ALLEN, TX – It is game #70 tonight for the Allen Americans as they take on the Wichita Thunder for the 13th time this season. It will be home game number 36 for Allen as they wrap up the regular season home schedule at the Allen Event Center (AEC). The Kelly Cup Playoffs begin one week from today and Allen could have home-ice advantage for the entire playoffs, but that is still to be decided.
What is guaranteed is the Americans will have home-ice advantage for the first round of the playoffs and the first two games of the opening round are now set. They will be on Wednesday, April 12 and Friday, April 14. The rest of the dates and the opponent still has to be determined.
– The game tonight (7:05 pm) is critical if Allen is to win the Mountain Division and have any chance of overtaking Toledo for the #1 seed in the playoffs.
– Wichita is out of the playoff picture, has just 20 wins, 47 points and has lost eight of their last 10 games. Over the last two seasons, Allen has a record of 22-2-1-0 against the Thunder. It looks like an easy win for the Americans tonight, but nothing could be further from the truth. Wichita has won two of the last four times these teams have met. On January 22, the Thunder beat Allen 5-1 in Wichita and on January 21, they shutout the Americans 4-0 in Allen. One thing in Allen’s favor is the Thunder had to play last night at home and then travel to Allen overnight. Wichita lost to Tulsa last night by a score of 2-1 in overtime.
– The lineup will have a different look for the Americans tonight. Spencer Asuchak has returned from his loan to Providence and should be in the lineup. His net front presence has been missed and he seems to make that top line with Chad Costello and Greger Hanson click. Josh Brittain will be back in the lineup after serving a one-game suspension.
– Derek Mathers will not be in the lineup as he was given a three-game suspension yesterday for a boarding call on Saturday. I had the chance to ask coach Steve Martinson about the play that resulted in Mathers’ suspension and this is how he saw the play.
Mathers took one step toward the Tulsa player who reversed the puck when he saw Derek coming. Within one second of the Tulsa player releasing the puck, Mathers hit him chest-to-shoulder. The player was about one foot from the boards. The check sent the Tulsa player who is 70-80 pounds lighter than Derek into the boards and he hit his head and was unfortunately injured. It wasn’t a dirty hit, there was not an attempt to injure, it was a legal check where a very big man checked a much smaller man. Obviously, the league saw the play differently.
– Here are the current stats comparing Allen and Wichita:
|Team Record||47-17-4-1 (98 points)||20-42-6-1 (47 points)|
|Division Ranking||1st – Mountain||7th – Central|
|Last Game||3-2 Win (Tulsa)||2-1 Loss (Tulsa)|
|Power Play||23.9% (68/285)||14.8% (39/264)|
|Penalty Kill||84.7% (50/327)||78.8% (61/288)|
|Most PIM’s||Mathers (274)||Melindy (227)|
|Leading Scorer||Costello (31-85-116)
– Here is how Allen and Wichita rank in the ECHL in some statistical categories:
Penalty Minutes Per Game: Allen 1st (20.45) – Wichita 3rd (18.42)
Goals Scored Per Game: Allen 2nd (4.04) – Wichita 25th (2.64)
Goals Allowed Per Game: Allen 2nd (2.87) – Wichita 25th (3.86)
Shots For Per Game: Allen 21st (31.33) – Wichita 9th (32.67)
Shots Against Per Game: Allen 23rd (34.80) – Wichita 25th (35.17)
Power Play Percentage: Allen 3rd (23.9%) – Wichita 23rd (14.8%)
Penalty Kill Percentage: Allen 4th (84.7%) – Wichita 24th (78.8%)
– A couple of interesting things to note from the stats above. Allen has a big advantage as they score over a goal a game more than Wichita and allow over a goal a game less than the Thunder. But if you look at shots for and against, the teams are very close. That tells you Allen has a much better shooting percentage than Wichita (12.8% vs 8.0%) and much better goaltending (GAA 2.81 vs 3.81).
– Allen needs to capitalize on the clear advantage they have on special teams. The last time these teams played (March 17 & 18) Allen was 4-7 on the power play while Wichita was 0-7. If you look at all 12 previous games, Allen is 15-53 (28.3%) while Wichita is 7-68 (10.3%). It has been feast or famine for Allen on the power play against Wichita. They have had multiple power play goals six times (three goals twice) but have had no power play goals in five of the 12 games. One thing has been consistent in all of the games against Wichita, if Allen scores a power play goal they have won the game.
– In the 12 head-to-head games this season, Allen has outscored Wichita 51-27, but the Thunder has outshot the Americans 457-382.
