Monday, June 30, 2014

News You Can Use - An Allen Americans Update - 6/30/14

Has been a couple of weeks since there has been an update on what is going on with the Allen Americans and with all of the changes taking place with new ownership, players, and staff, thought I would share what I have been hearing both fact and rumors.

- Steve Martinson is at his home in Rockford, Illinois but is hard at work putting together the 2014-2015 team. Coaches spend an inordinate amount of time on the phone this time of year talking to agents, players, and their vast network to find the right fit for their team. If you haven't seen the post from June 13 (Recruiting 101 - Putting Together a Central Hockey League Team With Steve Martinson)  take a look as Martinson shares his approach to recruiting. You have to be impressed with the four players signed thus far by the Americans:
Kevin Young - CHL Most Outstanding Defenseman 2012-2013
Jamie Schaafsma - CHL Playoff MVP 2013-2014
Tyler Ludwig - CHL Most Outstanding Defenseman 2013-2014
Jonathan Lessard - Leading goal scorer for Allen in 2013-2014 (37 goals)
UPDATE: Darrly Bootland signed 7/2/14

- A key date is coming up on Tuesday (July 1st) as that is when each CHL team has to submit to the league office their protected list which can be no more than eight players. These are players for which the team retains their CHL rites. So if you look at the roster from last year and exclude those players that have signed with the Americans already, Martinson can put eight of them on the protected list and he must give them a qualifying offer for next season. Any player not on the protected list becomes a free agent and can negotiate with any team in the CHL. The protected list is a way to protect players that have not signed yet or have signed in the ECHL or overseas for next year. Brian McMillin is a good example from last year. When Brian returned from England he could only negotiate with Allen because he was on the protected list.

- With the protected lists due tomorrow you can anticipate some player signings around the league in the next day. I would assume there are many more players signed than have been announced. While Allen has announced only four signings thus far, that is the most of any team in the league (Missouri also has announced four). Three teams (Arizona, Quad City & Wichita) have yet to announce their first signing.

- In addition to filling out the player roster the Americans are also in search of a new equipment manager as Kacee Coberly has moved back home to Oklahoma City and taken a more family friendly job outside of hockey. The team's trainer last year, Osama Kassab, has been accepted into the Palmer College of Chiropractic in San Jose, CA and will be moving next week. Best of luck to Kacee and Osama in their new endeavors. The team is currently reviewing numerous resumes for both positions.

- An unanswered question at this point is, will there be an assistant coach this coming season and if there is, will the duties change? I have no inside information on this but assume Steve Martinson will get some kind of help with the on ice product but it may be different than how things were done in the past.

- Many have asked me about the status of all of the players from last year so here is my best guess with the emphasis on "best guess" as to what they are up to. Bruce Graham (England),  Bryan Pitton (Poland) and Anthony Maiani (Denmark) have been signed so they are in fact gone. Steven Tarasuk is rumored to be heading to Europe but nothing has been announced. Daniel Tetrault, Ross Rouleau and Phil Fox were all leaning toward not playing next season but sometimes things change as the summer wears on. Daniel Tetrault is retired but living and coaching hockey in the area. He always stays in great shape so you never know when he might reappear sometime during the season. Rouleau and Fox would be welcome additions if they decide to play another year but their return is in doubt at this point. I have heard Kale Kerbashian & Garrett Klotz have signed with an ECHL team. I saw an interview done by Bill Althaus in Missouri about former Maverick's coach Scott Hillman who is moving from Independence to Indianapolis to be the first head coach of the ECHL Indianapolis Fuel. In the article it says, "Hillman has already signed a couple of names who will be familiar with Mavericks fans– sorry, it's too early to let you know who those players happen to be." Makes you wonder if Kerbashian and/or Klotz are headed to Indy. From what I have heard Spencer Asuchak has numerous AHL teams talking to him so he will most likely get an AHL contract. Alex Lavoie, who recently returned from a vacation in Cuba, is also looking for an AHL contract but have not heard anything specific about him. With his buddy, Jonathan Lessard, signed in Allen maybe there is a possibility if Alex doesn't get an AHL deal he might start the season back in Allen and then move up to the AHL.  Thought Darryl Bootland and Trevor Ludwig would have been signed by now as this is their home, their wives are from Texas and they love playing here. Booter just attended the Professional Hockey Players Association (PHPA) annual meeting in Las Vegas as he is the player representative.  I am assuming they will both return.  Brian McMillin & Greger Hanson must still  be looking for opportunities elsewhere but there is a good chance they decide to return to Allen. Have heard nothing about Hendrikx, Lukin, Berube & Zion so would assume they may not be returning to Allen. Finally, the last I heard, amateur Cain Franson was leaning toward going to college in the fall. It will be interesting to see how this all plays out over the next days, weeks and months.

