Monday, September 18, 2017

Measuring Grit and Toughness - The 2017-18 Americans Will Have Plenty Plus Other Updates

Yesterday I made an attempt to look at the current Allen Americans roster (17 players signed and announced) and the roster from last season as it relates to scoring and pointed out why the numbers don't tell all. Today I want to take a look at another premise between the two rosters. That premise is will the 2017-18 roster be tougher, grittier and harder to play against than the team last season. Coach Martinson has said to me many times what he looks for in players is their willingness to finish their checks, move people from in front of the net, be fearless and make it difficult for others to play against. Yes, fighting is part of the equation but that is not the main factor of how tough a team is to play against. If a player is willing to stand up for his teammates and is fearless that is a real asset.

With the appropriate caveat above I thought it would be interesting to look at penalty minutes per game for the same list of players I used to compare points per game yesterday. It is a poor surrogate for grit and toughness but it is measurable. Here are the results:

2016-17
4.64 -  Derek Mathers
2.80 - Bryan Moore
2.26 - David Makowski
2.00 -  Dyson Stevenson
1.89 -  Tanner Eberle
1.80 -  Harrison Ruopp
1.67 -  Mike Gunn
0.83 - Spencer Asuchak
0.79 -  Zach Hall
0.67 -  Jake Marchment
0.63 -  Gary Steffes
0.58 -  Chad Costello
0.56 -  Travis Brown
0.50 -  Joel Chouinard
0.48 -  Greger Hanson
0.45 -  Eric Roy

2017-18
3.00 - Dalton Thrower
1.89 - Tanner Eberle
1.67 -  Mike Gunn
1.61 -  Josh Thrower
1.57 -  Zach Pochiro
1.18 - Marcus
1.10 -  Jonathan Lessard
0.97 -  Jaynen Rissling
0.83 -  Olivier Archambault
0.79 -  Zach Hall
0.65 - Casey Pierro-Zabotel
0.50 - Joel Chouinard
0.45 -  Eric Roy
0.42 -  Mathieu Aubin
0.18 -  Miles Liberati

- If you look at the raw numbers the advantage goes to the team from last season even though both of these lists have seven players who averaged more than one penalty minute per game last season.


- Just like with the scoring comparison you need to keep in mind the roster for the upcoming season is not complete. If you add Bryan Moore (2.80), David Makowski (2.26) and Vincent Arseneau (3.67) to the list for 2017-18 there is little doubt it will be tougher and harder to play against than last year's team.

- Don't forget Kyle Neuber is also on the roster and is not included on either list above. Kyle has played just eight games for Allen over the last two seasons but in those eight games he has averaged 2.25 penalty minutes per game.


OTHER COMMENTS

- The Americans have hired a new trainer to replace Jaime Garcia who is now working for the Rochester Americans (AHL). Will have all the details on this new hire later this week.


- I have heard from several readers after writing about Beckett Dougherty, the three month old son of Britt and Kelley (Sklar) Dougherty, who his battling cancer. If you haven't seen the story you can find it here: http://allenamericansblog.blogspot.com/2017/09/allen-signs-veteran-forward-mathieu.html
If you want to follow Beckett's journey and share an encouraging word with the Doughertys you can do so by going to caringbridge.org and search for Beckett Dougherty. Kelley's sister (Cassidy) is providing updates almost daily and has shared how much Britt and Kelly appreciate the comments everyone is leaving to show support. Take the time to let them know the support they have from the Allen Americans family.


- You may have noticed a photo the Americans posted of a joint meeting that was held in Reading last week with the front office staffs of the Royals and Americans along with some folks from the ECHL office. In talking to several of the attendees it was a very productive meeting and another step in working together to improve both franchises.


- Congrats to former Allen goalie, Joel Rumpel who just became engaged to his long time girlfriend Alexandra.


DID YOU KNOW: Last season Allen had the second most fights in franchise history. but one player (Derek Mathers) had 30 fights by far the most in any season. Here are the number of fights and the leader for each season in franchise history courtesy of the website dropyourgloves.com. It is interesting the year Allen had the most fights (2012-13) the leader had the fewest fights (12). What made that team so tough was they had eight players with at least six fights that season.

2016-17:   85  (Derek Mathers 30)
2015-16:   71  (Dyson Stevenson 16)
2014-15:   79  (Garrett Clarke 16)
2013-14:   72  (Garrett Klotz 20)
2012-13:   91  (Garrett Clarke 12)
2011-12:   63  (Brett Clouthier 13)
2010-11:   72  (Liam Huculak 15)
2009-10:   64  (Liam Huculak 16)






Sunday, September 17, 2017

Will the 2017-18 Allen Americans Have Enough Firepower, Why the Stats Are Wrong

When I talk to Allen fans about the upcoming season one comment I hear from almost everyone is how will coach Martinson replace all of the offense represented by the players that will not be returning. I have to admit this issue has been in my thoughts for some time.  A lot of familiar names will be missing when the Americans take the ice for their home opener against Orlando on October 21. It is possible the top six scorers from last season will be missing.  Just as a reminder the top six point scorers last season were Chad Costello (122 points), Greger Hanson (76 points), Spencer Asuchak (66 points), Bryan Moore (51 points), David Makowski (50 points) and Gary Steffes (47 points). Moore and/or Makowski could be assigned to Allen if they don't make the Barracuda roster out of training camp but they both have a shot at sticking in San Jose. These six players accounted for 54% of the Allen goals last season and 51% of the total points. It will be difficult to replace that much offensive firepower especially if Moore and Makowski are in San Jose.