– There is little doubt Allen should win the game tonight if you look at the talent on the team, the stats, the record against Wichita and the fact it is a much more important game for Allen than the Thunder. It is a broken record but it is the key to success. Be aggressive but don’t cheat on offense. Don’t try and make plays that aren’t there. If you don’t have a play dump the puck in and forecheck. Remember it is more important to win the game than score. Finish your checks and avoid stick penalties especially in the offensive zone. With the high powered offense on the ice tonight it will be a commitment to defense that is key. Allen not only needs to win they need to win big.
– After practice yesterday coach Martinson gathered the team by the player’s benches and spent a few minutes talking to the team about what lies ahead and what a great opportunity they have. He assured them this is a team that is good enough to win the Kelly Cup and they need to start thinking about that right now. You can’t turn on excellent play when the playoffs start, everyone needs to play their best starting against Wichita on Wednesday. Having a team that is good enough to win a championship is no guarantee. Everyone needs to play their best and take care of themselves on and off the ice. Martinson often reminds players as the playoff commence that trying to do much and be a hero is counterproductive. All he needs is the players to play their best and that will be good enough to win.
– Officials scheduled for the game are referee Mike Sheehan (#11) and linesmen Aaron Schacht (#31) and Lucas Bisbee (#72).
– The ECHL kicks off the year-end awards season today with the announcement of the all-rookie team. Here is the complete schedule for all of the awards. Could be a busy 10 days for several Allen Americans players as they collect some well-deserved hardware.
Today – All-Rookie Team
Thursday, April 6 – All-ECHL First Team & Second Team
Friday, April 7 – Sportsmanship Award & Community Service Award
Monday, April 10 – Leading Scorer, Plus Performer of the Year, Rookie of the Year
Tuesday, April 11 – Coach of the Year
Wednesday, April 12 – Defenseman of the Year
Thursday, April 13 – Goaltender of the Year
Friday, April 14 – Most Valuable Player
– Two former Allen goalies were honored yesterday as ECHL goalie of the week (Eric Levine) and goalie of the month (J.P. Anderson). The goalies of the week for this season includes Riley Gill (twice) and Allen alumni Jake Hildebrand (twice), Joel Rumpel, J.P. Anderson and most recently Eric Levine. J.P. Anderson was selected yesterday as the ECHL goalie of the month for March, an honor Riley Gill received in December. Allen goalie coach Thomas Speer has worked with most of these goalies and I am sure he is proud to see them doing well.
– ECHL Week put out a tweet yesterday that said:
Expect an announcement of league-wide significance sometime prior to the end of the regular season this Sunday.
— ECHL Week (@ECHLWeek) April 4, 2017
– The turmoil in Reading continues as the club announced on Monday that coach Larry Courville has been relieved of his duties as the team’s head coach. The announcement came one day after Courville helped the Royals clinch their eighth consecutive playoff appearance. Back in March, it was announced that Courville and the team could not agree on terms of a new contract extension and he would be leaving at the end of the season.
At that time, team President Drew Bell said, “We are excited to have him (Courville) for the rest of the season and look forward to hopefully a long playoff run and another Kelly Cup.”
Two weeks ago, Bell resigned, and now Courville has been fired. Not sure what if anything this has to do with what is happening in Allen but the fans in Reading are not happy campers. Allen fans have their own issues to worry about wondering if coach Steve Martinson will be given a contract extension and whether the name of the team will be changed. Owner Jack Gulati will be in attendance tonight meeting and greeting fans and soliciting their feedback.
DID YOU KNOW: The playoff picture is quickly coming into focus with just three spots left open. Here is a quick recap:
North Division – All four playoff teams have been determined but how they will be seeded is still up in the air. Currently, #1 is Adirondack, #2 is Brampton, #3 is Manchester and #4 is Reading.
South Division – Two playoff spots have been determined and Florida has locked in the #1 seed. Greenville is currently the #2 seed. Orlando, South Carolina and Cincinnati are competing for the last two playoff spots.
Central Division – Everything is decided with #1 seed Toledo taking on #4 seed Kalamazoo in the first round of the playoffs and #2 seed Fort Wayne taking on #3 seed Quad City.
Mountain Division – Three playoff teams have been decided (Allen, Colorado, Idaho) with Utah, Alaska, and Missouri battling for the #4 seed. Idaho is set as the #3 seed and will take on the #2 seed which is currently Colorado. Allen has a one point lead for the #1 seed and a game in hand over the Eagles.