The Allen Americans are about to embark on a quest for a fifth straight championship and third straight Kelly Cup. Winning one Kelly Cup is an amazing feat but winning three in a row is unprecedented, having never been accomplished since the inception of the ECHL in 1988. It is definitely a tall order but coach Martinson has put together a team that is capable of giving it a shot.
Here is a preview:
Head Coach: Steve Martinson – There are many statistics you can cite when talking about Martinson. He is an outstanding coach and an even better general manager. He will be starting his 21st year as a head coach and has missed the playoffs just one time. One statistic says it all about Martinson, he has won 10 championships in 20 years as a head coach. He has played in 14 playoff series since becoming the coach in Allen and has yet to lose. When it comes to seven games series there is nobody better.
Captain/Leadership: There has been no announcement about team leadership but when you win the championship it doesn’t make sense to make a change. Everyone is back from last season so would expect Chad Costello and Gary Steffes to be co-captains again with Aaron Gens and Dyson Stevenson as the alternates. Locker room leadership comes from more than those wearing the letters and this team is loaded with leaders on and off the ice.
Anytime you win the Kelly Cup it is an outstanding season but Allen struggled at times during the regular season last year. They finished with 89 points compared to 106 points in 2014-15 when they won their first Kelly Cup. The Americans didn’t even win their division and were the fourth seed in the Western Conference. The saving grace for the team during the regular season and playoffs was special teams where they were the best in the league. Sometimes you forget that Allen almost was eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by a very good Idaho team. The Americans lost game five in Idaho by a score of 7-1 to go down in the series 3-2. They then won game six and seven at home to advance.
If the saying, “go with what got you there” is true the Americans have it in spades this season. The opening day roster will have 20 players on it and 18 of them have played in Allen during at least one of the championship seasons. The team is anchored by Chad Costello who has been amazing in his two seasons in Allen, along with the winningest playoff goalie in ECHL history, Riley Gill.
– Costello has been the league scoring champion the last two seasons, has been a MVP the last two seasons (by the PHPA in 2015 & the ECHL in 2016) and was the Kelly Cup MVP this past season. He has not missed a game in two years and has a staggering 292 total points (81 goals 211 assists) between regular season and playoffs.
– Gill is made for the playoffs and has put the Allen Americans on his back the last two seasons and led them to consecutive Kelly Cups. He has more playoff wins (48) and playoff finals wins (11) than any goalie in ECHL history to go along with a Kelly Cup MVP award and three Kelly Cup championships.
– Spencer Asuchak and Greger Hanson (2015 Kelly Cup MVP) both return. They have been key players on the last three Allen championships. Chris Crane is back after missing the end of the season and playoffs last year. Chris is a key piece to this team as he can play in all situations and works hard all over the ice. If he stays healthy he could have a big year. Gary Steffes is back and has looked great in training camp. Gary scored six goals against Wheeling in the Kelly Cup finals after scoring four goals in the finals against South Carolina in 2015. His 10 goals in the finals ranks him second all-time. You can go down the list of returning players from last year’s playoff roster, Dyson Stevenson, Aaron Gens, Tristan King, Eric Roy, J.P. LaFontaine, Rick Pinkston and Kyle Neuber and see players that have been successful in the playoffs.
– There are several categories of players that did not return this season. You have the players that joined the team at the end of their college careers (Thomas Carr, Jordan Rowley, Jake Hildebrand) and were on the playoff roster. Part of their deal with the Americans was they would not be protected by Allen so they could pursue all options for their first full professional season. Carr and Rowley signed overseas and Hildebrand signed a one-year deal with the Rockford IceHogs (AHL). The IceHogs recently assigned Jake to their ECHL affiliate, the Indy Fuel.
– The second group of players that are not returning are those that didn’t fit with coach Martinson’s plans. There are many factors to consider when putting a team together and some don’t relate to on-ice performance. Factors such as is a player a veteran, housing & insurance costs, what a player is like in the locker room are considerations as well as how well players fit into the system Martinson wants to play. These are players that don’t receive an offer to return.
– Finally, there are those players that Martinson tries hard to sign but the player chooses another option. The two players that he really wanted back that opted not to return were David Makowski who signed in Hungary and Vincent Arseneau who signed in Wichita.
– Two of the new guys are really old guys as Kale Kerbashian and Tanner Eberle return. Kerbashian won two championships with the Americans in 2013 & 2014. Kale is strong on the puck, can score and pass and is happy to be back on a winning team. He could have the best year of his career and should be a point a game player.
The other returnee is Tanner Eberle, who returns to Allen where he originally signed in the 2014-15 season. Tanner played just five games (2 goals 2 assists) before he was loaned to the Bridgeport Sound Tigers (AHL) and never returned. Last season he was scheduled to come back to Allen but signed a one-way deal with the Iowa Wild (AHL). Let’s hope the third time is a charm and Allen fans will be able to see more of Eberle this season. Eberle’s speed and ability to hit have made him an effective two-way player. If Tanner can stay healthy (he played in just 45 games last season) he will be a great addition to the Allen Americans lineup.
