ALLEN, Texas – The Allen Americans take on the Wichita Thunder tonight for the first of 12 times this season. The teams will play three games this weekend in less than 48 hours, Friday and Saturday in Allen, and in Wichita on Sunday afternoon. Three games in three days is always a challenge. Throw in a six-hour bus ride and playing the same team all three games and it will be quite the weekend.
– Playing Wichita always brings up talk of rivalry and for my money, this is easily the biggest rivalry for the Allen Americans. In the CHL days, the two teams played a similar style which meant plenty of fisticuffs. The Wichita rivalry was solidified in the dramatic game seven in 2013 CHL Finals when Allen came back from a two-goal deficit late in the third period and won the championship in overtime.
– The other factor that contributed to this rivalry was team ownership. For several years, both teams were owned (along with Tulsa) by the same ownership group, which happened to be based in Wichita. There was always a sense of Allen being the ugly stepchild to the favorite child in Wichita. Even if it was not intended, Allen felt like outcasts and the ugly duckling of the group who was not supported in the same way as the team in Wichita. It all made for an interesting dynamic and to this day beating Wichita comes with a little extra satisfaction.
– It hasn’t been much of a rivalry since the teams joined the ECHL, as the Americans have dominated the Thunder with a record of 38-12-1-2. Allen’s record since joining the ECHL in 2014 includes two Kelly Cups and an overall regular-season record of 208-128-24-14. Wichita has missed the playoffs in four of the last five seasons and lost in the first round the one time they made the playoffs. Wichita’s regular-season record since joining the ECHL is 142-181-33-19.
– Maybe the most important thing to keep in mind as the Americans take on Wichita tonight in the first of 12 meetings between these teams this season is past is not prologue. Things have changed in Wichita this season with a new coach (Bruce Ramsay) and the team has gotten off to a good start (8-4-3-0). In the last 10 games, Wichita has a record of 7-2-0-1, which only trails Allen (8-1-1-0) for the best record in the Mountain Division over the last 10 games.
Meet the New Guy
– Veteran Josh Brittain, who played for Allen in 2016-17, will make his debut for Allen this weekend. Coach Steve Martinson signed Josh, who was the third-round pick of the Anaheim Ducks in the 2008 NHL draft, to bring a combination of skill and toughness to the team. The 6-foot-5, 227-pound center/forward will be a welcome addition to the lineup against Wichita. Here is an interview Tommy Daniels did with Josh yesterday:
Keys to Success
– Special teams will be a key against Wichita. Both teams have struggled mightily on the power play. Allen has the worst power-play percentage in the ECHL at 8.9% (5-56) and it is even worse at home, 7.7% (3-39). Wichita’s road power play is even more anemic at 3.7% (1-27). If either one of these teams can score a power-play goal tonight it will be a big boost to winning the game.
– Both teams are close when it comes to penalty kill percentage. Allen at home is 79.5% (8-39). Wichita on the road is 80.6% (6-31).
– Scoring the first goal will more than likely determine the winner tonight. Allen and Wichita have a combined record when scoring first of 14-2. Allen is 8-1 and Wichita is 6-1.
– If any of the games in this series go to overtime the advantage will go to Allen. The Americans are 5-1 in overtime games, Wichita is 1-3.
In Other News…
– Goalie Dereck Baribeau has been recalled to Iowa by the Minnesota Wild. Martinson’s move to add a third top-line goalie (Zach Sawchenko) was made for situations like this. Look for both Jake Paterson and Sawchenko to play this weekend.
– Happy birthday to Spencer Asuchak who turns 28 today. The all-time leader in career games played for Allen is in his seventh season with the Americans. Spencer leads the team in points this season with 15 (5G, 10A).
– Even though Les Lancaster played in only 12 games for Allen before being loaned to Iowa (AHL) he is still tied for the league lead in assists for defensemen with 12. It would be a big help to Allen if Iowa would sign the rookie to an AHL deal. Otherwise, the Americans risk losing the high scoring Lancaster to another AHL team if he is returned to Allen.
Did You Know?
Spencer Asuchak has scored on 26.3% of his shots this season (5-19). It made me wonder who were the leaders in the past.
Here are the team leaders in shooting percentage by year (minimum of 100 shots).
2018-19: Zach Pochiro – 15.4%
2017-18: Alex Guptill – 16.5%
2016-17: Bryan Moore – 17.5%
2015-16: Chris Crane – 17.1%
2014-15: Gary Steffes – 19.2%
2013-14: Alex Lavoie – 14.9%
2012-13: Anthony Maiani – 15.0%
2011-12: Bruce Graham – 12.9%
2010-11: Bruce Graham – 16.5%
2009-10: Tobias Whelan – 15.8%
For all things Allen Americans, follow Barry Janssen on Twitter @AllenAmericans1. For the latest stats and trends in the ECHL, follow @ECHLStats. And for the latest news on your favorite AHL & ECHL team, “Like” The Sin Bin on Facebook!