Sunday, May 17, 2015

It Is Game Day In Allen, Players to Watch, Keys To The Game, My Opinion & A Year Ago Today

- It is game day in Allen as the Americans take on the Ontario Reign in the opening game of the ECHL Western Conference Finals. The winner of this series will take on the Eastern Conference champion for the Kelly Cup. South Carolina leads Toledo 2-0 in the Eastern Conference Final after winning last night 4-3 in Toledo. The top seeded Walleye have dug themselves a deep hole losing two games at home to start the series but can take solace in the fact that Toledo and South Carolina have played six times this season between regular season and playoffs and the visiting team has won all six times. The series resumes on Wednesday in South Carolina.

- Yesterday's blog was all about comparing team statistics in the regular season and playoffs so today it is time to take a look at some of the individual players you will be watching in this series. Both teams have rosters that are very different from the start of the season but also have a nucleus of players that has been with the team all year.


- Allen was without a doubt the most talented offensive team in the ECHL during the regular season and the individual statistics would bear this out. Here are a few examples:

Chad Costello had 125 points (41 goals 84 assists) to win the scoring title by 45 points which was an all time record. Gary Steffes finished ninth in ECHL scoring.

Allen finished one-two in goals scored with Gary Steffes leading the league with 44 and Chad Costello finishing second with 41.

Chad Costello led the league with 84 assist. Second place was 59.

Gary Steffes had 18 power play goals which was six more than anyone else in the league

Allen finished one-two in power play assists with Chad Costello leading the league with 35 and Aaron Gens second with 22.

Greger Hanson led the ECHL in game winning goals (11) and shorthanded goals (5).

Aaron Gens led all ECHL defensemen in points (58), assists (48), power play assists (22), and power play points (25).

Tyler Ludwig led all ECHL defensemen in goals with 16.

Allen had four defensemen (Gens, Young, Baker, Tyler Ludwig) in the top eighteen in scoring for defensemen.

Riley Gill led all ECHL goalies with 33 wins.

- With all of this firepower it is no wonder Allen was well represented when the post season ECHL awards were handed out. Chad Costello was selected to the All-ECHL first team, Aaron Gens and Gary Steffes were selected to the All-ECHL second team and Justin Baker was selected to the All-Rookie team. Chad Costello finished second in the MVP voting and Aaron Gens fourth for Defensman of the Year.

- During the regular season Ontario scored 42 fewer goals than Allen and had no players in the top 20 in scoring or top five in any of the statistical categories tracked by the ECHL. Former Allen defenseman Matt Register finished third in scoring (50 points) and goals (14) for defensemen. Matt was the ECHL's Defenseman of the Year last year and finished second this year. He was also selected to the All-ECHL first team for the second consecutive year.

- Another former Allen American, Judd Blackwater was the leading scorer for Ontario during the regular season. Judd had 63 points (35 goals 28 assists) in just 59 games. Matt White was second in scoring with 60 points (28 goals 32 assists).


- Both Allen and Ontario are very different teams in the playoffs from the teams they started the year with. Ontario improved their team through trades starting in January when they acquired David Rutherford from Missouri. Late season trades in March brought Garry Nunn from Gwinnett and Josh Brittain from Missouri.

- The Allen playoff roster was bolstered by getting players like Spencer Asuchak, Gary Steffes and Ian Schultz back from call ups to the AHL and getting players assigned from their affiliations with San Jose and Worcester. Vincent Arseneau, Chris Crane, Konrad Abeltshauser, Joel Rumpel and Rylan Schwartz all came to Allen from the parent clubs.