-  I am going to try and do some type of statistical comparison between the players from last season and the upcoming season but am not sure how valid that comparison is. It is also important to state success is certainly more than how many points a team scorers. Looking at defense and goaltending between last season and this season is also key.


- First step is to look at average points per game for players from last season that played a minimum of 35 games in Allen and compare that stat to the players for the upcoming season and the average points per game they scored last season. 

2016-17
1.69 - Chad Costello
1.31 - Greger Hanson
1.19 - David Makowski
1.03 - Spencer Asuchak
1.02 - Bryan Moore
.88 -  Eric Roy
.86 -  Zach Hall
.63 -  Jake Marchment
.61 -  Gary Steffes
.61 -  Joel Chouinard
.57 -  Dyson Stevenson
.44 -  Tanner Eberle
.39 -  Travis Brown
.23 -  Mike Gunn
.20 -  Derek Mathers
.20 -  Harrison Ruopp

2017-18
1.22 - Casey Pierro-Zabotel
.88 -  Eric Roy
.86 -  Zach Hall
.70 -  Jonathan Lessard
.69 -  Olivier Archambault
.66 -  Mathieu Aubin
.64 -  Zach Pochiro
.61 - Joel Chouinard
.58 - Marcus Basara
.44 - Tanner Eberle
.42 -  Jaynen Rissling
.38 -  Miles Liberati
.30 -  Josh Thrower
.23 -  Mike Gunn
.13 - Dalton Thrower


- Looking at average points per game the numbers don't lie. There was a lot more fire power last season compared to this season's roster but there are a few things to keep in mind.


 - The roster for this season is not complete so you can expect a couple of more new players to be added that will add more fire power. Adding Bryan Moore and/or David Makowski to the mix in Allen would be huge. While the hope is they stay in San Jose, if they are assigned to Allen it would make a big difference. I have mentioned numerous times that Vincent Arseneau is still unsigned according to eliteprospects.com and that says to me he is headed to an AHL training camp. If he is on the San Jose Barracuda training camp roster when it comes out in the next few days that would be good news for Allen fans. If he is on the roster for some other AHL team it probably means he will not be coming to Allen.


- Other than the players mentioned above, Allen will probably be assigned other players from San Jose that are on NHL or AHL deals. Last season Mike Brodzinski, Alex Schoenborn and Jonathan Martin all spent time in Allen. You can expect San Jose to send some of their NHL/AHL contracted players to Allen for development and to get them some playing time. Who that might be is unknown at this time. 
 


- Steve Martinson plays a system that is very offensive minded. His team is always one of the highest goal scoring teams in the ECHL. Last season Allen was second with 294 goals and in 2014-15 they led the ECHL in goals scored with 292. The point being is you can expect some of the new players will score a lot more points in the Martinson system than where they played last season. There are plenty examples of players signing in Allen and scoring at a much higher clip. This would include  Chad Costello's three 100 point seasons, Gary Steffes with 44 goals in a season which was double any other pro season,  Jonathan Lessard's best season as a pro was in Allen when he led the team in goals (28), Alex Lavoie led Allen in scoring as a rookie (76 points) which is his highest point total as a pro. Hanson, Asuchak, Moore and Makowski all had career years last season with point totals far exceeding their other pro seasons.


- The bottom line is looking strictly at the numbers the Allen roster as it stands today (17 players) doesn't stack up to the stats from the 2016-17 roster. However, for the reasons stated above come opening day there will be plenty of offensive firepower on the ice for the Americans. And if the roster needs some change after the season starts Steve Martinson will make the changes. After the team started poorly last year going 8-11 and finding themselves in last place in the division at the end of November, Martinson made a bunch of changes in just a few weeks. Matt Willows, Chris Crane, Mike Brodzinski, Tristan King, Alex Guptill, Jason Fram, J.P. LaFontaine and Rick Pinkston were traded, released or recalled. Allen added David Makowski, Bryan Moore, Harrison Ruopp, Zach Hall and Randy Cure. From that 8-11 start Allen finished the season 49-17-2-2 and missed having the best record in the league by just two points.


- Goalie play is obviously a big part of team success and this coming season may be a bit different from last season. The net will be anchored again by Riley Gill who is the best goalie in the league. Last season Riley's record was 32-7-2-0. In games when Riley wasn't in goal Allen's record was 17-12-2-2. The goaltending tandem this season could turn out to be improved. If you look at the San Jose depth chart the Americans are usually assigned the #5 goalie in the organization. Going into training camp the San Jose depth chart should look like this:
#1 - Martin Jones
#2 - Aaron Dell
#3 - Troy Grosenick
#4 - Antoine Bibeau
#5 - Stephon Williams

Barring injuries and training camp surprises Stephon Williams should be assigned to Allen and the Americans would have an experienced second goalie with two years of professional experience including 58 AHL games to his credit. This could turn out to be a great goalie tandem.


- I know I am a bit obsessive in checking on how Chad Costello, Spencer Asuchak and Josh Brittain are doing in their first season playing in Europe. I wrote an entire blog post (http://allenamericansblog.blogspot.com/2017/09/transition-to-europe-catching-up-with.html) confessing that as much as I wanted them to be successful, just like a parent I want them to come back home to Allen. Here is how things stand after three games. They all play game four today (Sunday).

