ALLEN, Texas – The opening day roster has not been made public but will be out sometime today. Then it will be known how many players will be on the active roster (maximum of 21), players on reserve (maximum of two), and who will be placed on injured reserve (must remain for a minimum of 14 days). With the number of rookies and second-year players on the roster along with five players from Iowa that only cost Allen $525 per week toward the salary cap, it is easy to see the opening day roster could be as high as 24 players, 21 active roster, two on reserve and one on injured reserve.
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 how the upcoming 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 tenth 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 six seasons. Allen’s record since joining the ECHL (2014) is 173-84-19-12.
THE COACH: Steve Martinson starts his seventh season as the head coach of the Americans. He is a coaching legend in AA hockey winning 10 championships in 22 years. In his first six years as the coach in Allen he has won four championships. Martinson’s playoff series record in Allen is 15-2. Martinson will reach 1000 regular season career wins this season. He currently sits at 978.
LAST SEASON: Allen’s record last season was 35-29-6-2. If you had to describe last season for the Allen Americans in one word that word would be inconsistent. The Americans won their first three games of the season by averaging over six goals per game and outscoring their opponents 19-8 but then turned around and lost five in a row. That pattern would repeat itself several times over the course of the season though losing streaks were more prevalent than winning streaks. There were four losing streaks (four or more games) and just two winning streaks of that length. The low point came from the end of December to the end of January when Allen lost 11 of 13 games.
If you look at the entire 2017-18 season it was a good start followed by a disastrous middle followed by a good finish. Here are the winning percentages broken into three monthly groups. To give you an idea of how bad January and February were, the winning percentage (.326) was much lower than the winning percentage of the worst team in the ECHL last season (.382). Injuries, call-ups and suspensions really cost the Americans after a good start.
.641 – October, November, December
.326 – January and February
.647 – March and April
Allen finished the season with the lowest point total in team history (78) and remember the first five seasons in the CHL they only played 66 games rather than the 72 they play in the ECHL.
Special teams proved to be an Achilles heel most of the season for Allen. The Americans have always been at or near the top of the league in power play and penalty kill percentage. The stats last season were way below prior seasons. Here are the stats:
17.1% – 2017-18 (ranked #15)
24.4% – 2016-17
21.1% – 2015-16
21.9% – 2014-15
81.6% – 2017-18 (ranked #20)
84.4% – 2016-17
86.6% – 2015-16
86.3% – 2014-15
After struggling to just make the playoffs the Americans went on the road in the first round and won two games in Idaho and then returned to Allen and took game three. With a 3-0 series lead the Americans had a historic collapse, losing the series 4-3 and exited the playoffs in the first round. It was only the second time in the 30 year history of the ECHL a team had lost in the playoffs after taking a 3-0 series lead.
OVERVIEW: Martinson is as good a recruiter as there is in the ECHL. You don’t win in AA hockey if you can’t recruit. There isn’t a single player that was part of all four Allen championships, the only constant was Martinson. Turnover is part of the game and some good players that spent time in Allen last season are missing. Vincent Arseneau and Olivier Archambault are with AHL teams, Alex Guptill is playing in England and Bryan Moore is in Toledo. Martinson did what he does every offseason and that is find a new crop of players he can win with.
Martinson made it clear his approach to recruiting would be different from last season. Martinson’s focus this season has been much more on having experienced players that are committed to playing in Allen combined with young players that want to move up. Last season David Makowski, Spencer Asuchak and Thomas Frazee were all on AHL deals. This season they are not under AHL contracts. Add in player/assistant Casey Pierro-Zabotel, who along with captain Joel Chouinard has not missed a game the last two seasons and you have a core group totally focused on winning another Kelly Cup for Allen.
Another focus for recruitment was to improve team speed and that has clearly been accomplished.
Finally, Martinson has found a new affiliate for the upcoming season in the Minnesota/Iowa Wild. It is a great relationship that will benefit all involved.
THE RESULTS: Everything has fallen into place much better than coach Martinson could have ever imagined. He has a core group returning including Pierro-Zabotel (#6 in the league in points, #2 in assists), Makowski (#2 in points by defenseman and runner-up as league defenseman of the year), Chouinard (#4 in the ECHL in points by defenseman), Asuchak (longest tenured Allen player and best net-front player on the team) and Frazee (helped Allen make the playoffs as the leading scorer the last 12 games of the season).
Add to the veteran core group is a talented crop of rookies and second-year players. Forwards Braylon Shmyr, Chad Butcher, Jordy Stallard and Dante Salituro (assigned by Minnesota) were all the top scorer for their team in juniors.
Martinson recruited three defensemen who can skate and will make a difference on the blue line and will jump into the play. One of them, Alex Breton, was his team’s second-leading scorer last season as a defenseman.
Allen has received five players from Iowa, C.J. Motte, Dante Salituro, Pavel Jenys, Chase Lang and Josh Thrower. They will all have a chance to contribute.
WHO IS MISSING: The big piece missing is Arseneau. He is the type of players that is almost impossible to replace. He is an offensive weapon that strikes fear in opponents as the heaviest hitter in the league. Allen owns Arseneau’s ECHL rights and he didn’t play in Utica’s (AHL) first two regular season games so there is hope he could be in Allen at some time but if not Martinson will look to add a player similar to Arseneau.
Two of Allen’s top scorers are not back (Alex Guptill & Bryan Moore) but offense should not be a problem for this team. The Americans scored 235 goals last season. The current roster scored a total of 316 goals last season.
THE OLD AND NEW: The Allen roster this season is definitely different than in the past. The oldest players are 29 (Pierro-Zabotel & Makowski) while six are only 21 and another four are 22. The Americans average age is 24.15 which makes them the fifth youngest team in the ECHL.
THE GOALIES: A team is always as good as their goaltenders and Allen had the best in the business in Riley Gill, who was injured in his second start last season and missed the remainder of the season. Motte and Jeremy Brodeur will be the goalies to start the season for Allen.
Motte was just assigned to Allen by Iowa and is the fifth goalie in the Minnesota Wild system, so if there are any injuries in Iowa or Minnesota he will be called up. Last season, Motte spent most of his time in Quad City. Playing for the last place team in the ECHL he had a GAA of 3.45 and save percentage of .910 in 28 games. He excelled when called up to the AHL. He played three games for the Chicago Wolves and had a 2.30 GAA and .922 save percentage. In six games with the Iowa Wild, he had a GAA of 2.13 and a save percentage of .926. He will get a lot of work in Allen, starting with the season opener in Kansas City on Friday night. Jeremy Brodeur will be counted on just as he was last season when he compiled a GAA of 3.15 and save percentage of .917 in 39 games.
BOTTOM LINE: Offense should not be a problem for this team. The team has more speed than ever before. It all makes for a high octane entertaining style of hockey. I heard coach Martinson share 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. Allen fans can look forward to a turnaround from a disappointing season in 2017-18.
What Say You?