- The draft schedule for next season has been received by the teams and they are making the final tweaks, working with the league office. Allen's home opener will be Friday, October 24th and the final game of the season will be Friday, April 3rd. Both of these dates are about a week later than last year because the CHL made the decision to delay the start of the season by one week. The schedule should be released in the next week or so.

- The Allen Event Center (AEC) has been outfitted with new glass and it is ready to go for the beginning of hockey season. The Americans plan to hold an open house with the new glass in place when the AEC schedule has some open dates.

- Congrats to the new ownership group as the Allen Americans will be full participants in the CHL summer meetings which takes place in Phoenix (actually Chandler, AZ) and begins on July 21st. As you will recall Allen did not participate last year. Matt Canavan (Team President), Mike Martin (Senior VP, Sales & Service), Tommy Daniels and Steve Martinson are scheduled attend. There will be networking sessions for each group, changes will be discussed and votes will be taken on various proposals. The last night there will be an awards dinner where awards will be given out for the best merchandising, game operations, community relations, broadcaster, group sales, corporate sales and ticketing to name a few. The big award is the CHL franchise of the year. Just as a reminder last year Allen received none of the sixteen awards despite being the Governor's Cup and Presidents' Cup champion. You can assume with the new ownership group in charge and Allen no longer pursuing leaving the CHL and being back to back champs, the results this year will be different.

- As mentioned in a previous post, some of the rule changes being discussed and should be voted on at the summer meetings, if not before, include returning to a two referee system for the playoffs, going from two piece to one piece sticks (players prefer one piece sticks but the additional cost to a team could be as much as $15,000), reducing the number of veterans on a team, and having the early rounds of the playoffs be best of five rather than best of seven.

- Having talked to Steve Martinson many times about how he would improve the CHL through rule changes I know he has many ideas on how to make the league better without adding cost. Keep in mind that during his career he has been a team owner, president and general manager in addition to being a coach so he knows the business from all angles.  Martinson would like to see changes in everything from veteran rules to amateur rules to injured reserve to roster size to salary cap management. It will be interesting to get his thoughts after the meeting.

- A couple of the reporters from the Minor League Hockey Report (Matt & Zach) will be attending the summer meetings in Arizona so for the first time we should get some real time information on what is happening. Looking forward to hearing their reports.

- Former Allen defenseman Scott Langdon (2010-2012) has signed with the Missouri Mavericks and Scott Howes (2012-2013) has signed to play in Denmark.

- CHL goalies are in high demand in Europe as Thomas Heemskerk (Quad City), Andrew Engelage (Arizona), Shane Madalora (Tulsa), Bryan Pitton (Allen) and Kristofer Westblom (Brampton) have all signed to play overseas next year.

DID YOU KNOW: The SPHL Augusta (Georgia) Riverhawks franchise which was dormant last year will move to Macon, Georgia and compete in the SPHL in 2015-2016. It brings hockey back to a city that was part of the CHL in the 1990's. Macon also had a stint in the Atlantic Coast Hockey League (ACHL) in 2002. No matter what the league they always come up with a catchy name to go with Macon.
CHL - Macon Whoopee
ACHL - Macon Trax
SPHL - Macon Mayhem

Friday, June 13, 2014

Recruiting 101 - Putting Together a Central Hockey League Team With Steve Martinson

Steve Martinson just completed his eighteenth year as a professional hockey coach and his results speak wonders about his ability to recruit players. He has won eight championship and has only missed the playoffs one time in eighteen years. The one time he missed the playoffs was in 2011-2012 with the Chicago Express (ECHL) when he had six players promoted to the AHL and six other players sustain season ending injuries. To make matters worse the team decided to fold at the end of the season so the last part of the season was played knowing they were not returning. As coach always says, "Not an excuse, just the facts."