Chad - Chad's team has gotten off to a rough start losing their first three games by scores of 2-1 in overtime, 4-1 and 4-1. With one point for the overtime loss they are in 13th place in the 14 team league. Chad has been held scoreless in the three games.

Spencer - Spencer's team had a terrible start losing their first two games by scores of 5-1 and 6-1 but they won their third game 5-4 and Spencer scored a goal. With a record of 1-2 the team is tied for ninth place in the 11 team league. By the way the 5-4 win was over the last placed team. The goal is Spencer's only point after three games.

Josh - Josh's team has a win and two overtime losses in the first three games. They are tied for third place in the 11 team league. Josh has two goals and an assist in the first three games. By they way Josh and Spencer play in the same league.

If any of them wanted to return to Allen they have until February 15 to make that decision and of course coach Martinson would have to want them back. They have been in Europe for almost two months and since it is their first foray they would know by now if it is something they enjoy. Things could be quite different in Germany where Chad plays versus Slovakia where Spencer and Josh play. After their success in Allen with two championships for Chad and three for Spencer it won't be much fun if their teams keep losing. As I said in the earlier piece everyone wants them to enjoy the experience in Europe but at the same time they sure would look good in red again.


DID YOU KNOW: Here is a list of Allen Americans players who had their best professional stats while playing in Allen. Keep in mind the years for each category (goals, assists, points) may have been different.

Chad Costello  - goals (41), assists (89), points (125)
Greger Hanson - goals (35), assists (41), points (76)
Spencer Asuchak - goals (26), assists (40), points (66)
Gary Steffes - goals (44), assists (29), points (73)
Chris Crane - goals (21), points (38)
Aaron Gens - goals (9), assists (48), points (56)
Bruce Graham - goals (34), assists (48), points (79)
Tyler Ludwig - goals (20), assists (40), points (55)
Darryl Bootland - assists (29)
Kale Kerbashian - goals (16), assists (34), points (50)
Trevor Ludwig - goals (9), points (29)
Alex Lavoie - goals (25), assists (51), points (76)
Jonathan Lessard - goals (28), assist (29), points (57)





 


 

Saturday, September 16, 2017

An Educated Guess on Training Camp Schedule and Roster, Player Signings Around the ECHL & More

The hockey season is officially here as the San Jose Sharks training camp got underway yesterday. The AHL and ECHL training camps will follow in sequence. You can check out the first day of Sharks camp through some videos on their website: https://www.nhl.com/sharks

- It is really special to have David Makowski and Bryan Moore attending an NHL camp. What a great experience for them no matter where they end up playing this season. Here is a photo from the first day a camp with a couple of familiar names:




- There has been nothing issued by the ECHL or the Allen Americans concerning training camps and several of you have asked about those details. For some reason all of these details typically are issued just before the start of training camp. I know some fans take time off work the first days of training camp so they can come and watch. The ECHL critical dates will probably be issued in the next week however based on what is already known and past history it is fairly easy to figure out the training camp dates before they are officially released. Here is my best guess on the dates.


- What is already known is the ECHL season kicks off October 13 with the first regular season games. Preseason games start as early as October 5. The Allen Americans preseason games are in the community rink on October 6 (8:45 pm) and October 7 (5:30 pm). Details on tickets for the preseason games are still not out but seating capacity in the community rink is very limited.  On the community rink's website it says seating capacity for "over 300 spectators" so even with standing room you can expect tickets will be limited.


- Based on the ECHL critical dates from past years you can be pretty sure the key dates will be as follows when they are issued:

September 28 - Training camp rosters due to the league office
September 29 - Training camp opens (Teams can begin on ice sessions)
October 12 - Opening day rosters due to league office
October 13 - 30th ECHL season begins


- There are several factors that will determine the specific dates for the Allen Americans training camp. Most importantly is the availability of housing. In past years training camp was delayed a couple of days because apartment leases were for October 1 and the team could not get into the housing early. Knowing the new ownership of the team my guess is that will not be an issue this year.


- My recollection from past seasons is the first day of camp is devoted to player physicals and the earliest that could take place is Friday, September 29. Then the next issue will be ice availability in the community rink. Remember, there will be no ice in the main rink until the week of October 1st.


- Under coach Martinson the training camp practices have been open for fans to attend so I am sure the team will be issuing that information in the near future. If you are planning on attending training camp practice past history says you can be assured there will be practice on Monday, October 2nd. Whether the team will practice on Saturday (September 30) or Sunday (October 1) is uncertain and even of the team does practice one day over the weekend it may not be open to the public. Stay tuned for an annoucment from the Americans.


- How many players will be at training camp is a unknown for a couple of reasons. While 17 players have already been announced by the Americans some of those players will be attending training camp with the San Jose Barracuda so they may still be in San Jose when Allen starts training camp. Coach Martinson told me he will have five players at the Barracuda camp. He will also be attending Barracuda training camp himself where he will be able to see how the Allen players perform but also take a look at some AHL contracted players that might be assigned to Allen during the season. Martinson will be in San Jose starting September 24, just prior to the start of Allen's training camp.


- Look for Allen's training camp to have some SPHL players attend on tryout agreements. Coach Martinson has used this in the past to take a look at some players that he could bring in during the season if the Americans have injuries or players are recalled or loaned to the AHL.


