that is prevalent in streams running through the Rocky Mountains, defeated #7 seed Tulsa and #8 seed Arizona to reach the Cup Finals. Allen ousted Brampton in five game and Quad City in seven to reach the championship round.