The 2012-2013 Central Hockey League Ray Miron Cup champion Allen Americans are once again vying for a lofty playoff seeding to defend their title.
Coach Steve Martinson’s squad, comprised of a mixture of holdovers plus newcomers to the fifth year franchise, was tied with Rapid City and Missouri for first place atop the 10-team circuit, each with 54 points as of Feb. 4. The Americans (25-12-4) began hitting their stride right before the New Year and are eight wins from celebrating the franchise’s 200th career triumph.
Since late December, Allen has earned at least a point in the last 13 games (11-0-2) to earn 24 of a possible 26 points through mid-February. Their string of success included five- and four-game win streaks.
“The best thing about our team is that we have a young squad, the best young team in the league,” said Martinson, who is in his second season behind the Americans’ bench. “And the kids are playing better as the season continues. We are also the most physical team in the league. When you can be physical and also have a good offense, it makes for very entertaining and effective hockey. And that’s what we want to do, play a style of hockey that’s fun to watch. I’m proud that we can be a fun team to watch.
“I also think we have the best team in the league, certainly the best roster,” added Martinson, who is assisted by former Dallas Stars Stanley Cup-winning defenseman Rich Matvichuk. “We’re finally playing up to that level, and I think we’re going to be even better.”
This year’s team, which has scored a league-leading 149 goals to date, is paced by the top five scorers in rookie Alex Lavoie (20 goals, 54 points, plus-12 rating), returnee Kale Kerbashian (15G, 44A, plus-nine), newcomer Jonathan Lessard (19G, 34A, plus-seven), holdover defenseman Tyler Ludwig (12G, 30A, plus-10) and returning winger Darryl Bootland (15G, 29A, plus-seven).
Bootland (103 penalty minutes), former Philadelphia Flyers forward Garrett Klotz (139) — who spent several seasons with the Philadelphia and the AHL’s Adirondack Phantoms — and defenseman Trevor Hendrikx (81) are quick to take the body, drop the gloves and keep the opposition honest.
The lineup also has several former Fort Worth Brahmas players after that franchise became a junior team, including Phil Fox (10G, 8A) and defenseman Ross Rouleau (3G, 12A), and goaltender Mark Guggenberger (7-5-1, including a shutout, 3.09 goals against average and .903 save percentage). Also in goal is Bryan Pitton (14-5-3, one shutout, 2.77 GAA and .914 save percentage).
Coach Martinson, who is always looking to upgrade his roster, recently re-signed Brian McMillan, a member of last year’s championship team to add playmaking and scoring depth. Martinson follows this blueprint not only to improve the club, but also because the Americans annually lose players to AHL clubs’ callups. This year alone, the Amerks have lost, then welcomed back Lavoie (Oklahoma City) and forward Ryley Grantham (Springfield).
Lavoie scored 14 points in January (6G, 8A) to earn CHL Rookie of the Month honors and leads all first-year skaters in points, goals and assists. “That’s a great honor,” said Lavoie. “[But] we are here to win a championship and that’s our goal. I’m lucky to be playing with great players on our line, and am surrounded by some outstanding teammates overall.”
The Americans rallied from a 2-0 deficit and scored twice in just over five minutes of playing time to upend Wichita, 3-2, in sudden death overtime of Game 7 in front of a roaring crowd at Allen Event Center on Mother’s Day Eve to win the Cup. Todd Robinson scored the game-winner.
Veteran forward Jarret Lukin, the only player in Allen team history to participate during each of the franchise’s five seasons, scored the Americans’ first goal in the 2nd period, and Hendrickx slid home a rebound goal with 2:19 left in regulation. Todd Robinson slammed home the game winner just 2:47 into overtime. Lukin (2G, 8A) has missed 23 of the Americans’ 41 games to date with an injury, while Robinson (12G, 49A) was Tulsa’s leading scorer through 42 games but is also sidelined with an injury.