So exactly how does he go about putting a team together was the question I posed to him this week as he was preparing to leave town for some time at his home in Rockford, Illinois.

Recruiting is the most important aspect of the job for a head coach and Martinson does it all year long. Everyday he is in contact with players and agents. Whether it is telephone calls, texts or social media he maintains contact with as many players as possible and this is the case both in the off season and during the season.

The starting point is determining a budget. While the salary cap ($12,000 per week) is a given cost, housing and insurance costs the team more than the players salary. A big cost factor is how many married players are on the team. Married players get their own apartment while the single guys share an apartment. Health insurance is much cheaper for single players and married guys without children than it is for families. One of the goals for the coming year is to reduce the cost of housing and insurance.

With back to back championships you might think everything would be positive in putting the 2014-2015 team together but that is not the case. Many of the players want to try playing in the AHL, Europe or even in the ECHL. Being on a championship team gives them leverage to pursue these opportunities. So you have a situation where many of the players want some time to find other opportunities before committing to Allen. Another issue facing Martinson is after winning the Presidents' Cup all of the players feel they deserve a raise in pay however the amount available is still the same $12,000 per week available last year.

The best recruiting tool for the coach is the environment playing hockey in Allen, Texas. A great facility, a winning tradition, great weather, opportunity to play golf year around, and a good fan base.With a major airport and the possibility of AHL call ups Allen is a destination that is appealing to players. Since Allen typically makes a deep run in the the playoffs the players can expect to earn several thousand dollars extra in salary and bonus during the playoffs.

So exactly how does Steve Martinson go about signing players. The process started immediately after the season ended. Because the team won the championship the coach wants to be loyal to the guys on the team but he also feels you need to act quickly to get good players from elsewhere looking for a place to play. He has already offered contracts to several players who played in the ECHL last year and these are impact players for sure. Kevin Young, who won the "Most Outstanding Defenseman" award in the CHL for 2012-2013 has already been signed. At the same time he has made offers to some players from last year's team who want to return and are ready to sign. Jamie Schaafsma, Tyler Ludwig, & Jonathan Lessard have already signed with others to come.

For the current Allen Americans players Martinson puts them if four different categories. The top category are those players that have said, "I want to return to Allen and am ready to sign a contract." The next category are the young guys who may have opportunities in the AHL or ECHL and need time to see what is available. If these guys want to return a spot will be available for them. The third category would be the more experienced players who would like to return but asked for some time to see if they can land a job in Europe or maybe even in the ECHL. If this group waits too long they may not have a spot on the team as Martinson will continue signing new players over the next few weeks. He can't wait for them the make up their minds and when they finally do he may not have the slots or the money to sign them. The fourth category would be the guys who know they aren't returning (signing elsewhere or retiring) or have not contacted Martinson since the season ended.

Because Steve Martinson has been around minor pro hockey for so long and has coached in the ECHL he has a real advantage when it comes to recruiting. But even with the contacts he has, he spends many hours going over data to determine who to recruit. He has a couple of techniques that he uses to find those diamonds in the rough, players who have underperformed but will thrive in his system and players that have not been used in the right way on their current teams.

Identifying good young players is one of the keys to success because they get paid less than the veterans. Last season was a good example as the top three scorers on the team were all younger players. It is difficult to have a team with depth if you have too many high priced players so coaches always struggle with getting good players at the right price. This often creates some tension between the players, who feel they deserve a higher salary, and the coach who is dealing with a salary cap. In the NHL these conversations take place between attorneys for the team and attorneys for the player but in the CHL it is most often between the player and the coach.