- If you didn't have a chance to see all of the promotion nights and giveaways here is the press release issued by the Americans yesterday. There will be nine specialty jersey nights (and auctions) and six of them are on Saturdays. There will be 11 giveaway nights and nine of them will be on Saturdays. Looks like some Saturday sellouts are possible. Make sure to get your tickets early for Saturday games. https://allenamericans.com/allen-americans-announce-2017-2018-promotional-nights-giveaways/


- Here is how many players each team in the ECHL has signed and announced as reported by eliteprospects.com.

Adirondack - 12
Allen - 17
Atlanta - 12
Brampton - 11
Cincinnati - 13
Colorado - 10
Florida - 8
Fort Wayne - 20
Greenville - 14
Idaho - 17
Indy - 17
Jacksonville - 5
Kalamazoo - 18
Kansas City - 18
Manchester - 12
Norfolk - 8
Orlando - 14
Quad City - 22
Rapid City - 17
Reading - 15
South Carolina - 23
Toledo - 15
Tulsa - 13
Utah - 12
Wheeling - 18
Wichita - 19
Worcester - 14


- Bad news continued for Chad Costello's team last night as the Iserlohn Roosters lost for the third time this season. The Roosters lost their opening game 2-1 in overtime and lost the last two games by identical scores of 4-1. It is hard to get complete boxscores but pretty sure Chad is still scoreless on the season.


DID YOU KNOW: The current Allen roster (17 players) has combined for a total of 440 AHL games played. Captain Joel Chouinard leads in AHL experience having played in 204 AHL games.



 

Friday, September 15, 2017

Allen Signs Veteran Forward Mathieu Aubin, The French Connection & One of the Allen Family Needs Prayers

Another piece of the puzzle fell into place yesterday as the Allen Americans announced the signing of veteran forward Mathieu Aubin. Aubin is 6' 2" and weighs 205 pounds. He will turn 31 on Monday. Mathieu was a fifth round draft choice (#130 overall) of the Montreal Canadiens in the 2005 NHL draft. He has played in 544 ECHL games averaging .86 points per game over his career. He also has 83 AHL games to his credit scoring 27 points (12 goals 15 assists).


- Aubin has played for four different ECHL teams including six seasons with Cincinnati where he was part of two Kelly Cup championships (2008 & 2010). He played one season in Bakersfield (2009-10) and has been with the Utah Grizzlies since 2013-14. With all of the great recruiting tools in Steve Martinson's tool box maybe the best recruiting tool you can ever have is when a player has a girlfriend/wife that lives or works in the DFW area. Joel Chouinard and Daniel Tetrault are two great examples. I didn't hear this from the Americans but my reporting says Aubin is another example.


- Like many hockey player from Canada, Aubin comes from a hockey background. His dad, Normand, was a third round draft choice (#51 overall) of the Toronto Maple Leaf in the 1979 NHL draft. He played in 63 NHL games in his career. Normand had some sick numbers in his junior career in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League (QMJHL). In his NHL draft year (1978-79) he had 149 points (80 goals 69) assist in 70 games. For his junior career (254 games) he averaged 2.03 points per game which is #38 all time in the QMJHL. An even more amazing stat is he averaged just over a goal per game scoring 258 goals in his 254 junior career. I would say Mathieu comes from good hockey "stock".


- Look for Aubin to bring a goal scorers touch to the Allen lineup. All of the scouting reports you read about him talk about him having excellent goal scoring hands. Just as important will be his veteran presence and leadership. He has been a team captain (Cincinnati) and alternate captain (Utah) so you can see him being a mentor for the younger guys on the team even if he isn't wearing a letter on his jersey.


- Here are a couple of videos from the past. The first is from 2011 where his coach is talking about his return to the Cincinnati Cyclones. The second video is from 2013 when Mathieu along with a couple of other players are talking about the just completed Cincinnati season. Watch the second video all the way through as there are two clips of Aubin.





- Aubin is one of several players on the Allen roster with a partiality to the #9. With his veteran status it might be a good bet he ends up with that number.


- With the signing of Aubin the Allen Americans "French Connection" grows. He joins Joel Chouinard, Olivier Archambault and Jonathan Lessard with french as their first language. I know Allen fans hope this list grows by one more in the name of Vincent Arseneau. According to the website eliteprospects.com Arseneau has still not signed a contract for the upcoming season. If he is attending an AHL training camp that will be a sure giveaway of where he might end up if he plays in the ECHL. AHL training camp rosters should be out next week.


- Congrats to David Makowski and Bryan Moore who will be attending the San Jose Sharks training camp which starts today. A great experience for both these young players. Here are all the training camp details plus the full training camp roster. Some of the names on this list will undoubtedly spend time in Allen this season. Many of the players on this list will be assigned to the Barracuda training camp which I think will start next week. https://www.nhl.com/sharks/news/sharks-announce-2017-training-camp-schedule--roster/c-291037532


- It has not been announced by the Americans yet put they will have several players attend camp with the Barracuda. Those names should be made public in the next few days.


- A couple of questions I have been asked recently are when will the ice go in on the main rink at the Allen Event Center (AEC) and why do press releases on player announcements say the "Allen Americans and Globe Life are proud to announce" all the time? I am told the ice will go in on the main rink after the Theresa Caputo show which is scheduled for October 1st. There is already ice in the community rink. Globe Life has become an Allen Americans corporate sponsor and that sponsorship includes being the presenting sponsor for all player transactions so you will see that reference in each press release from the Americans relating to transactions. If you have any questions throughout the season send them to me on social media, in the comments section of the blog or by email (janssenfamily@msn.com) and if I don't have the answer I will track it down.


