ALLEN, TX – I promise this post will be about the Allen Americans but it will take a couple of paragraphs to get there. I spent the past week dove hunting in west Texas. The first part of the week on a 33,000 acre cattle ranch where you can normally sit around one of the sparse watering holes, nobody within 10 miles, and have excellent hunting. However, with rain everyday last week there was water everywhere so there was very poor hunting to go along with very muddy ranch roads.
With many hours sitting on a pail watching for doves that rarely appeared, there was plenty of time to enjoy nature and reflect. The most constant sounds were the continuous whistling of what appears to be an outstanding quail hatch, cows bellering, blue-winged teal doing a flyby and many flickertails, woodpeckers and mockingbirds. Then there was the deer, wild hog, rattlesnake, coyote, box turtle and red tailed hawk that came by. It was a great trip even though the hunting was not good.
Then on the weekend another type of dove hunt took place as I joined a group of hunters that participated in a charity hunt for wounded warriors. We were able to hunt and share stories with 10 of these brave young men and women who have served our country. Being a Vietnam veteran, I found myself reflecting back and seeing similarities between how the public reacted to the war in Vietnam and in Iraq and Afghanistan. Again, with all the rain, hunting proved to be a challenge but it didn’t impede the camaraderie at all.
With a week of reflection time you cover a lot of ground. Hunting brings back great memories of my dad who bought me my first shotgun when we lived in the small town of Flandreau, South Dakota. It was pheasant country and you started young. I got my first shotgun when I was nine. It was a used 20 gauge bolt action my dad bought from the local hardware store for $30. That started a love affair with hunting that has lasted 60 years.
So there is the backdrop, lots of time sitting on a pail with time to think. At one point I started to think about what a wonderful experience it has been to be a fan of the Allen Americans. It seemed simple enough when my wife noticed there was a new hockey team coming to Allen and maybe we should get season tickets. We were hockey fans having gone to high school and college in Minnesota and attending University of Minnesota and Minnesota North Stars games. Little did we know when we became one of the first Allen Americans full season ticket holders the joy it would bring.
It would be easy to just focus on the success of the team as that has been absolutely amazing. From going to the championship finals in the very first year (2009-10) to winning four consecutive championships starting with the 2012-13 season. The Americans have never missed the playoffs, they have opened the playoffs at home all seven years and won all four of their championships on home ice. Allen’s all time regular season record is 295-128-20-28. No fan could ask for more.
Team success is just part of the great fan experience in Allen. Most fans would agree what makes minor pro hockey unique and more enjoyable is the relationship between the players and the fans. Always accessible, willing to take time with the fans, sign whatever the fans wish to have signed. The players aren’t just players but become friends with the fans. You never get tired of watching the players interacting with the young ones who attend practice, games or team events. It is special.
Many fans not only become friends with the players but with their families. It is like keeping track of relatives once the players retire or move on. Luckily, social media plays a big role in updates as those babies from a few years ago start to grow up. Harper and London Graham are now in school and have a little brother. Aiden Snowden has already won a golf tournament and been interviewed by the Golf Channel and both he and his little brother (Keegan) love hockey. The oldest of the four Ludwig girls, (Tyler & Taylor have three and Trevor & Holly have one) Sydney, is now playing soccer. The Schaafsma family grew by one this summer (Sullivan) and he has already watched his dad, big brother (Sutter) and sister (Sawyer) on the ice. Bottom line is Allen fans will be watching as all these kids grow up for many years. The current team has a new crop of children (Costello & Gill) for fans to watch grow up.
It was also fun to reflect on some of the “characters” that have played in Allen over the years. You know, those players the opposing fans don’t like until they play on their team. Kip Brennan, Darryl Bootland and Garrett Clarke are great examples. Totally different on the ice than off the ice. Engaging, introspective and articulate guys who always had time for the fans.
The last four years have been unprecedented in minor pro hockey as the Americans have won four straight championships. You certainly can’t reflect on the history of the Allen Americans without talking about Steve Martinson. His coaching prowess speaks for itself with 10 championships in 20 years as a head coach. He is a throw back coach who knows what works and is a great recruiter. I have spent many hours with coach Martinson over the last four years and it is clear he sees his job as winning hockey games and that drives his decisions. He has been a player, coach, general manager and owner and uses that experience each and everyday to help him win. He knows all the rules and how to use them to the team’s advantage. A good example is managing the salary cap.
In Allen’s first year in the ECHL, coach Martinson submitted more than 250 salary changes to the league, all within the rules. The following year the league changed the rule to limit salary changes to 52. Contrary to popular belief, under Steve Martinson, Allen is not a team that breaks the compensation rules. If the truth be known, Martinson has won four championship under some unbelievable budget constraints that would have had most teams fail. He has dealt with serious problems related to travel, housing, insurance, medical care, equipment, benefits, and salary. All teams have budget issues but the issues in Allen were much more serious than elsewhere. It is a tribute to Martinson that he has been successful while dealing with the numerous budget/ownership issues over the last four seasons.
I also reflected on the many other Allen Americans fans I have gotten to know over the years. It is a tight knit group who truly enjoys everything the team has to offer. It is like a big hockey family. It makes you look forward to attending each and every game.
So there you have some of my reflections about the Americans. Maybe you have had some of the same reflections or maybe not. I just know for my family the Americans have been a wonderful addition to the community and have brought more enjoyment and success than anyone could have imagined. Looking forward to the start of season eight.
DID YOU KNOW: Tommy Daniels, Vice President of Broadcasting & Media Relations, is the only employee of the Allen Americans that has been with the team since its inception.