Coming out of the now-defunct Central Hockey League last year, the Americans were the class of the CHL, having won the President’s Cup two years running. When the CHL folded and the franchise moved over to the ECHL, they made waves right away, posting a 48-14-6 record and finishing the season with the Central Division title.
The playoffs have been a rollercoaster ride for the Americans, starting with decisive victories over Tulsa and Rapid City before a bloodbath of a Conference Final against the Ontario Reign which included 38 goals and 276 penalty minutes (not to mention two shutout losses at the hands of Ontario). A Kelly Cup would seal three years of championships in two different leagues, and be a pretty spectacular way to ring Allen into the ECHL; but if the Americans want to get there they’ll need to play smart hockey against a South Carolina team who’s felled some of the toughest teams in the East en route to the Kelly Cup Final.
– Greger Hanson is the Americans’ leading scorer so far these playoffs. The winger has posted 23 points and 59 SOG in 18 playoff games, and despite the two shutouts of last series has hung on to a +11. Alongside linemates Spencer Asuchak and Chris Crane (a late addition from the Mavericks) his continued production will be a big key to the Americans’ success, especially if Stingrays goaltender Jeff Jakaitis continues the unlucky streak he’s on so far these playoffs.
– Hanson’s not the only American who’s doing big, important work these playoffs. Chad Costello has 23 points and 57 SOG of his own, and had a spectacular 5-point night during Game 1 against Ontario.
– The Hanson and Costello tandem are hugely productive parts of the Americans’ power play, which capitalized on 14.8% of its chances in the series against Ontario. The Rays aren’t nearly as penalty-prone as Ontario, so it may not get the same chance to shine; still, a hot power play combined with an opposing goalie stuck at a .900 SV% means that special teams could play a huge part in getting the Americans to the Kelly Cup.
– As good as Greger Hanson and Chad Costello have been, they’re the 5th and 6th most productive scorers in these playoffs. And 1-4? Three of those spots belong to Wayne Simpson, Andrew Rowe, and Derek DeBlois of the Stingrays.
– That’s an especially big problem given that Riley Gill has been awfully uninspiring in his own crease, posting a .900 SV% over 14 starts in the playoffs. This is probably artificially deflated by the 5-0 and 4-1 nights he backstopped last series, not to mention his 5-1 outing against Tulsa in the quarterfinals. Joel Rumpel is hardly a better option, owning a .880 playoff SV% and some of the biggest stinkers the Americans have endured in the last four weeks.
Keys to the Cup
– The Americans have the upper hand on the Rays in terms of secondary scoring, and that could make all the difference in this series. Hanson and Costello are the muscle for two different lines, and that doesn’t consider other offensive talent like Ian Schultz or Patrik Valcak (who’s got room for improvement in these playoffs yet). Assuming they can count on continued production from them, and some more defensive scoring from Konrad Abeltshauser and Justin Baker, the Americans should post threatening offense no matter what line is on the ice.
– The point shot was a liability in the series against Ontario; Allen’s defensive system clogs shooting lanes easily and generates pretty terrible traffic jams in front of the net. It’s not a high-percentage scoring area, but given their goaltending woes and South Carolina’s offensive threat, avoiding screens in the defensive zone to give Gill a clear view of the puck in those situations will definitely keep goal totals down, which may turn out to be everything in this series.
– If this series comes down to any one thing, it may be the Americans’ ability or inability to stay out of the penalty box. South Carolina boasts a competent power play and, especially given the constant trek to the box during the Conference Finals, Allen’s coaching staff is probably hammering home on-ice discipline as a key every single night.