- If you have been following the Allen Americans since the beginning you may remember a sales representative by the name of Kelley Sklar. Kelley walked me thorough the AEC while it was still under constructions. Hard hats required but she took me to every nook and cranny of the building. You may also remember the enforcer on that first team was a player by the name of Britt Dougherty. Britt was tough as nails but had to retire after the 2009-10 season because of an injury. To make a long story short Kelley and Britt met during that first Allen season and fell in love. When Britt retired after the 2009-10 season he moved home to Swift Current, Saskatchewan and Kelley moved with him. They are now married and have a three month old son. Yesterday Tom Manning shared with me a post that one of Kelley's friends (Amanda Ransom) shared on social media. If you remember Kelley and Britt or are one of the "once red always red family" keep them in your thoughts and prayers. Here is the post from Amanda. "One of my dearest lifelong friends, Kelley Dougherty's three month old son, Beckett Dougherty, was recently diagnosed with Infant Acute Lymphoblastic Leukemia. The is a very rare childhood cancer. Kelley and her husband Britt currently live in Swift Current but have transferred Beckett to Toronto (over 20 hours away) in order to get him the best possible care. This will be a long journey for the family and we would love to show them support in any way we can. Please consider making a donation in the link below. More importantly, please pray for this sweet family and their brave little boy. Be one of thousands of people all over the world praying for Beckett."

Beckett Dougherty

Here is the link where you can make a contribution if you desire: https://www.gofundme.com/beckettdougherty



DID YOU KNOW: I can't remember when Allen had so many players on the roster that were drafted by the NHL. Being drafted by the NHL when you are a young hockey player is a big deal and quite an honor. Ten of the 17 players signed and announced by the Americans thus far are NHL draftees. Here is the list with NHL team, draft year and what round the player was drafted.

Joel Chouinard -  Colorado Alavanche 2008 (sixth round #167 overall)
Miles Liberati - Vancouver Canucks 2013 (seventh round (#205 overall)
Jaynen Rissling - Washington Capitols 2012 (seventh round (#197 overall)
Eric Roy - Calgary Flames 2013 (fifth round #135 overall)
Dalton Thrower - Montreal Canadiens 2012 (second round #51 overall)
Olivier Archambault - Montreal Canadiens 2011 (fourth round #108 overall)
Mathieu Aubin - Montreal Canadiens 2005 (fifth round #130 overall)
Kyle Neuber - Columbus Blue Jackets 2009 (seventh round #197 overall)
Casey Pierro-Zabotel - Pittsburgh Penguins 2007 (third round #80 overall)
Zach Pochiro - St. Louis Blues 2013 (fourth round #112 overall)


Thursday, September 14, 2017

Gary Steffes Post Script, ECHL Roster Numbers, Barracuda Sign Third Goalie, Lamar Hunt Jr. Video & More

- As a followup to the story yesterday about the retirement of Gary Steffes I heard from many Allen and Gary Steffes fans that wanted to thank Gary, to let him know how much he will be missed and tell him what an inspiration he is to so many. Here are a couple of examples.

 Gilley "Dilbert" Estes says, "Gary, you are the type of person to whom young athletes should look to for inspiration. You embody the goodness, kindness and work ethic that is so hard to find these days. We will miss you in Allen this coming season but I know that you will be helping to grow the next generation of hockey players. And those players will hopefully have your voice in their heads as they pursue their dreams of college or professional hockey. Sending you prayers and positive energy to show tomorrow's players how to play hard and do it in His name."

Sandy Manning says, "I will really miss Gary. I'll also miss waiting a bit to leave the stands after a game in honor of his taking a knee at center ice. I wonder if anyone else will do it? He was often alone. It is always a wonderful thing to see an athlete who lives a clean life, has an outstanding work ethic and is so nice to people. He represents what a Christian is supposed to be like. All the best to him as he pursues his next venture!

I also heard from Gary who had this to say, "Thank you so much Barry for the incredibly kind and encouraging words. I will always be tremendously thankful and honored for the years I got to spend in Allen. Many many blessings to all of you on the team, in the organization and in the community. I can't say thank you enough for how much you all have blessed my career."


- With the start of training camp just over two weeks away it is interesting to look at the current rosters around the ECHL. According to eliteprospects.com the number of players signed and announced around the league varies a lot. The Quad City Mallards have the most with 21 and the Jacksonville IceMen the least with just five players announced. By the way Allen is at 16 players signed and announced (one goalie, seven defensemen, eight forwards). These figures can be misleading because some coaches don't like to announce too many players while they are recruiting so they may have a lot of players signed but not yet announced. If you add it all up there are still 150-175 players to be announced in the next two weeks.


- If you look at average age of players already announced Allen is one of the youngest teams in the ECHL with an average age of 24.69. Only two teams are younger, Idaho (24.44) and Florida (24.25). The oldest team in the league at this point is Brampton who has an average age of 28.00. As the rosters fill out these averages will change. Allen for example still has two veteran slots that have not been filled.


- The San Jose Barracuda announced yesterday that they have signed free agent goalie, Stephon Williams. Here is the press release issued by the team: http://www.sjbarracuda.com/news/detail/barracuda-sign-goaltender-stephon-williams

Why this signing may be of interest to Allen fans is each season the San Jose organization sends a goalie to Allen for developmental purposes. Aaron Dell, Joel Rumpel and Jamie Murray are recent examples. Williams is the third goalie on the Barracuda roster and barring injuries one of the three will be sent to Allen. The Barracuda's top goalie is Troy Grosenick who was the AHL's goalie of the year last season. The other goalie on the Barracuda roster is Antoine Bibeau who was signed in July after spending his first three professional seasons in the Toronto organization. Last season he played in 32 AHL games and two NHL games. You never know the impact of training camp and injuries but on paper Williams is the most likely of the three Barracuda goalies to be assigned to the Americans.


