Those who look at history through a lens covered by a league logo will see the rise of the Allen Americans and their greatness beginning when they were absorbed into the ECHL in October 2014. Those who have seen it from the start, myself included, choose to look at it this way.
It started in the third period of game 7 in the Central Hockey League President’s Cup Finals against the Wichita Thunder on May 11, 2013. Up until that period and with a chance to win their first title, the Americans had played the prior game-and-a-half of the series against Wichita in a malaise. As the clock leaked below the half-way mark of the final period, a line centered by Jarret Lukin pinned the Thunder in their end of the ice, and it was a blue-line keep by defenseman Mike Montgomery, followed by a goal by Lukin which ultimately opened the floodgates.
It led pundits, like myself, to say Allen was a “one-and-done” champion. After all, it is an incredible feat to repeat as champion in any league.
They proved me wrong.
But, I’m a once bitten, twice shy kind of a person, so when the South Carolina Stingrays came calling in the 2015 edition of the Kelly Cup Finals, I wisely picked the Americans. I should have taken that pick to a betting window.
They couldn’t possibly do this a fourth time in a row, could they? My mind and gut were both inclined to say “no” as I laid out in our predictions prior to the start of the season. But sure enough, here we are on the 10th of June, writing and telling the story of another Allen Americans championship.
It has seemed like a rite of passage in recent years, for Allen Americans fans and players to celebrate championships. Seeing the photos of elation in the player’s eyes and fans hoisting the Ray Miron President’s Cup or the Kelly Cup will never get old.
“It’s starting to become the norm here in Allen,” Greger Hanson told the Allen American. “It’s equally special every year, but it’s just crazy to do it again.”
Players have come and gone, but there is one constant that has remained through every championship, Americans Head Coach and Director of Hockey Operations Steve Martinson. While some of his moves have not panned out, there have been quite a few which have and in some cases, were the final pieces to a championship.
Here is a list of the moves which each season have helped propel the Americans to a title:
Just before the 2013 playoffs began in the CHL, Martinson lured high-scoring forward Todd Robinson away from the Evansville IceMen. He scored the championship-winning goal on Torrie Jung in overtime of game 7.
The following season, Martinson bolstered the lineup by adding ECHL- talents Jonathan Lessard, Alex Lavoie and Spencer Asuchak to the roster. But during an offensive slump, he added centerman Bruce Graham to the club following a stint overseas. Graham helped the Americans shake out of the slump and they won another CHL title.
During the summer of 2014, when it was widely rumored the CHL would be absorbed into the ECHL, Martinson was out building an ECHL-caliber roster filled with the likes of Aaron Gens, Jack Combs, Chad Costello, and Gary Steffes. In the days after the league change was announced, Martinson forged an affiliation with the San Jose Sharks, which brought in players like Konrad Albeltshauser, Joel Rumpel, Chris Crane and Dyson Stevenson. He also acquired Greger Hanson from Cincinnati and Riley Gill from Reading. Vincent Arseneau was added to the mix during the season, to give the Americans some added physicality and speed, something Martinson’s systems are dependent upon. The result was Allen’s third straight title, first in the ECHL.
During this past offseason, Martinson did a good job of retaining the core from the 2015 title winning club. Back came Costello, Steffes, Gill, Asuchak, Arseneau, Hanson and Gens. The affiliation with San Jose chipped in Nikita Jevpalovs, Rick Pinkston, and Danny Federico. Again, it was a pair of late season moves which helped the Americans hoist the Kelly Cup. Michigan State goaltender Jake Hildebrand got the Americans three wins in the playoffs, including one in the Kelly Cup Finals. Defenseman Jordan Rowley also played a key role in the lineup, playing a shutdown role on the Americans blueline during the playoffs.
“You have to build as much depth as you can in this league,” Martinson told the Dallas Morning News‘ Rick Gosselin, “because it is a game of attrition.”
The depth he has compiled and coaching has paid off in four straight titles, 14 straight playoff series wins, and has given Allen a record of 56-29 in the playoffs the last four years. The Americans are the first minor pro team to win four straight league championships, and the first franchise since the 1980-83 New York Islanders of the NHL to win four in-a-row.
Martinson now has 10 professional coaching championships, the most of any coach, and is now 7-0 in his last seven championship series. In addition, he has not lost a playoff series later than the second round since 1999.
There is not a coach out there who is more acutely aware of what his players need, when to push them and what in-game changes to make than Martinson is right now.
In an era when coaches are regularly on the move, it is refreshing to see Martinson remain in Allen and build something special, in spite of ownership. What he and Americans have been able to do is something incredibly rare, and they have become a true dynasty, regardless of league.
The dynasty will end at some point, but while it is here, those of us involved in the sport as media, fans, players, coaches and scouts should embrace and enjoy what is being done. There is no mistaking the greatness of Allen’s run.
So the other teams in the ECHL now have one simple mantra “come and take it.”