ALLEN, TX – When you have a successful franchise and a successful coach the expectations for the Allen Americans are always very high. You often hear players, coaches, and fans around the league talk about this season will be a push for the playoffs. The expectations in Allen never change, anything less than a championship is considered an unsuccessful season.
THE FRANCHISE: This will be the ninth season since the Allen Americans franchise was founded. The team has never missed the playoffs, made it to the championship finals in the very first year and has won championships in four of the last five years. Allen’s record since joining the ECHL (2014) is 138-55-13-10.
THE COACH: Steve Martinson starts his sixth season as the head coach of the Americans. He is a coaching legend in AA hockey winning ten championships in 21 years. In his first five years as the coach in Allen, he has four championships and a loss in the division finals to the eventual Kelly Cup champion (Colorado). That translates to a playoff series record of 14-1. It is mathematically possible, although unlikely, Martinson could reach 1000 regular season career wins by the end of this season. He currently sits at 943.
LAST SEASON: Allen got off to a terrible start last season. At the end of November, the Americans were in last place in the Mountain Division with an 8-11 record. A few trades and the return of David Makowski from overseas turned the season around. Allen finished as the Mountain Division Champion and runner-up to the Toledo Walleye for the Brabham Cup, which is given to the regular season point champion. Allen’s record last season was 49-17-4-2.
After the bad start, they finished the last five months of the season going 41-6-4-2 and ended the year on a streak of 15-0-1-0. Going into the playoffs, many picked Allen to win it all again. Martinson acquired several AHL caliber players for the playoff run and felt (and still does) it was the team with the most depth of any he has had in Allen. It was a very disappointing loss to the Colorado Eagles in the second round.
As this offseason progressed, each week brought another announcement of bad news from an Allen fan’s perspective though great opportunities for players. Chad Costello to Germany, Spencer Asuchak to Slovakia, Bryan Moore and Makowski to San Jose (AHL), Greger Hanson to San Diego (AHL), Josh Brittain to Slovakia and Wade MacLeod to Germany to name just a few. Gary Steffes and Derek Mathers retired. Dyson Stevenson and Harrison Ruopp were traded in what ended up being an unsuccessful attempt to win a third Kelly Cup. It may not have led to panic from the fans but certainly concern when they contemplated the top six scorers from the regular season and 10 of the top 11 scorers from the playoffs (Joel Chouinard the exception) would not be returning.
Steve Martinson is as good a recruiter as there is in the ECHL. There isn’t a single player that was part of all four championships Martinson has won in Allen. Turnover is part of the game and even more so when you win championships. Martinson did what he does every offseason, and that is to find a new crop of players he can win with. Based on my conversations with coach Martinson he was looking for the type players that he always recruits, those with a team-first attitude that work hard, follow the system, stay in shape and finish their checks. Two traits that were maybe emphasized more this offseason was to find players with a combination of skill and toughness.
THE RESULTS: Everything has fallen into place much better than Martinson could have ever imagined a month ago. To start with three of the top six scorers from last year, who signed elsewhere, are back in Allen. David Makowski and Bryan Moore have been assigned to Allen by San Jose. Spencer Asuchak has returned from overseas, signed an AHL deal with San Jose and also been assigned to Allen. You never know how much time these three players will spend in Allen, but while they are with the Americans, they are all “go-to” players.
Makowski was the best defenseman in the ECHL last season in points per game at 1.19. There wasn’t another defenseman in the league (minimum 40 games) higher than .89 points per game. David finished runner-up as the ECHL Defenseman of the Year even though he only played in 42 games after starting the season in Europe.
Moore didn’t play his first game in Allen last season until the end of November. He carried the team for over a month in December and January at one point scoring at least one goal in 10 of 11 games. He played in only 44 games for the Americans but averaged .61 goals per game, the highest average on the team. If you project that out over a full season, he would score 45 goals.
Asuchak’s return was the most significant surprise, and it is a significant one for Allen. He had the best season of his pro career in 2016-17 with 66 points (26 goals 40 assists) in 64 games. He is so vital to the team because he plays in all situations, is great on faceoffs, and his net-front presence is invaluable.
WHO IS MISSING: You can’t replace a player like Costello. He spent just three seasons in Allen and already owns almost every career scoring record for the Americans. Three MVP awards, three straight seasons of over 100 points and three straight scoring championships can’t and won’t be replaced by any one player.
Hanson led Allen in goals (35), shots (243) and was second to Costello in points, points per game and game-winning goals.