- Add Mike Gunn to the list of players that are already back in Allen preparing for the upcoming season. This will be Mike's third year in Allen. He has improved each season on the ice and he is a great locker room guy.


- Here is a well done video produced by the Kansas City Mavericks where team owner, Lamar Hunt Jr., answers a series of questions on various topics. Most of his answers would certainly apply to Allen. Of particular interest to Allen fans is Hunt's answer to this question, are there games you most look forward to each season?



 - For those of you that like to keep track of the three players from last season that have signed overseas (Costello, Asuchak, Brittain) they all have games on Friday and Sunday this week. After the games this weekend you will start to get an idea how their teams might fare this season.


- I think most know, if you are a regular reader of the blog, that I grew up in Minnesota and have been an avid hunter and fisherman all of my life. If you grow up in the upper midwest part of the US or in Canada it is likely you enjoy fishing and/or hunting. As the players arrive in Allen some of them seek me out for places they can hunt and fish. Several fans have taken the players hunting or fishing in the past. If you have access to dove hunting, deer hunting, hog hunting or fishing and would be willing to have the players take part please email me at janssenfamily@msn.com.



DID YOU KNOW: The Allen roster typically has about the same number of players from the US and Canada. If you look at all of the players that played at least one game from the 2015-16 roster there were 25 from the US and 22 from Canada. Last season the number was similar with 24 from the US and 21 from Canada. That trend may be changing this season. It is still early and only 16 players have been signed but 12 of the players are from Canada and just four from the US.


Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Gary Steffes Retires - My Thoughts & Blessings All Around

It is ironic that today's story is about Gary Steffes retiring from hockey to purse his career with the Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). Gary often talks about his imperfect self and what faith means in his life. The irony today is my imperfection as it relates to this story as I promised it would be posted yesterday. However, a 4:30 am trip to take my lovely wife to the airport (two hours), a bike breakdown on my morning 25 mile ride (two hours), a trip to the local bike shop (two hours) and my writing desire for the day was gone. Sorry for this story being a day late. Hope you enjoy it.

If you haven't had a chance to read the retirement statement issued by the ECHL that Gary authored here it is. It captures perfectly Gary's two passions, his faith and hockey. The title of his farewell statement is "In My Words: A Blessing" and he shares the blessings of his journey in hockey and his faith. What I want to briefly talk about is the flip side of Gary's blessings and that is what a blessing it was to have Gary Steffes part of the Allen Americans family and the Allen community for the past three seasons. Here are Gary's words:


I was four years old, bursting with energy.  My parents were looking for any reprieve to get some of it out, so they put me in hockey.  I fell in love right away.  What do you call that?  A blessing.

At seven, I got the opportunity to try out for the well-known and well-respected HoneyBaked Hockey Organization.  I ended up playing my entire youth hockey years between them and the equally as competitive Detroit Little Caesars. What do you call that? A blessing.

At seventeen, a door opened up to play for the Cedar Rapids Roughriders in the USHL. For two years, I got to develop under Mark Carlson and be part of winning the Clark Cup in 2005. What do you call that? A blessing.

Then, at nineteen, Miami University.  How incredible those years were! To be able to attend such a prestigious University, join the Miami Hockey Brotherhood, and experience the success we had makes me grateful beyond words. We made the NCAA Tournament four years in a row, the Frozen Four twice, and played in the National Championship game in 2009.  Truly it was a blessing, an absolute blessing.

Finally, to be able to play professional hockey as a career, what an absolute blessing! Getting to spend three years in Tulsa, one in Bakersfield, and three more in Allen, with call-ups to Lake Erie, Milwaukee and San Jose along the way, was incredibly special.  Every city, every game, every point, every fan I’ve met along the way who has welcomed me with open arms. What a blessing!

When I look back at everything that’s happened over the course of my hockey career, sometimes I don’t believe it myself.  It is especially true when I think about my first year in Allen. Coach Martinson gave me a tremendous opportunity to develop and succeed.  48 goals later, it was a season unlike any I had ever had; my scoring was more than double what I had scored in any other single season in my career.

I also got to live my dream of playing the AHL again. Prior to the season though, my dream of going back to the AHL had been greatly shaken.  On the heels of a tough year in Bakersfield and no call-up opportunities, along with my increasing age, I was not sure it would ever be possible again. I put my trust in the Lord and knew that if it was in God’s plan for me to make it back to the AHL, I would.  By God’s grace, I risked it again, in faith, that year in Allen.  I played with hope and never gave up. Sure enough, after practice one day in early March, Coach Martinson called me in and informed me I was going to Milwaukee of the AHL.  It was a dream come true and a sure blessing from the Lord.  I had never talked to anyone in the Milwaukee organization prior to that day.

When I re-joined the Americans after my stint in Milwaukee, the rest of the season was a fairytale. We went on to win the Kelly Cup—it was my first championship in professional hockey.  It was crazy, unbelievable, exciting, amazing. It was a blessing.

