The three-time defending Presidents and Kelly Cup champion Allen Americans took two major steps toward returning to the ECHL Finals by winning both of their meetings at Allen County War Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne, Indiana over the weekend.
Co-captain Gary Steffes scored just :56 into sudden death overtime to give the Americans a hard-fought 3-2 victory over the Western Conference’s #2 seed Komets on Sunday, May 15 and a fortuitous two-games-to-none lead as they return to north Texas for Games Three, Four and Five this Thursday, Saturday, and Sunday, respectively. GM-Coach Steve Martinson’s skaters opened the series with a 5-3 triumph on Friday, May 13.
“I started the overtime on the bench and jumped onto the ice when the puck went to (defenseman Danny) Federico at (our) blue line,” said Steffes. “Danny sent it over to (defensive partner Jordan) Rowley, who made a tremendous play.
“(Rowley) was patient waiting for me to get to the net,” Steffes added. “Once I got to the net and was able to put my stick on the ice, (Rowley) made a great pass for (me to make contact and) tip-in the (puck). Praise God it went in!”
Allen, the conference’s #4 seed which began the road trip with a Game Six victory to oust heavily-favored, regular season ECHL champion Missouri and win the Conference Semifinal series on Tuesday, May 10, requires just two victories in the next five three-to-five games (as needed) to reach their fourth straight Cup Finals. The Americans previously captured the CHL Presidents Cup in 2012-13 and 2013-14 before adding the ECHL’s Kelly Cup during their first season in the league in 2014-15.
“This was a great road trip because the guys responded well in Missouri to get us here to Fort Wayne,” said Steffes, who was a member of last year’s Kelly Cup-winning squad. ‘We fed off that energy and confidence coming here to Indiana.
“The atmosphere (in Fort Wayne) was fantastic, with loud and passionate fans backing the Komets,” Steffed added. “It was a tough place to play in, but it was also fun. I think our guys have really shown we have some heart and resilience during this playoff run. And those qualities are much-needed when you have to play four best-of-seven series to achieve our goal.”
The match was a chippy affair, as both teams combined for 64 minutes in penalties. Three separate fights occurred during the game, one each between Allen left winger Justin Courtnall and Komets’ defenseman Mason Geertsen, Americans’ center Spencer Asuchak and Fort Wayne blueliner Jordan Southorn, and Allen right winger Dyson Stephenson and Komets’ right winger Shawn Szydlowski.
Americans’ Goalie Riley Gill started in the net but left just over four minutes into the second period with an undisclosed injury after stopping a Komets’ shot. He was replaced by Joel Rumpel, who surrendered a power play goal by Fort Wayne’s Troy Bourke 4:37 after taking the crease that gave the home team a 2-1 lead.
Allen tied the game at 2-2 when Vincent Arseneau lit the lamp for his fifth postseason goal with just :30 left in the middle period. Rumpel finished with 15 saves to earn the victory. Gill, who surrendered a goal by Garrett Meurs just :22 into period two that tied the score 1-1, made eight saves before he was forced to leave the ice. Gill’s status for Game Three is uncertain.
The Americans took a 1-0 lead midway through the first period when ECHL regular season MVP and leading scorer Chad Costello netted his fourth playoff goal on a power play.
In the Game One triumph, Steffes touched off a three goal outburst that gave the Americans a 3-0 first period lead when he scored shorthanded on a wraparound from behind the net five and a half minutes into the session. Forward Greger Hanson connected on an Americans power play less than four minutes later to make it 2-0, and teammate Casey Pierro-Zabotel added another man advantage marker 1:53 later.
Fort Wayne forward Trevor Cheek scored with :13 left in the first period and again three minutes into the third period to cut Allen’s lead to 3-2. The Americans reclaimed their two-goal lead when center Nikita Jevpalovs connected off a Steffes feed with just over eight minutes left in regulation. After the Komets’ Bourke scored to make it a one-goal affair, Arseneau hit an empty net to make it 5-3 and secure the victory.
“We got off to a great start in the first period, then let (our feet) off the gas,” said Steffes. “(Goalie Riley) Gill (23 stops) made the big saves when we needed them, and we picked up a big win on the road.”