ALLEN, TX – With 10 championships on his coaching resume including the last four years in Allen and two straight Kelly Cups, you would think Steve Martinson would approach the upcoming season very relaxed, but that is not how Martinson works. He is a guy that eats, breathes and sleeps hockey and if he isn’t talking about the Allen Americans the topic is usually youth hockey and how his kids teams are doing. Here is a guy that has been involved in professional hockey for 35 years as a player and head coach. Yet, as anyone who attends his post game chats with season ticket holders can attest, he takes a loss harder than anyone involved in the organization.
Having talked to coach Martinson many times over the summer recruiting period it is obvious that he sees the opportunity to do something very special in Allen this season. Putting a third straight Kelly Cup championship feather in his coaching hat that is already loaded with feathers is what drives Martinson these days. After all, three straight championships has never been accomplished in the history of the ECHL.
You often hear Martinson say his teams are the same each year, the only difference is the names on the back of the jersey. He wants teams that have a mix of skill, speed and grit that finish their checks and play physical. While the 2016-17 team will have all of the same traits as teams from the past, Martinson has built this team for the playoffs.
As he said at a recent fan gathering, “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 you ask what has Martinson done differently in putting together this team and why do they have a chance to win a third straight Kelly Cup. Here are a few reasons:
Martinson has not signed a single rookie and even with some young guys expected to be assigned by San Jose, it is possible that the opening day roster will not have any rookie skaters on the ice.
All 11 forwards that have signed played on one of Martinson’s championships teams in Allen. They know what is expected, they know the system, and they know they have a great chance for a deep playoff run.
Because of the past success, players are willing to sign in Allen at reasonable salaries. They could get higher pay elsewhere but the combination of playing in the Dallas/Fort Worth area and the extra money to be made in the playoffs that goes along with winning is the reason they want to play in Allen. The value of winning a championship can be $15,000 when you consider the the extra weeks of pay, housing and playoff bonuses.
Among the returning players are three of the last four Kelly Cup MVP’s. Riley Gill (2013), Greger Hanson (2015) and Chad Costello (2016). Riley Gill is the ECHL all-time leader in playoff wins (48) and wins in the finals (11). Costello led all players in the playoffs last season with 36 points and set an ECHL all-time record with 29 playoff assists. Hanson has been outstanding in the playoffs all three years he has been in Allen. He has a total of 70 points (27 goals 25 assists) in 65 playoff games.
While there are still some player signings to be announced and the assignments from San Jose have not been finalized, if all goes as planned, the opening day roster will include the following by the numbers:
18 – players with AHL experience
16 – players that have played on a championship team in Allen
9 – players that have won two championships in Allen
2 – players that have won three championships in Allen (Asuchak & Hanson)
The return of Kale Kerbashian and Tanner Eberle along with a healthy Chris Crane, who was the best all around player (offense, defense, special teams) when he was hurt in early March, makes for a group of forwards that will have three lines all capable of scoring. Most of the forwards would be top line guys on any team.
Special teams are always a key to success and have been a hallmark of Steve Martinson teams. Anytime you have Chad Costello on your team you will have an outstanding power play and Allen led the ECHL last season with 21.1%. The power play was the difference maker in the playoffs last season where the Americans far outpaced their opponents scoring on 27.1% of their power plays. The penalty kill was also outstanding finishing #3 in the ECHL at 86.4%.
With the defensemen that are signed and those expected from San Jose, the group should be bigger, but mobile with the abilty to move the puck and jump in on the play in the offensive zone. Joel Chouinard is one of the few new players already announced and he will log a lot of minutes. Chouinard has 214 AHL games under his belt.
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 Americans 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.
DID YOU KNOW: The Allen Americans final roster will be full of experienced players but they are still youthful. While there are four player 29 or older (Gill, Costello, Steffes, Gens) there will be 14 players 25 or younger.