As you can see, the Lord has blessed me in so many ways and continues to do so. Among all the blessings that have come via my career in hockey, has been the opportunity to work with Fellowship of Christian Athletes (FCA). FCA is a non-denominational Christian Ministry aiming to serve, influence, and impact coaches and athletes all over the world for Jesus Christ.  Shortly after God grabbed my life in 2009, FCA Hockey became a huge part of my life. For the past six years, I have been beyond blessed to work with them full-time in the summer and then go play hockey in the fall.  As my last season ended, I realized I was ready for FCA Hockey to take on an even bigger role in my life. I really sought the Lord and prayed over the decision.  After a long and emotional wrestle, I am confident that now is the time for me to retire from professional hockey.

It seems weird to even read that back….I am retiring from professional hockey.

Moving forward into the next season of life, I will be working as the Campus Director for FCA Hockey. Connecting with professional, college, and junior hockey players all over the world will be one of my primary focuses. I am really looking forward to developing relationships with these men, helping them in their careers, and empowering them in their walk with Jesus Christ. On top of these relationships, I will be seeking to help expand FCA Hockey’s ministry, so that it becomes even greater.  What can I say about such an opportunity to help impact athletes, coaches, and families around the world for Jesus Christ?  It is such a blessing. I am honored and grateful.

It’s going to be tough—when anybody retires, it always is. I will enjoy not having some of the extreme pressures on me that hockey players usually do. I am looking forward to a little bit of stability – I might actually live in the same place for an entire year, so that’s pretty cool.  I am excited to take on the new responsibility in my job. I know it will be hard this fall when I am not going to camp with my teammates. I will miss the community of guys a ton.  And I am definitely going to miss the games!  How awesome is it that your job is to go and play a hockey game and compete?  I am really going to miss that.

And of course, the fans. Every community I have had the privilege to play in has been absolutely amazing and embraced me with open arms.  I am incredibly grateful for the time I have played professional hockey, and all the places I have played.  I pray blessings a hundred fold upon everybody, for all of the opportunities I have been able to be a part of, and all the organizations that took a chance on me.  The Americans organization has given me the tremendous honor of holding a night to celebrate my career.  I am looking forward to seeing so many family, friends, and fans that night who have helped contribute to my success in hockey. Thank you to all of you!  It has been an honor.  It has been a blessing.


- I was first introduced to Gary when he was signed by Steve Martinson in August, 2014. I was doing some research for a player profile story about Gary and came across a YouTube video of a speech Gary gave when he was playing in Bakersfield. He was the keynote speaker at the 34th Annual Bakersfield Prayer Breakfast where hundreds gather to pray for the community leaders. I have posted this video in the past but encourage you to watch all 17 minutes as it tells you all you need to know about Gary Steffes. At the 11:30 mark of the speech Gary answers the question he gets so often which is how as a follower of Christ he can you play hockey, a game which is so violent. Even if you have watched this video in the past take another look and you will find it even more inspiring.



 - Gary Steffes holds the single season goal scoring record for the Allen Americans at 44 which he set in 2014-15 on the way to a Kelly Cup championship. What you may not remember is he was scoring at a pace that he would have finished the season with 50 goals but on March 25 of that season he was loaned to the Milwaukee Admirals (AHL) for the last nine games of the season. Between the regular season and playoffs with Allen and his stint in the AHL Gary finished the 2014-15 season scoring a total of 61 goals. He also led the ECHL in goals scored that season.


- What set Gary apart as a player? From my vantage point there were a couple of traits that standout. I can say unequivocally he is the hardest working player ever to put on an Allen Americans jersey. He worked at practice just like it was a game, all out all of the time. He is the only player in my time covering the team where teammates questioned whether he was wearing himself down by too much practice. He always took extra practice after the official practice was over. His ability to finish and score goals around the net is something he practiced everyday. When Allen got a skating coach (Luke Chilcott) Gary would spend time with Luke before and after practice trying to improve his skating. Truly a work ethic beyond reproach.


- The Allen Americans were so fortunate to have a player like Gary represent the team with fans and in the community. Whether it was in a formal setting such as his talks after Faith & Family night games, interacting with young fans or chatting with folks one on one he was outstanding. A positive attitude type of guy who always saw the glass half full.


- Unlike many players Gary has had a plan in place for his post playing career for some time with his work with FCA. The FCA organization was founded in 1954 but FCA Hockey was not established until 2008. Gary has been involved since 2011 and will now devote fulltime time to this faith based organization. He has recently moved to Alexandria, Minnesota where this ministry is headquartered. Alexandria is a tourism center located among many lakes and resorts in west-central Minnesota.

- I had a chance to speak with Gary about how his transition was going and as you might imagine he was upbeat and enthusiastic but admitted he will miss the atmosphere of his playing days. There is a lot of exciting things happening with FCA Hockey including building a new rink in Alexandria for which they are about to break ground. Gary will spend  most of the winter in Alexandria and will travel extensively in the summer. When I asked Gary what activities he might pursue now that he is not playing he acknowledged there would be more time for interests such as the guitar, cooking, finishing a book he has been writing, fishing (he is living in the middle of great fishing) and he might even play some senior hockey for fun.

- I am sure all Allen fans wish Gary the best of luck as he moves on in his life. He is a great role model for all of the youth and coaches he comes in contact with. He talked above about all of his blessings. Allen was blessed to have him as part of the team and community for the past three seasons. Everyone will have the chance to say a final farewell when Gary is honored by the team on November 4th before the Americans play the Wichita Thunder. Fittingly it is Faith and Family night.


