As it turns out, the well-coiffed Allen Americans’ players didn’t need their Combs after all.
A few days after forward Jack Combs, the ECHL’s scoring leader (with 56 points and 22 goals) and Allen’s All-Star Game nominee left for a better paycheck in Sweden’s second tier league, the Americans responded by lighting the lamp 19 times during a three –game sweep of Wichita and Missouri at the Allen Even Center.
Allen’s runaway train finished the season’s first half with the ECHL’s best record (28-5-1-2), its highest point total (59), its most impressive winning percentage (.819) and most goals scored (157).
Leading second place Quad City and Wichita by 17 points in the Central Division, General Manager/Coach Steve Martinson’s skaters also brought a league-best nine-game winning streak into the 2014-15 season’s intermission.
“It’s great that we have the most points at the break,” said Martinson, who coached in his 1,303 career game during Allen’s 5-2 victory over visiting Missouri on Martin Luther King Day, January 19. “It was a great first half for the guys, and I thanked them for giving me the opportunity to go to Orlando and coach in the game. I owe it to them, and they’re probably happy to get me out of town for a few days.
Martinson, who coached the Americans to consecutive CHL President’s Cup championships each of the last two years, is a shrewd collector of talent who understands the eventuality of losing players to American League callus and the like.
He has added a pair of 30-year old Czech Republic forwards, Josef Fojtik and Patrik Valcak. Fojtik, whose on-ice resume includes stints with the Flint Generals of the IHL and the AHL’s Grand Rapids Griffins, netted his first ECHL goal in his second game with Allen on MLK Day. Valcak who arrived a few days after Fojtik, was a 4th round Boston Bruins draft choice in 2003. Martinson plans to use both skaters on the same line.
“You’ll never replace a guy like Jack Combs,” said Americans forward Ian Schultz. “He’s one of the best guys I’ve ever played with. We have a lot of talent on our team. Comb-zee cast a bit of a shadow over how good some of these guys can be. Just because we lost him doesn’t mean we’re not a force to be reckoned with.”
Although the Americans generate a lot of offense from their point men, the forward down low crash the net with a vengeance. “We score a lot from within six feet of the net because our guys go to the front and bang in rebounds,” said Schultz. “We have a determined group of guys on the team. We’re not the prettiest, nor are w picture perfect, but we get the job done night in and night out.
“As well as we’re playing, I don’t see us letting up,” he added. “We’ll keep playing hard every night. What we looked for as kids was to be the best all the time, and we’re still like that. We’re never going to settle until we are the best. (Coach Martinson) and his staff will keep us focused, and we have blue collar, hard working guys who are like a family. The guys on this team go a lot further for each other than on any team I’ve ever played on.”
Friday, Jan. 16 saw forward Kyle Follmer explode for a three goal Hat Trick in the 3rd period as Allen overcame deficits of 1-0 and 2-1 to pull away from Wichita, 8-2. Goalie Aaron Dell made 28 saves.
On Saturday, Jan. 17, Schultz and Gary Steffes each netted a pair of goals, while Rylan Schwartz (brother of Jaden Schwartz of the St. Louis Blues) added three helpers in a 6-4 victory over the Thunder. Dell won again after making 26 saves.
The MLK Day triumph over the Mavericks was highlighted by new ECHL scoring leader Chad Costello’s 19th and 20th goals in the 3rd period. Combs’s former linemate entered the All-Star break with 60 points and a league-high 40 helpers. Dell won again after making 36 saves.
“Luckily, there are other guys who can play well behind Jack Combs, although learning to play without him for the last few games has been a bit of a process — I still look for him out there on the ice,” Costello said with a hearty laugh. “I’m fortunate to be playing on a line with Schwartz (on loan from the AHL’s Worcester Sharks) and (Schultz). Ian’s great to play with because he throws his (6-foot-2, 220-lb.) weight around, wins battles and is easy to read off of, and Rylan is a superior playmaker.”
Costello insists the Americans will not become complacent or look ahead to the post-season despite its big league and overabundance of success in the first half.
“For us, winning is a habit, and we want to do the right things all the time because when you do the wrong things, all of a sudden instead of winning by one you start losing by one,” said Costello. “We want to stay on top of things all of the time, and we’ll show up every night. We know (the ECHL) is a tough league that will require our best effort every game.”
The Americans, a six-year old franchise based in the suburban Dallas, Texas city of Allen, are an affiliate of the NHL’s San Jose Sharks.