The Allen Americans’ “drive for five” straight post season championships kicked into another gear during their five game conquest of ECHL Western Conference rival Utah.
General Manager-Coach Steve Martinson’s squad won three games on the strength of explosive third period rallies, and goalie Riley Gill – gunning for his fourth ECHL Kelly Cup title – put up a veritable wall in the Game Five clincher by stopping all 30 Grizzlies shots in a 4-0 victory at Maverik Center on Saturday, April 22 to close out the competitive series.
Our team is a third period team, and it’s wonderful to have that confidence in the room between periods,” said Allen forward and co-captain Gary Steffes after the Americans had outscored the Grizzlies, 13-0 in the third period for the series. “When our backs are against the wall, there is a great core leadership group that’s been there before and knows how to win. That doesn’t guarantee a victory but it does create a mentality of hope and confidence that the game is never over until the final buzzer sounds. Needless to say, we are all thankful to have made the (three) comebacks in this series that we did.”
The Americans, an affiliate of the San Jose Sharks, have won two straight Central Hockey League Presidents Cup titles followed by two consecutive ECHL Kelly Cup trophies. They are hoping to become the first team in league history to capture three straight Kelly Cup titles.
Allen, which entered the post season as the top seed and champion in the Mountain Division and second in the Western Conference with 104 points, had swept Utah in their four regular season games. The Grizzlies, an affiliate of the Anaheim Ducks, staged a late-season rally to finish 8th in the conference (and fourth in the Mountain Division) with 79 points.
We started out slow in the series but our skill and experience eventually kicked in,” said Martinson. “I give a lot of credit to the Utah goalie (Kevin Boyle) who played well and made big saves every night. In our end, Riley Gill really calms things down. You could see it was going to take a lot to beat him. Utah had several (power play) chances tonight but couldn’t get the puck past Gill.”
Gill, the ECHL’s all-time leader in post season victories with 51, steadfastly protected a 2-0 lead in the middle period of Game Five despite facing three Grizzlies power plays.
“There’s a reason why they’ve won so many championships….(Riley Gill is) lights out in the net,” Grizzlies coach Tim Branham said after Gill earned his seventh career Kelly Cup Playoff shutout. “We’ve had a really hard time scoring these last two games, and they have guys who know how to put the puck in the back of the net. The effort was there for us tonight, just not the results. Our hats are off to them.”
While Gill was repelling rubber, his teammates gave him the lead with a pair of first period goals. Allen is now 46-2-2-1 this season when it has scored first. Defensemen Travis Brown and Joel Chouinard both hit the back of the net with hard, accurate slapshots for a 2-0 lead. The goal by Chouinard, who was named the ECHL Plus Performer of the Year, came just 3.6 seconds before the first intermission.
Allen padded its lead in the third period when forward Wade MacLeod’s slapshot trickled through Utah goalie Boyle, and Chouinard added his second goal on a power play.
It was a team effort to shut then down,” said Chouinard, a first year Americans skater. “Our forwards and defensemen were in sync and, of course, Riley was a wall in the net.”
Gill, the 2016-17 ECHL Goalie of the Year, credited his teammates with playing airtight defense. “A big key was (our guys) limited their time and space so they weren’t able to make plays,” said Gill, who helped Reading win the Kelly Cup in 2013 before recapturing the chalice with the Americans in 2015 and 2016.
It was huge for us to win all three (Games three through five) on the road,” said Steffes. “We’re thankful to have done it. Looking back, it’s quite the accomplishment because Utah is a great team.”
Allen should face a much tougher opponent in the Colorado Eagles when the best-of-seven conference semifinals open this Friday night at the Allen Event Center. “Colorado has a good team, and it will be a tough matchup,” said Chouinard. “We must stay disciplined because they have a great power play.”
Gill agreed, saying “we have to stay out of the penalty box and not give their skilled power play unit too many chances.”
Colorado finished the regular season with 265 goals scored and 206 allowed, compared to Allen’s 294 red lights and 203 goals against. The Americans leapfrogged past the Eagles during the final week of the regular season to earn the Mountain Division title and rank second in the conference and ECHL for points. Colorado finished with 99 points, the third highest total in the conference and league.
Despite losing their playoff series opener, the Eagles completed a five game conquest of Idaho with a 6-3 victory on Saturday night.
For the third time in the series, the Americans rallied in the final period. This time, they exploded for five goals in the final 20 minutes, and goalie Gill made 29 saves to give Martinson’s skaters a three games to one lead with a 5-1 victory at Maverik Center on Friday, April 21.
Our power play got us going as it has all year,” said Martinson. “We had traffic in front of their goalie, and were pounding shots from the point. We have a lot of depth and proven scorers. Goals can come from everyone, and our proven scorers made their young defensemen pay.”
Trailing 1-0, Allen scored three times in the first nine minutes of period three on power play red light by defensemen David Makowski and Eric Roy, and an even strength tally by forward Greger Hanson, who finished with a goal and two assists. Forwards MacLeod and Alex Krushelnyski (empty netter) added insurance in the final seven minutes as Allen outshot the Grizzlies, 35-30.
Allen regained the home ice advantage with a three-goal third period uprising to defeat the Grizzlies, 4-2 Wednesday, April 19 at Maverik Center and take a two games to one lead. Forward Zach Hall tied the score, 2-2 less than three minutes into the third period, and Hanson connected on a five minute power play midway through the stanza to give Allen a 3-2 lead. Forward Spencer Asuchak added a shorthanded empty netter with :06 remaining, and Gill finished with 25 saves.
That was a big win for us,” said Hanson, whose team outshot the Grizzlies 32-27. “We didn’t play particularly well and took too many penalties, but we still came out on top. Our penalty killers (who held Utah to one goal in eight power play chances), as well as (goalie) Riley Gill did a great job, and that was the reason we were able to win.”
Utah tied the series at a game apiece with a 4-1 victory over Allen at the Event Center on Friday, April 14. “We need to be better…period,” defenseman Mike Gunn said after the Americans suffered their first regulation loss since February 19. Allen outshot Utah 37-30, including 17-5 in the third period, but managed only one goal by forward Josh Brittain midway through the final session to make it 4-1. Gill finished with 26 saves.
The Americans opened the Kelly Cup Playoffs with a third period comeback to defeat Utah, 4-3 on Wednesday, April 12 at the Allen Event Center. MacLeod tied the game, 3-3, and Chouinard converted a feed from Chad Costello with just over four minutes remaining for the game winner. Forwards Bryan Moore and Tyler Barnes also scored for Allen.
We never quit,” said Americans’ goalie Jamie Murray, who replaced starter Gill with four minutes remaining in the first period. “Our guys felt like if we continued to work hard we would eventually be rewarded, and sure enough they took a penalty late and we made them pay.”
It’s huge, it’s absolutely huge,” said Steffes, whose team outshot Utah, 25-24. “The playoffs are a whole new season and being able to do what we did in the regular season and have that calm factor even when we were down and not turn on each other, it was awesome. Hopefully, we’ll build off that and it’ll huge for our confidence.”