Until July 1st all of the Allen American players rites for the CHL remain with Allen (unless the rites are traded) but on July 1st Allen has to submit to the league a list of no more than eight players they want to protect. These eight names do not include players that have already signed. Because only eight players can be protected there is incentive to get as many players signed by July 1st as possible. Coaches from other CHL teams cannot talk to Allen players and Martinson cannot talk to players from other CHL teams at this time as that is considered tampering.

Another issue the coach needs to be aware of is the veteran status of each player as the number of veterans on the team is limited. A veteran is currently defined as a player with more than 300 professional games and the roster can have six veterans (one must be a returning player) not including goalies. This rule is always being discussed and there have been some rumors the number might be reduced but it is all speculation at this point. Since it is recruiting season, if the CHL does make a change in the number of veterans a team can have or the number of games played to qualify as a veteran it needs to happen quickly.

As I spent some time talking with Steve Martinson there were a few themes that came through as he puts together the team for the 2014-2015 season:

- Look for fewer married players, especially married players with children, on the roster this season.

- He will be loyal to the players that helped bring back to back championships to Allen. That doesn't mean everyone wishing to return will be signed but he has reached out to everyone to see what they want to do.

- When you win the championship everyone feels they deserve a raise but with the salary cap remaining the same ($12,000)  that is not possible. However, it is important that the players are dealt with fairly and are paid what they are worth.

- Those that are ready to sign will be the top priority. Those that wait run the risk of other players being signed and a slot not being available or money not being available.

- Get as many players signed as quickly as possible. A goal would be to have the top two lines, four defensemen and a goalie signed by July 1st.

- With the average salary being about $630 per week ($12,000 divided by 19 players) finding good young players that make less than the average is critical so you can pay the top end guys.

- Popularity of players with the fans is not a big factor when it comes time to signing. It is strictly based on performance. You can always find another popular player.

- If you find a good player at the right price sign them right away.

One thing is certain, Steve Martinson will have the same type of team as he always has. They will compete hard, be physical and be difficult to play against. The team will be tough but also skillful. He recruits guys that understand you must work hard, be in great shape, follow the system, be a team guy and finish checks. He builds his teams to have depth rather than a few super stars. This approach has worked for 18 years and it will work again as he puts together the 2014-2015 team.


Tuesday, June 10, 2014

News You Can Use or Maybe Not - A Potpourri Of Information

Got back from vacation over the weekend and had lots of odds and ends about the Allen Americans, CHL,  and minor pro hockey that have happened over the last three weeks so thought I would put them all together in case you have missed what has been going on. For you avid fans there may not be much new in the post but hopefully you will find something interesting.

- Steve Martinson is still in town but will be leaving for his summer home (Rockford, Illinois) in the next week. I am going to do a short story on how he goes about building a team which should be finished in the next couple of days. He did share with me he is busy recruiting and has made contract offers already to some players. Not sure when the first announcement will happen but I would put it in the "big splash" category.

- The Missouri Mavericks will announce their new head coach at a press conference Thursday at 10:00 AM and Richard Matvichuk is a finalist for the position and certainly deserves the job. I just have a feeling he might get that job as he is a proven winner with back to back championships in Allen and don't forget that Stanley Cup ring. Good luck Matty!! We will all be anxiously awaiting the announcement Thursday morning.

- Bruce Graham has signed to play in England for the Nottingham Panthers which is the same team he played for in 2012-2013 when they won all three championships that are contested in the EIHL. He is friends with the coach (Cory Nielson) so once Bruce and Whitney made the decision to play hockey next season, after joining Allen for the playoff run this year, he had a great opportunity in England. Panthers head coach Corey Neilson said: "He is in the prime of his life. "Bruce is great in both ends of the ice, he has a great engine and is a great person."  Good luck to Bruce, Whitney, Harper & London on their return to Nottingham. By the way, one of Bruce's teammates will be Steve Ward who played for the Brampton Beast this year.

- There are several other players looking for jobs in Europe but they are sometimes hard to land, especially for married guys.