- Here are a few of the many sides of Gary Steffes in pictures. Photos courtesy of Dianne Webster and Kimberly Sauer:

Giving thanks

Concentration

The sniper

The warrior

Quick hands around the net
     

DID YOU KNOW: In the eight year history of the Allen Americans franchise a player has scored more than 30 goals eight times led by Gary Steffes with 44 goals in 2014-15. Here are the eight 30 goals scorers in Allen history.

44 - Gary Steffes (2014-15)
41 - Chad Costello (2014-15)
35 - Greger Hanson (2016-17)
34 - Bruce Graham (2010-11)
34 - Nino Musitelli (2010-11)
33 - Chad Costello (2016-17)
33 - Colton Yellow Horn (2010-11)
31 - Bruce Graham (2009-10)

Monday, September 11, 2017

Greger Hanson - A Fond Farewell and Tribute To a Never Give Up Attitude

While I spent the month of August in Africa the Allen Americans made two announcements about 30 year old players who have had a major impact on the success of the Allen Americans. Gary Steffes, who turned 30 in May was retiring and Greger Hanson, who will be 30 in February, has signed an AHL deal with the San Diego Gulls. I have so much to say about both of these players today's post will be exclusively devoted to Greger and tomorrow to Gary.


 My first recollection of Greger Hanson was in the 2013 CHL playoffs when he was playing for the Wichita Thunder in the finals of the Presidents' Cup championship. That was the series that ended in overtime in game seven with the famous Todd Robinson goal that gave the Americans their first championship. According to coach Martinson the best player for Wichita in that series was Hanson even though he missed game seven with an injury.


Greger's reputation as a clutch playoff performer would follow him to Allen where he won three championships and was selected as the Kelly Cup MVP in 2015. Last night Greger had this to say on social media about his time in Allen, "Thanks to the Allen Americans and fans for four great years and three unforgettable championships! Great place to play hockey."


 If you look at Greger's regular season stats while in Allen they are certainly impressive. He is eighth all time in games played (195), third in points (225), first in goals (98) and third in assists (127). However, if you look at the postseason Hanson is first in games played (76), first in points (77), first in goals (37) and second in assists. He always stepped it up when games counted the most.


All players have the hopes and desires to make it to the next level but in my opinion that motivation was greater in Greger than any player that has played in Allen. It is a very difficult task to make it to the AHL as a free agent without an AHL contract. When you get called up as a free agent during the season you are going to play in different systems, you may not get much ice time, you may be asked to play more of a defensive role and you often have to make a good impression in just a game or two. Regardless of the obstacles Hanson was always up to the challenge and believed in himself that given the right opportunity, he can play in the AHL. Here is a list of the times Greger was loaned to AHL clubs while a member of the Allen Americans. The number in parenthesis is the number of games he played before being returned to Allen:

December 12, 2014 - Oklahoma City Barons (1 game)
December 18, 2014 - Worcester Sharks (11 games)
January 31, 2015 - Oklahoma City Barons (2 games)
November 13, 2015 - San Jose Barracuda (17 games)
March 1, 2016 - Utica Comets (7 games)
January 11, 2017 - San Diego Gulls (5 games)
February 17, 2017 - Chicago Wolves (2 games)
February 24, 2017 - Binghamton Senators (3 games)
March 20, 2017 - Charlotte Checkers (2 games)

If you add it all up you get 50 games with five goals and seven assists. Not much production for a player that has averaged 1.16 points per game in the 151 games he has played in the ECHL. I would typically talk to Greger after one of his stints in the AHL and he would share how it went. Most of the time he would be on a third or fourth line and sometimes not get a single shift in the third period of games. But when he returned from San Diego last season it was a different story. First of all, he didn't find out he was headed to San Diego until he had completed a full practice with the Americans. He spent the day just getting to San Diego and arrived just in time for the game. He was told he was going to play a regular shift and even got some power play time. The result for Greger was a power play goal and an assist as San Diego beat Stockton 5-3. He was selected the #2 star of the game. Greger stayed for five games in San Diego and ended up with three points, was a plus two and took 18 shots on goal. More importantly he received very positive feedback when he was returned to Allen. Here are the Hanson highlights from that first game in San Diego which I am sure had a lot to do with getting his AHL deal this year. You will see #34 made several great plays in addition to the goal and assist.



It is a real credit to Greger that he has signed an AHL contract at a time of his career where many thought his time had passed. You don't find many 30 year old players signing these deals. It will still be an uphill battle for Hanson to make the Gulls roster but he has waited a long time for this opportunity so don't count him out.

Have to admit it will be tough to see him in a Utah Grizzlies uniform if he does get sent to San Diego's ECHL affiliate. In case you were wondering Allen plays Utah six times this season and four of the games are at the Allen Event Center. (November 1, January 10, February 16, February 17).

Finally, here is the first story I ever wrote about Greger back in November 2013. It may give you some insight into what makes him tick and why he has a can do, never give up attitude in achieving his goals through hard work and tenacity. I am sure all Allen fans wish him the best of luck in San Diego. http://allenamericansblog.blogspot.com/2013/11/20-questions-with-greger-hanson.html


DID YOU KNOW: Northern Michigan University (NMU) has been an important part of Greger's life. He played four years of hockey there, met his wife Andrea there and his younger brother (Gerard) also played hockey and graduated from NMU. Gerard is currently playing professional hockey in England for the Manchester Storm. By the way Greger's roommate in college was a former Allen American, Phil Fox.