(1C) Allen Americans vs. (2E) South Carolina Stingrays
It’s all down to this. Through the entire playoffs and two epic Game 7s in the Conference Finals; the Allen Americans will host their first Kelly Cup Finals game today against the South Carolina Stingrays. Right off the bat, the fact that the Americans will host the first three games mean that the momentum could be swung in Allen’s favor very quickly, so long as they take the advantage of home-ice.
One of the keys for the Allen Americans success will depend on how the goaltending in the Finals will be. There has been a bit of a consistency issue with Riley Gill and Joel Rumpel, but after setting down in Game 5 on the Conference Finals, Gill seems to have gotten to take over the crease. They will have to be on their game because they are facing the ECHL MVP in Jeff Jakaitis at the other end. Jakaitis hasn’t as on point as he was in the regular season– but his ability to make the big save and keep the Stingrays close has helped them through a pretty grueling playoffs so far with the team.
Scoring hasn’t been much of a problem for either team, however– as both squads have 67 goals these playoffs with South Carolina averaging 3.35 goals per game and Allen having a slightly better 3.72 mark. The Stingrays have gotten scoring all over, but none more surprising that from Joe Devin, who is tied with Andrew Rowe for the team lead in goals with 11. Devin only put up 17 goals in his 48 regular season appearances, but with a stable line-up spot; he has been able to turn up the offense when his team needed it the most. That is to say nothing of the leading scorer in South Carolina– Wayne Simpson, who has 22 assists and 31 points heading into the final round. Rookie Derek DeBlois has played well in his first go-round, posting three game-winners this off-season.
For the Americans, the scoring from Chad Costello and Gary Steffes has been there; but hasn’t been as frequent as it was during the regular season. Luckily, Gregor Hanson has been able to pick up the goal-scoring “slack” so to speak. A big addition to the roster was when Spencer Asuchak was returned from time with Providence and Worcester in the AHL. Asuchak has come back in and put up 18 points in 18 playoff games. Another welcome surprise is the play of winger Chris Crane, who has seven goals and 12 points in his 18 games, providing some secondary scoring for the Americans.
Defensively, it’s another even match-up, with both sides getting some output on the power play from their blue-line. Konrad Abeltshauser has been a solid defenseman for the Americans, putting up three power play goals, with rookie Justin Baker stepping up at the right time. One of the interesting things is how Aaron Gens hasn’t been as offensive effective, but has played a solid game in his own end. If he’s waiting for the right moment to strike– the Finals will be the best place.
Both Drew MacKenzie and Michal Cajkovsky have been the force for the Stingrays defense on the scoresheet, but overall– the Stingrays haven’t been on point in their own end. That could be due to lack of experience with three rookies in the line-up back on defense with Frankie Simonelli, Marcus Perrier, and Wade Epp. Though they have been able to get this far, who knows if the inexperience and possible tiredness will be the undoing of them.
Coaching could play a role in all of this, too. Amercians’ coach Steve Martinson has had playoff success in the past winning four WCHL titles, two CHL titles, and one UHL title; though none of those leagues no longer exist. Martinson and the Americans are in their third-straight finals and with some of those players still on the roster know the grind. South Carolina coach Spencer Carbery has been in this situation as a player, where he has won a Kelly Cup in 2009 as a member of the Stingrays; but has never gotten this far as a coach in his young coaching career. It will be interesting to see if Carbery’s playing experience can match the experience behind the bench that Martinson has.
In a playoff with plenty of excitement behind it; this match-up could put the cherry on top. With great stories on both sides– Allen being the new kid in town and South Carolina trying to end out their dream season– the Finals will create a lot of intrigue and something that not many fans would want to miss out on.