- Congratulations to Jamie Schaafsma who was nominated for athlete of the month by the Chatham-Kent Sports network back in his hometown. Here is what was said about Jamie, Helped lead the Central Hockey League’s Allen Americans to their second straight Ray Miron Presidents’ Cup. Schaafsma was named the 2014 CHL Playoff Most Valuable Player, leading the Americans with 20 points (10-10-20) in the playoffs and leading his team with nine points in the Finals including the game winning goal in the double overtime during game two.

- Spencer Asuchak got some great publicity in his hometown with the article below in the Kamloops This Week ( which was written by Adam Williams. Congrats to Spencer!
Asuchak finds form in Lone Star State

Asuchak finds form in Lone Star State

Photo: Spencer Asuchak of Kamloops won the Central Hockey League championship this season playing in Texas with the Allen Americans. Clarissa Tieksinmäki photo
Allen Americans’ coach Steve Martinson thinks Spencer Asuchak was overlooked in his time in the Western Hockey League. Well, the Kamloops kid isn’t being overlooked anymore. Asuchak, 22, recently completed his rookie season in the professional Central Hockey League, amassing 21 goals and 35 assists in 66 games with the Americans. The rookie was third in team and rookie scoring and helped lead Allen to its second consecutive league title. “It was awesome,” Asuchak said. “It was probably the best year I’ve ever had playing hockey. Hockey was pretty fun again. It was just really nice to have a coach believe in you and give you a chance like that.” The forward was a big part of the club’s season, playing on the power play and logging more than 50 per cent of the team’s penalty-kill minutes. Martinson paired him against the top forwards in the league and said Asuchak averaged more than 25 minutes a night. Despite being a rookie, he quickly made himself known to the Americans and their fans. “I would describe him a little bit as kind of a late bloomer” said Martinson, formerly a winger with the NHL’s Detroit Red Wings, Montreal Canadiens and Minnesota North Stars. “He was a real important player for us and played a big role on our team in the regular season and playoffs.” Asuchak played his midget hockey in Kamloops before suiting up for parts of four seasons in the WHL, totalling 95 points, including 49 goals, in 224 games with the Prince George Cougars and Tri-City Americans. The 6-foot-5 winger, who was moved to the centre ice position with Allen, wasn’t drafted following his final season with the Cougars and went on to play stints with the Ontario Reign of the East Coast Hockey League and the Mount Royal Cougars of the Canada West University Athletics Association before landing in Allen. Martinson said he felt the forward was overlooked in junior and was happy to see him find his game in the CHL. Playing under Martinson seemed to be a good fit for Asuchak, who said the coach was good to him and allowed him to be “a real player.” And, despite football coming first in that part of the world, life in Texas seemed to agree with the forward. The team provided him with an apartment and paid his travel and food costs on top of his weekly salary. The fans were committed and Asuchak said the home barn, which resembled that of the WHL’s Kelowna Rockets, housed between 4,000 and 6,000 fans every night.
It was a good introduction to what he hopes will be a long professional career. Though the Americans would love to have Asuchak back next season, Martinson isn’t counting on having the Canadian in his lineup next season. Asuchak’s goal is to catch on with an AHL club in the near future — he’s spending his summer in Kamloops, training at Kozoris Acceleration, as a means to that end. “I’m sure he’s getting lots of offers from the ECHL,” the coach said. “I think he can play in the American league. I think he will. I think that he’s got potential to play in the NHL and, whether he comes back and plays any games with us, it’s too early to tell. “I think he’s a prospect, an NHL prospect, and I think he’s got a pretty good future in hockey.” For Asuchak, the points and the recognition — he was twice named the league’s player of the week — the teammates and the fans, were all great, but there’s one moment from his time with the Americans that stands out among the rest. “I would say definitely lifting that trophy over my head with my teammates,” he said. “We went through a lot this year and it’s nice to be around your teammates and do something like that. “Championships are pretty hard to win and I’m pretty happy I got to do it in my first year playing pro.”

-  Want to offer my belated congratulations to the Minor League Hockey Report for winning the 2013-2014 CHL Media Services Award. They do a great job covering the CHL with their game analysis, articles and interviews and should be a go to site for any CHL fan. Outstanding job by Matthew Harding, Zachary Courter, Jason Schawe and Rich Lohman. If you don't know where to find them you can see their work at, on Twitter at @ML_HockeyReport or on Facebook at Minor League Hockey Report.

