ALLEN, Texas – It is game day for the Allen Americans as they take on the Idaho Steelheads tonight at 8:10 (CST). It is the first of three games this week against Idaho as the teams will also play on Friday and Saturday. The game tonight will be the first of six games between Allen and Idaho this season and all six games take place in the next 18 days. The Steelheads visit the Allen Event Center for the Americans next three home games starting on January 30.

– Allen arrives in Boise to face the hottest team in the ECHL. Idaho has won eight of their last nine games and just finished a three-game sweep of Toledo who is the second best team in the Western Conference in points (50).

– If there is an heir apparent in the Mountain Division to the teams that won the last four Kelly Cups (Allen & Colorado) it just could be Idaho. The formula for success in the playoffs as set by the last four Kelly Cup champions is a combination of skill and physicality along with good goaltending. Idaho has the best goal differential in the Mountain Division (+29), is ranked #4 in the league in goals allowed, #3 in penalty minutes (806), #3 in fighting majors (39) and their top goalie (Tomas Sholl) has the second best GAA in the league (2.03) and second-best save percentage (.935).

– Allen’s challenge will be to continue their great play from the three-game sweep of Wichita last week. The Americans are riding their longest winning streak of the season (three games) and their best offensive production with 19 goals in the last three games.

– Since joining the ECHL, Allen’s regular season record in Idaho is 4-6-0-0. Idaho is also the location of Allen’s lowest point in their playoff history when the Steelheads came back from a 3-0 deficit to eliminate the Americans in the first round of the playoffs last season.

–  If you compare Allen and Idaho based on season long stats the Steelheads have a big advantage. Allen has scored 112 goals and allowed 155 for a goal differential of -43. Idaho has scored 125 goals and allowed 96 for a goal differential of +29.

Here are some other comparisons (green represents the better-ranked team):

Avg PIMs per game: Allen 20.59 – Idaho 21.78
Minor penalties: Allen 237 – Idaho 198
Fighting majors: Allen 15 – Idaho 39
Avg goals per game: Allen 2.73 – Idaho 3.38
Avg goals allowed: Allen 3.78 – Idaho 2.59
Avg shots per game: Allen 31.66 – Idaho 31.95
Avg shots allowed: Allen 36.17 – Idaho 31.00
Team shooting percentage: Allen 8.4% – Idaho 10.4%
Team save percentage: Allen .897 – Idaho .918
Team plus/minus: Allen -210 – Idaho +82

– One of the real telling stats between these teams is how they have performed in the third period. Allen has given up the most third period goals in the league (56) while Idaho has given up the fewest (19).

– Idaho is ranked third in the ECHL in power play percentage at 21.3%, but in a strange twist, they have the 20th-ranked power-play at home, with a conversion percentage of 14.6%. Allen has a lower overall power play percentage than Idaho (18.6%) but on the road Allen’s power play is 20.0%. Add this to the Americans going 7-12 on the power play in their last three games and special teams could favor Allen tonight.

– A good start and playing with a lead is always a key to victory but even more so against Idaho. With a first period lead the Steelheads have a record of 11-1-1-1 and when leading after the second period they are 13-0-1-1. Even when tied after the second period Idaho’s record is 6-0-0-1. On the other hand when Allen is tied after the second period their record is 3-8-0-0.

– The three upcoming games against Idaho will be a good test for the Americans who are clearly playing their best hockey of the season. Allen is scoring more, allowing fewer goals and have received great goaltending since C.J. Motte returned from his recall to the ECHL. However, it should be noticed the Americans three game win streak came against Wichita who has lost eight straight games.

– Roster changes for this road trip include the addition of defenseman Etienne Boutet who Allen got in a trade with Orlando but was on loan to the AHL. Alex Ranger and Johnny McInnis did not accompany the team to Idaho because of injuries.

– The rights to Sam Jardine (acquired from Orlando as part of the Archambault rights trade) were traded to the Newfoundland Growlers on Monday with no announcement of a player coming to Allen in return. When head coach Steve Martinson addressed the season ticket holders after the last home game, he shared that he expected to get an AHL contracted player assigned to Allen for Jardine’s rights but the deal fell through. Now that a deal has been made with Newfoundland I would expect an AHL contracted player from the Growler’s AHL affiliate (Toronto Marlies) to be assigned to Allen any day. I would assume that player’s name is already known by the Americans but just hasn’t been announced.

– The referee scheduled tonight is Alex Normandin (#26). The linesmen will be Daniel Spore (#73) and Ryan Nevins (#86).

Other Thoughts

– After a good start to the season, the Rapid City Rush have come on hard times recently. They have lost eight of nine games and yesterday suspended their leading scorer, Andrew Radjenovic, and removed him from the roster. He most likely is headed overseas. Rapid City has fallen to sixth place in the Mountain Division, nine points ahead of the Americans. Things won’t get any easier for Rapid City this week as the best team in the ECHL (Florida Everblades) is in town for three games. To make matters worse the Rush attendance in averaging only 2551 per game which is 500 fewer than last season.

– The other three game series starting tonight that is worth keeping an eye on is Tulsa at Utah. These teams are tied for second place in the Mountain Division with 48 points. By winning percentage Utah leads the division at .686 with Tulsa ranking third at .615. Both teams have been playing excellent hockey recently. Tulsa has won seven of their last eight games and Utah has won five of their last six games.

– I was doing some research for a “Where Are They Now” story I wrote about Nino Musitelli and came across this documentary about the 1996-97 Fort Worth Fire championship team.

Bill McDonald was the coach of that team and Dwight Mullins was the captain of the team. The teacher/coach (McDonald) and the student/captain (Mullins) switched roles in 2009-10 when Mullins became the first head coach of the Allen Americans and hired McDonald as his associate coach. These two men put that first Allen team together in the image of their 1996-97 Fort Worth Fire team that won the Central Hockey League championship. It was a skilled team that played a very physical game. That became the template/genetic code for the Allen Americans that has now lasted for 10 seasons.

Here is the 50 minute documentary about the Fort Worth Fire 1996-97 championship season with interviews and video highlights. You hear from McDonald and Mullins and among the video highlights is MacDonald and an opposing coach’s altercation on the bench. You also hear about another player on that team, Wichita coach Malcolm Cameron. Whether you are an Allen fan or just a hockey fan and especially if you followed Texas minor league hockey back in the 1990’s you will enjoy this program with the title, “Blaze of Glory.”

Did You Know?

The Idaho Steelheads were founded in 1997 and played in the West Coast Hockey League (WCHL) until they joined the ECHL for the 2003-04 season. Similar to the Allen Americans, the Steelheads won the Kelly Cup in their first season in the ECHL. Idaho also won the Kelly Cup in 2007. Idaho is one of only six teams that have won multiple Kelly Cups. The others are Alaska, Allen, Cincinnati, Colorado, and South Carolina. Idaho has never missed the playoffs and now has a 15-year streak (ECHL, 20 years overall) of making the playoffs. The Steelheads are named for a species of seagoing rainbow trout native to Idaho streams and rivers and popular with local anglers.

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