The post season has finally arrived for the Allen Americans, and not a moment too soon. The two-time defending Central Hockey League Presidents Cup champions are set to make a third run at a post-season chalice, the Kelly Cup, symbolic of hockey supremacy in the ECHL. They open defense of their previous two cup conquests Tuesday night at 7 p.m. at the Allen Event Center against the Tulsa Oilers to start a best-of-seven series.
The six-year old Allen franchise and San Jose NHL and Worcester Sharks AHL affiliate finished the regular season with a 48-14-6-4 (W-L-OTL-SOL) mark for 106 points, and will have home ice throughout the playoffs until/unless they meet up with the Toledo Walleye, the ECHL’s North Division champ in the Eastern Conference whose victory on Sunday gave them 107 points.
The Americans, who set a franchise record for best winning percentage at .736 while leading the ECHL with 77 power play red lights, raced out to a huge lead atop the Central Division (comprised exclusively of former CHL franchises), winning eight straight and 16 of 19 through the end of 2014. They added another nine-game winning streak in January before cooling off and losing five of seven in early- and mid-March. And they finished with a flourish to compile the ECHL’s best record over its final 10 games – eight victories, an overtime loss and a shootout setback.
“We had a great ending to the regular season (8-1-1),” said Coach Steve Martinson, who led the franchise to both Presidents Cup triumphs. “It has been a great regular season with lots of team and individual success. I am very proud of this team. With the regular season behind us it is time to look ahead to the playoffs. Now it is show-time. I can’t wait!”
Unlike Dallas Stars forward Jamie Benn, who won the NHL’s scoring title with an assist just nine seconds before the end of the regular season, Allen forward Chad Costello has been the ECHL’s runaway points champion. Costello’s three assists in the season-ending 5-2 triumph at Wichita on Saturday night enabled him to finish with a league-leading and single season team record 125 points (41 goals and a league-leading 84 assists) and set the all time ECHL record for widest margin of victory by a scoring king. His closest competitor was Idaho’s Dale MacLeod, who finished with 80 points.
Costello’s achievement is all the more remarkable when you realize that he lost linemate Jack Combs (56 points and ECHL scoring leader at that time), who went to Sweden in mid-season, was cut after only a handful of games, then returned to the U.S. and began an ECHL odyssey that saw him play for Stockton, be claimed on waivers by Missouri, and finish playing in Cincinnati.
In addition to Combs, the Americans also lost players to American Hockey League affiliate call ups such as forwards Ian Schultz (38 points), Gary Steffes (44 goals, 73 points), and Rylan Schwartz (26 points), and standout goalie Aaron Dell (8-1-1-1, 2.84 GA). If or when any of those players return will depend on whether their AHL teams qualify for the playoffs or are eliminated.
Allen boasts talented forwards such as Greger Hanson (29 goals, 62 points), Jamie Schaafsma (49 points), and Spencer Asuchak (30 points), and their defensive corps includes Justin Baker, Konrad Abeltshauser, Garrett Clarke, Trevor Ludwig and Kevin Young.
“We never thought too much about the ECHL playoffs during the regular season,” said defenseman Nolan Descoteaux (pronounced “duh-CO-toe”), a local player from Coppell, Texas who graduated from Jesuit Prep in Dallas and Rochester Institute of Technology. “I think we sometimes took specific instances of a game and prepared for what lies ahead, like heading into the third period and focusing on playing sound defensive hockey.
“And occasionally we’re guilty of trying to making the prettiest possible play instead of the simple play or the right play,” added Descoteaux, who finished the season at +15. “We probably need to keep it a little simpler. Then again, it’s hard to criticize (a team) when you have this much talent. This is the most talented team I’ve ever been a part of. It’s actually fun to watch our forwards do their jobs.”
Descoteaux’s fellow defender, Aaron Gens, finished tops among the league’s blueliners with 56 points for the season. The Amerks will be without defenseman Tyler Ludwig until the second round, and will have workhorse Riley Gill (33-10-3-2, 2.59 GA) late season stalwart Joel Rumpel (3-0-0-1, 1:68 GA) between the pipes.
If Allen defeats Tulsa, the Central Division’s 4th place finisher, they will play the winner of the Rapid City-Quad City opening round series for the chance to participate in the ECHL Western Conference semifinal against a winner emerging from the Pacific Division. The semifinal winner would play the team emerging from the Eastern Conference for the Kelly Cup. The trophy is named in honor of Patrick J. Kelly, one of the league’s founders. Some information for this story was obtained from Barry Janssen’s Allen Americans Blog at http://www.allenamericansblog.blogspot.com/.