Photo from Allen Americans’ website
They always say that it’s darkest before the dawn. That’s something that the Allen Americans could probably realize as they went into the locker room during the second intermission Game 5 down 2-1 to the the Ontario Reign and just 20 minutes away from their dream season being squashed right there in California. To that point, they were held to only two goals in the last 11 periods of hockey, which was after a Game 1 victory where they scored eight times and you had to think that they didn’t know how to solve Ontario goalie Joe Cannata, who came in during Game 2 to help shut the Americans down.
During that intermission, someone must have said something– whether it be coach Steve Martinson, one of the captains– Jamie Schaafsma, Gary Steffes, or Tyler Ludwig— or if it just clicked in the team’s head that they needed to play with utter desperation, but for the last seven periods of that series; the Americans were the dominant team they had been during the regular season.
After being down three games to one, the Americans roars back and only allowed two goals in the last six periods to get into the Kelly Cup finals in their first season in the ECHL, as well as their third championship series in the past three years; being as they were the two-time defending Ray Miron Cup champions in the Central Hockey League.
But what got them to that point?? It’s not as if they imposed their will like they have been known to do this post-season. The Americans, aside from the five-goal outburst to save their season in Game 5, only scored five more goals in the last two games of the series. Was it the fact that Riley Gill and the defense were able to be that much better in those last seven periods that was the difference?? The Reign threw all they could at Gill, but the former Kelly Cup MVP was able to stop 67 of the 69 shots in those last seven periods to help assert himself as the top goalie, which was something that needed to be done as both he and Joel Rumpel were jockeying for playing time in the playoffs.
Yet, one part of the equation that could be the big factor was the opponent. For all intents and purposes, the Americans were pretty comfortable with the division they were in. They had known the old Central League teams and knew how to play against them. When I talked to Coach Martinson earlier in the season, he said that this team was more of an ECHL team than the rest because that’s how they ran things in the CHL. With only a handful of games against actual ECHL opponents during the regular season (which they were 2-2-1), including two games against the Reign; maybe the team wasn’t ready for that style of hockey, since they didn’t see it often enough. Whatever they were able to see in the first four games plus– the Americans made the right adjustments in order to stave off elimination in three games and take home the Bruce Taylor Trophy for Western Conference champions.
As they head into the Kelly Cup Finals, the Americans have quite the advantage. The first three games they play are at the Allen Event Center, which should give them a nice step-up when playing in front of their fans– where they were 24-6-5 in the regular season and currently 8-2 in the playoffs. The Americans are making their mark in the record book and it goes to show that even though I spoke nothing about Chad Costello or Gregor Hanson (who both have 23 points in the playoffs), this is a team that’s on a mission and need all hands on deck to make sure they see their goal through in winning the Kelly Cup.