- Here are the leading scorers for both teams in the playoffs:

16 points - Greger Hanson (7 goals 9 assists) - 11 games
15 points - Spencer Asuchak (7 goals 8 assists) - 11 games
15 points - Chad Costello (4 goals 11 assists) - 11 games
11 points - Ian Schultz (5 goals 6 assists) - 7 games
10 points - Konrad Abeltshauser (3 goals 7 assists) - 11 games

14 points - Matt Register (6 goals 8 assists) - 12 games
13 points - Garry Nunn (5 goals 8 assists) - 12 games
12 points - Tristan King (4 goals 8 assists) - 11 games
11 points - Mike White (7 goals 4 assists) - 12 games
10 points - Judd Blackwater (5 goals 5 assists) - 8 games
10 points - Maxim Kitsyn (3 goals 7 assists) - 12 games


- I attended the 6:45 p.m. practice last night which served as a pregame skate since the team will not skate this morning with a 4:05 game start this afternoon. Talked to several players after practice and the common theme was a focus on team defense and staying out of the penalty box. Allen does best when they limit the opponents quality scoring opportunities and avoid the approach of we will score five goals and out score the opponent. If the team can have the attitude of it is more important to win the game than score goals they will be fine.

- Special teams are always critical but even more so in this series with two referees and the Ontario power play. It is the best in the league during the playoffs (26.2%) and on the road it is even better at 30.0%. The Allen power play is ranked #5 overall (20.8%) and #1 at home (29.4%) but those percentages are a little deceiving. If you take out the 8-1 home victory over Rapid City when Allen was 5-10 on the power play the overall percentage drops from 20.8% to 13.9% and the home power play percentage drops from 29.4% to 20.8%. 

- Injuries are always key in the playoffs and Allen will certainly miss Rylan Schwartz who will miss the remainder of the playoffs. Everyone else should be available for today's game though a couple of players are nursing minor injuries as is the case with most players this time of year. For Ontario, Judd Blackwater and David Rutherford were both injured May 3rd in the first game of the Ontario vs Utah series. They have missed the last four games. Blackwater will probably be in the line up today and Rutherford not.

- The ECHL announced this week the seven referees who will be working the Conference Finals and Kelly Cup Finals. Fans, players, and coaches may disagree with the selections but these are the referees that rated the best throughout the year and it is a huge honor in the referee profession to be chosen. Most of these referees have worked the finals in the past and of course they will be working in pairs for the rest of the playoffs. The seven are Jake Brenk, Pierre Lambert*, Frederic Leblanc*, Ryan Murphy*, Stephen Reneau*, Peter Tarnaris*, and Andrew Wilk.
*worked the finals last year

- The referees scheduled for Allen vs Ontario this afternoon are Frederic Lablanc and Andrew Wilk. Wilk is in his third season as an ECHL referee and was selected to referee the ECHL All-Star game this year. He has prior experience in the WHL, NAHL and SPHL and has worked championship finals in those leagues. Lablanc has been with the ECHL for six seasons and has worked the finals in the past including last year. He has also worked several NHL prospect camps as a referee.

- Wanted to end the blog this morning talking about something I know nothing about. One of the advantages of writing a blog is being able to share your opinion even on topics where you have none of the facts. After all, I am an expert at my own opinion. When the Allen Americans were sold to the Steven Brothers, somewhere on a message board or on social media it was stated that the coaches for all three teams (Wichita, Tulsa, & Allen) were given contracts that will expire after next season. I am sure there is a case to be made for treating all three franchises the same but if you have one coach who has won essentially three titles in a row with two CHL championships and an ECHL Division championship why on earth would you not want to offer him a contract extension rather than risk the chance of him leaving. To have won as much as Steve Martinson has in Allen the last three years (regardless of what happens the rest of the way in the playoffs) and not be offered a contract extension has probably never happened or rarely happened in professional hockey. C'MON MAN!

DID YOU KNOW: What a difference a year makes. A year ago Allen had already won the CHL championship and the players were headed home. This year the team is only halfway through the playoffs and will not head home for another month if they make the finals. For a trip down memory lane here is the blog post from a year ago today.

- It doesn't take long from championship, to celebrations, to scattered to the winds. There has been a steady stream of players heading to the airport the last few days; Hanson, Tarasuk, Franson, Graham, Zion, Maiani, Lavoie, and Lessard to name just a few. And then those that make the long trek by driving like Schaafsma to Ontario or Bryan Pitton to California. Those that will be here during the summer include the Ludwigs, Bootland, Tetrault and McMillin. It won't be long until the focus will change to building a roster for next season. Such is the life cycle in the CHL.

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