Stevenson didn’t lead the team in any category that is tracked by the ECHL (they don’t track blocked shots), but his presence will surely be missed. The ultimate in a team-first player that will do whatever is asked, stick up for his teammates and be a leader on and off the ice. Dyson was just selected as team captain for the Wichita Thunder.
OLD IS NEW: Martinson has many times brought back players that left to play elsewhere. He did it again this season with two significant acquisitions in Casey Pierro-Zabotel and Jonathan Lessard. Few Allen fans doubt if Casey had been in Allen last season instead of Colorado the Americans would have a third Kelly Cup. Not signing Casey after the 2015-16 season is something I think coach Martinson what like a chance to redo. To Martinson’s credit, if you lose the ECHL’s MVP and top scorer (Chad Costello) nothing like signing the ECHL’s runner-up MVP and runner-up top scorer (Casey Pierro-Zabotel). Jonathan Lessard led the Americans in goals (28) the one season he played in Allen and was part of the 2013-14 championship team. Jonathan has the combination of speed, skill, and toughness that Martinson admires.
FEMALE RECRUITERS: There are many tools in the Steve Martinson recruiting toolbox that allows him to attract great players to Allen but an underappreciated recruiting tool is the careers of player’s wives/girlfriends. Players like Daniel Tetrault and Joel Chouinard ended up in Allen because of their wife’s career. Two players on the roster arrived in Allen this season that way.
Mathieu Aubin is a veteran of 544 ECHL games with two Kelly Cups to his credit along with 83 AHL games. He has averaged .86 points per game over his ECHL career. Aubin has played for the Utah Grizzlies since 2013-14. He ended up in Allen because his fiance moved from Utah to the D/FW area with her company.
Peter MacArthur is the other player on the roster because of his wife’s career. She is a television personality in San Antonio. If not for that fact MacArthur would still be in Adirondack where he was the leading scorer and captain of the team the past two seasons. He is a 10-year pro who has spent four seasons in Europe, has 190 AHL games and 150 ECHL games. He has averaged over a point a game in his 150 ECHL games.
THE NEW GUYS: In addition to the players mentioned above two forwards that could have great seasons for Allen are Zach Pochiro and Olivier Archambault. Both have speed, skill, and great hands.
Pochiro was the surprise of training camp and looks like a player that will thrive in Martinson’s system. It could be a breakout year for him. In addition to an abundance of skill he also plays with an edge.
Archambault is speed and skill personified. He was selected in the first round as the #1 overall pick in the QMJHL in 2009. He will be starting his fourth pro season and has averaged close to a half a goal per game over his 123 ECHL games. If he can continue to improve on both ends of the ice under Martinson’s tutelage, he will also have a breakout season.
On defense keep an eye on the Thrower brothers, Josh and Dalton. Both are solid defensemen who will bring plenty of additional toughness to the team.
THE GOALIES: A team is always as good as their goaltenders and Allen has had the best in the business in Riley Gill over the past three seasons. If Riley can stay healthy and perform as he has in the past, it will go along the way to another successful year for the Americans. It is worth noting Gill is now the oldest player on the team and will turn 33 in January. If you look at age curve studies on goalies, which don’t apply to an individual goalie, they conclude that goalie’s don’t improve as they get into their late 20’s and their performance goes down as they enter their 30’s. Of course, health, conditioning, workload, etc. are all a factor. Riley had one of the best regular seasons of his career last season with a record of 32-7-2-0, a GAA of 2.22, save percentage of .935 and seven shutouts. He will be counted on to deliver the same level of play this season.
Stephon Williams will share goaltending duties this season. Unlike the recent past, San Jose assigned a goalie to Allen that has previous pro experience. Williams has played in 15 ECHL games with a GAA of 2.80 and save percentage of .905. The third-year pro also has played in 58 AHL games (all for Bridgeport) with a GAA of 2.84 and save percentage of .899. His performance will be key for Allen this season. Last season the backup goalies underperformed with a combined record of 17-12-2-2 and a goals against average of close to 3.50.
The Bottom Line
The offense should not be a problem for this team. The Americans scored 294 goals last season, and the current roster scored 241 goals last season. The team has more speed than last season and will be tougher to play against than last season. It all makes for a high octane entertaining style of hockey. Martinson shared his key to success after practice at the end of training camp, and I couldn’t agree more, if the team makes a commitment to getting back on defense and uses their speed at both ends of the rink, it will lead to success.