– The two new players to Allen are defensemen Joel Chouinard and Travis Brown. Chouinard is a 6th round draft choice of the Colorado Avalanche in the 2008 NHL draft and has 204 AHL games to his credit. He is an offensive defenseman who is good at both ends of the ice.
Brown was a fifth-round draft choice of the Chicago Blackhawks in the 2012 NHL draft. He is described in scouting reports as a balanced defenseman who combines puck moving ability with a 6’2″ frame and commitment to the physical game. He skates very well and has good mobility in all directions. When the puck is on his stick, he can make safe plays on the breakout as well as get his shot through on the offensive end.
– There are still 2-4 players to be assigned by San Jose which will make a strong Allen team even stronger. If the Americans get two or three forwards from San Jose, they will have three lines of players that could all be top line players in the ECHL.
MOVIN’ ON UP
The Allen Americans roster is full of players that could see time in the AHL this season. Obviously, all of the San Jose contracted players assigned to Allen could be recalled. Currently, there are just three (Jamie Murray, Eric Roy, Travis Brown) but that number will increase by three or four in the near future. The players that do not have an AHL contract are free agents and can be loaned to any AHL team. With the talent on the roster, many of the free agent players could get loaned to AHL teams. Steve Martinson is a coach known for loaning players and feels it helps his team in the long term to loan players even if it can cause short term issues. Chouinard, Eberle, Asuchak, Steffes, Crane, Hanson, and Pinkston all played AHL games last season and would be candidates to be loaned again this year. Who gets loaned will depend on performance but the younger guys might have an advantage. The youngest of the group are Eberle (22), Asuchak (24) and Crane (24).
– It is difficult to know what impact the new division alignment will have on the season. Since the schedule didn’t change after the teams were realigned the regular season will have the Americans play less than half of their games against teams in their division (Mountain Division). The Americans will play their division rival Missouri 13 times but the other five Mountain Division teams (Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Rapid City, Utah) a total of just 18 games. Meanwhile, they play their non-division rivals Wichita and Tulsa 14 time each.
– The big impact with being in the Mountain Division will be in the playoffs. The first two rounds of the playoffs are within the division. Historically, the Americans have been required to travel by bus and the miles to the other Mountain Division cities is substantial. They would fly to Alaska but could have to bus to all the other locations. Here is the mileage from Allen to the other cities in the division:
Idaho – 1605
Utah – 1238
Rapid City – 1058
Colorado – 842
Missouri – 473- Another intangible to consider is what I would put under the umbrella of “treatment of players” and it covers a myriad of issues. While many ECHL teams in the Division will be traveling by air, the Americans will be climbing on “Big Red” which is a 1998 Prevost bus which has seen its better days. No satellite TV, no wifi and little doubt some breakdowns along the way. All teams deal with budget issues but some of the problems the players have had to deal with would surprise even the most frugal teams. With the opportunity to do something very special in the pursuit of a third Kelly Cup, ownership/budget support will be crucial. The team has persevered through issues in the past but it would be great if things were a little different this year.
With the best team Martinson has assembled since arriving in Allen, this team has a chance to do something very special. This quote from Martinson captures his sentiment, “With the players we have signed and those I expect to get from San Jose, I wish we could go right to the playoffs. You never know what the team will look like when the playoffs arrive but I really like the team we have assembled.”
So Martinson has built a team of experienced players most of which have playoff success. They are players that want to be in Allen because of the winning tradition. They know what it takes to win and have great leadership on the ice and in the locker room. You never know what the season will hold in terms of injuries and call-ups and winning three straight Kelly Cups is certainly unprecedented. With that said, coach Martinson has put together a team that any coach would love to take into the playoffs. Throw in the fact that Allen is 14-0 in playoff series under coach Martinson and you have the possibility of a third Kelly Cup this season. Allen fans have great trust in Steve Martinson. If he says there is a chance to do something special this season they are more than willing to go along for the ride no matter what the outcome.
I had a chance to ask coach Martinson what he would include in a season preview of his team and got some interesting insight. Here are some of his thoughts in his own words:
“We have players that want to win in the playoffs and we have guys that want to be loaned to AHL teams. The trade off of having a team like that is you have to have a lot of depth and players are going to have to rotate through.”
“We are not like the NHL where six guys play on the power play and six don’t. We want to have our cake and eat it too so there will be times when we have too many good players available.”
“When we have all of our guys available along with the San Jose players we will have some salary cap issues to deal with.”
“I am going to carry extra players this year which I didn’t do last season as that will help us win.”
“Our goaltending should be really good with Jamie Murray, who was the Division III player of the year and had a .963 save percentage in his short time with us last year, along with Riley Gill, the winningest playoff goalie in the history of the league. It is nice to know with Gill you have the best goalie on your team. Riley has settled in North Texas with his family and has recommitted himself to being the best. Having a contract goalie like Murray to take some of the load will help Riley extend his career.”
“Our playoffs are important to San Jose. I have been in situations where playoffs aren’t important to affiliates. It is so important to have a good relationship with your affiliate and San Jose has been great.”
DID YOU KNOW: The Allen Americans ranked in the bottom fourth of the ECHL in total player salaries during the 2015-16 season.
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