SOMEWHERE UP NORTH – It has been a while since you have heard from me as I have been on my annual fishing trip to Canada and Minnesota.
When the Allen Americans were in the Central Hockey League (CHL) the championship final was always concluded by the time the fishing trip I have been going on for over 20 years commenced.
The last two years, since joining the ECHL, the Americans have been playing in the Kelly Cup final during the last week of my fishing trip. It is hard to explain how difficult it was last season to miss the win over South Carolina at the Allen Event Center (AEC) to clinch the Kelly Cup. When you write about the team on a daily basis, attend practice, interact with players and coaches regularly and then miss the biggest game of the season it is an empty feeling. I promised myself that would not happen again.
After what happened last season how could I possibly be sitting in northern Minnesota in the same position again this year. It was plain and simple lack of faith. When I had to decide in early January if I was going to drop out of my fishing trip, which I love, the Missouri Mavericks were running away with the Central Division. Winning a single Kelly Cup championship is a phenomenal task but winning two (in your first two seasons in the league) is impossible. With visions of the Americans not making it to the Kelly Cup final and also missing my fishing trip I decided go with the odds and go on the fishing trip. Note to self, that was a bad decision as you never want to underestimate what this team and Steve Martinson can accomplish.
As we were fishing this past Sunday morning, watching eagles soar by, a pair of Loons catching minnows to feed to their two chicks and all the other gorgeous views will sitting on a lake in Minnesota, I kept thinking about what the Americans had accomplished Saturday night with their 3-2 overtime win in Wheeling. They would be coming home with a 3-2 series lead and two chances to win their fourth straight championship at home.
I made the decision to cut the fishing trip short and get back to Allen for game six tomorrow night. It will be a road trip somewhat similar to an Allen Americans road trip. Instead of “Big Red” it will be a 1000 mile trip in “Little Red” (my wife’s red Prius) on Thursday. Should get back to Allen in time to change clothes and head to the AEC.
A byproduct of spending a week at a remote fishing camp in Canada is no radio, no television, no access to social media or message boards. For a guy that lives and dies by these contacts there was a lot of catching up to do after crossing the border. Here are a few of my thoughts after checking out all the dialogue on the Allen vs Wheeling series.
– Getting to the Kelly Cup final is an amazing accomplishment and neither team should be disparaged. As a matter of fact, I would include Fort Wayne and South Carolina in a group of four teams that had a great playoff run. To get to the final four in the 28-team ECHL should be celebrated.
– No matter what the outcome of the final, Wheeling and Allen have done amazing work to get this far. With 25 (Wheeling) and 23 (Allen) playoff games in the books everyone is bruised and battered. Injuries always play a big part in the playoffs. Just ask South Carolina who lost a lot of key players including their #1 goalie in the series against Wheeling.
– Allen has had many key players injured during the playoffs. Riley Gill, David Makowski, Dyson Stevenson, Spencer Asuchak, Danny Federico and Rick Pinkston have all missed playoff games with injuries. Aaron Gens missed all of the first two playoff rounds and most of the third recovering from a broken ankle. Depth is key and Allen has relied on that depth, especially at defense, in the playoffs.
– Wheeling has earned the title of “comeback kids” starting with winning the last two games of the regular season with third period comebacks just to make the playoffs and get the #5 seed in the Eastern Conference. Being down 3-2 in a series as they are against Allen is nothing new for the Nailers. In the Eastern Conference semifinals they were losing to Reading 3-2 and had to win two games at home to advance. In the Eastern Conference final they were losing to South Carolina 3-2 and had to win two games on the road to advance to play Allen. Any way you cut it, Wheeling has shown they know how to play from behind. It is an impressive record for which they should be commended.
– Winning two games in Allen will be a much bigger task for Wheeling than it was in South Carolina. They are not playing against a first year untested goalie. They will be playing against the two time Kelly Cup champion, Riley Gill, who has won more ECHL playoff games than any goalie in the history of the league.
– They will also be playing against a coach that excels in the playoffs and is seeking his 10th championship in his 20th season as a coach. Steve Martinson has never been selected as coach of the year or General Manager of the year since coming to Allen but he has never lost a playoff series.
Here are just a few of his records:
– Martinson has been in 13 playoff series in Allen and his record is 13-0.
– Martinson has not lost a playoff series later than the second round since 1999.
– Martinson is 6-0 in his last six championship finals.
– Martinson has never lost a game seven at home in 20 years of coaching.
– You have to like Allen’s chances but if Wheeling can win the next two games it would be unprecedented and they would be a deserving champion. All you could do is tip your hat to them.
– if Allen does win the Kelly Cup they will have beaten the #1 & #2 seeds in the Western Conference and the Eastern Conference champions to win their second straight ECHL championship.
– No matter what the outcome I hope fans, players, coaches and the media give the winner their due. You don’t win 16 playoff games because of weak divisions or conferences, bad bounces, the referees, poor ice or whatever other excuses available. Whoever wins the Kelly Cup wins because they are the best team, period.
DID YOU KNOW: Allen had the fewest penalty minutes (average per game) of the final four teams in the playoffs.