- Nice to see Texas so well represented in the hockey playoffs this year with the Dallas Stars making the NHL playoffs, Allen winning the CHL championship, and the Texas Stars in the finals of the AHL Calder Cup championship.

- Some great players from the CHL have already signed to play in Europe next season. In addition to Bruce Graham and Steve Ward mentioned above Matt Larke (F) from Tulsa will play in England, Andrew Engelage (G) will play in Norway, Thomas Heemkerk (G) from Quad City will play in Hungary, Mathieu Gagnon (D) from Missouri will play in France, and Eric Castonguay (F) from Missouri will play in Norway. All of these are reported on Elite Prospects. While not reported on Elite Prospects I have heard David Rutherford from Arizona and Scott Howes from Brampton will also play in Europe.

- Former Allen Americans coach Dwight Mullins,  who coached Allen from 2009-2012, has been named head coach of the Evansville Icemen (ECHL). Here is the press release announcing his selection.
Evansville IceMen Owner Ron Geary has announced that Dwight Mullins has been hired as the team’s head coach and director of hockey operations. Mullins, 47 years old from Calgary, Alberta, becomes the ECHL team’s third head coach.
“We are excited to have Dwight Mullins directing our hockey operations,” Ron Geary said. “Dwight brings a wealth of knowledge and passion to Evansville. Our search committee reviewed close to forty applicants and felt confident in the direction Mr. Mullins would lead the IceMen.”
Dwight coached the ECHL Elmira Jackals the past two seasons, posting an overall record of 64-65-15. His 2012-13 Jackals qualified for the ECHL Kelly Cup Playoffs. Interestingly enough, Elmira defeated Evansville seven of nine times the past two years. Prior to his time in Elmira, Mullins coached three years with the Allen (Texas) Americans in the Central Hockey League, from 2009-10 to 2011-12, where his record was an impressive 128-51-17. In the CHL Playoffs, he qualified the team all three years, losing in the Finals in the 2009-10 season. Mr. Mullins was also twice named the head coach of the CHL All-Star Team.
He also brings NHL experience to Evansville. From 2004 to 2008, he was a coach at the Dallas Stars player development camp, and served as the head coach in charge of pre-camp conditioning. He has also been an assistant coach with the WPHL Fort Worth Brahmas and WHL Medicine Hat Tigers.
As a player, Dwight played junior hockey in the Western Hockey League before turning pro. He was drafted by the Minnesota North Stars in the fifth round (90th overall) in the 1985 NHL Entry Draft. The highlight of his playing career was captaining the Fort Worth Fire to the Central Hockey League Championship in 1997, winning in seven games over the Memphis RiverKings.
“Mr. Geary has established a first-class organization that is committed to the Evansville community,” Dwight Mullins said. “I am thrilled to have been entrusted with guiding the hockey operations to a successful and exciting future. My family and I are privileged to have the opportunity to be a part of the Evansville IceMen organization.”

- Cain Franson got some props from his junior team for winning the championship:

Congratulations to Cain Franson and the Allen Americans!

The Vancouver Giants would like to congratulate alumnus Cain Franson on winning the Central Hockey League's President's Cup. Franson joined the Allen Americans after the conclusion of the Giants' 2013/14 season.
Franson played 246 Western Hockey League games over four seasons with the Giants. In those games, he registered 181 points (89 goals, 92 assists) and 135 penalty minutes.

- The CHL’s 2014-15 season will begin on Friday, October 24, 2014 and will conclude on Sunday, April 5, 2015.  The upcoming season will begin one week later than in previous seasons and will end one week later moving into the first week of April.  The season will once again consist of 23.5 weeks.
The number of games for the 2014-15 season will remain at 66 with each team playing 33 home games and each team playing 33 road games.

DID YOU KNOW:  With only nine teams in the league next season (unless something changes real fast which in unlikely) there will be one team not playing hockey every weekend.