Friday, June 10, 2016

Allen Wins Kelly Cup - You Will Walk Together Forever



YOU WILL WALK TOGETHER FOREVER - photo by Lauren Lyssy


Today's post will be a long and rambling road because there is so much to say about the momentous occasion last night. For the record the Allen Americans beat the Wheeling Nailers 4-2 to win the Kelly Cup by a series score of 4-2. I spent time on the ice after the game, in the locker room and in the coaches office and didn't record one comment, ask a question or take a picture as all I wanted to do was observe what was going on and congratulate everyone involved.

- There is something special about the grind that leads to a championship in any sport but to win 16 games on the way to a hockey championship is special. The quote below really captures what team sport is all about at any level and what the Allen Americans represent.  A bunch of men playing a game, strangers coming together for a common goal, willing to do anything for each other.

"Win today and we walk together forever."
—Philadelphia Flyers Coach Fred Shero wrote this on his famous chalkboard before the Flyers' 1974 Stanley Cup finals victory.

You can talk about all of the championships Allen has won in the past but for this group of players it is all about this season as they will always be connected in a very special way and to see them celebrate their accomplishment was great. They will indeed walk together for ever. 
 
- One of the most enjoyable parts of watching the team win a championship is the reaction of their families and friends. The tears of joy, celebrations, and pictures are very special and are memories that will be cherished forever. Whether it was Chad Costello putting his MVP trophy on the ice to embrace his three young children, Riley Gill straining to find his wife and son in the crowd or Steve Martinson looking all over for his two children, it was obvious how important it is to share the moment with family and friends. The biggest smile of the night on coach Martinson's face was when he gave his kids a hug and presented them with a championship hat. I saw lots of embraces with moms, dads, siblings, grandparents and friends.

- A special acknowledgement to the moms on the team. Yes, the hockey season is grueling for the players but imagine what it is like for the moms with young children to deal with late night hockey games, long road trips, all of the "guy" activities and after hours commitments. How about the team giving the wives and girlfriends a championship necklace this year to go along with the championship rings the players receive. And no I wasn't put up to this by one of the wives.

- Goals scorers in the game last night for Allen were Tristan King (7), Greger Hanson (15), Eric Roy (5) and Gary Steffes (13).

- It was certainly fitting that Allen won the Kelly Cup last night in a game where they went 3-4 on the power play and did not have an even strength goal. The power play has been the savior for Allen many times this season and it was certainly the biggest factor in winning in the playoffs. The Americans led the ECHL during the regular season with a power play percentage of  21.1%. In the playoffs they improved the overall power play percentage to 27.2% and at home it was an astounding 32.7%. What is even more impressive is how disciplined the team was in not taking penalties. They made their opponents pay time and time again.

- Led by arguably the best passer in the history of the ECHL in Chad Costello, the Americans dominated the power play stats in the playoffs. Allen occupied the top four spots in power play points with Costello (17), Makowski (13), Hanson (12) and Roy (11). Hanson led the playoffs in power play goals (8), Costello in power play assists (17) and points (20), Roy in rookie power play assists (8) and points (11). David Makowski led all defensemen in power play goals (3), assists (10) and points (13). That is what you call dominance.

- Allen has won four straight championships (two in Central Hockey League & two in ECHL) which is unprecedented in minor league hockey, The only constant in the four championships is coach Steve Martinson. There are no players from the 2013 championship still on the team. The list of players that have won three of the four championships got longer last night as Greger Hanson and Spencer Asuchak joined Jamie Schaafsma, Brian McMillin, Tyler Ludwig and Trevor Ludwig with three Allen Championship rings.

- As much enjoyment there is in seeing players repeat or three-peat as champions in Allen it is just as much fun to see players win in an Americans uniform for the first time. Players with a lot of experience (Pierro-Zabotel, King, Register, Courtnall) and those still classified as rookies (Roy, Jevpalovs, LaFontaine, Pinkston, Carr, Rowley, Rumpel, Hildebrand. However they arrived in Allen is was a good move.

- How does Steve Martinson continue to win? He is the best general manager in AA hockey. He always says the key to winning is getting the best players and that is what he does best. He has done it with youth ( their were eight rookies on this year's playoff roster) and with teams with very few rookies. He gets the most from the players and is not afraid to part ways with players if it helps the team win. Martinson has now won 10 championships in 20 years of coaching. Throw in a couple of championships as a player and it is an even dozen rings. He certainly isn't noted for being a sentimental guy but he did bring his championship rings from the first three years in Allen to the rink last night. Martinson is now 14-0 in playoff series since becoming the Allen coach. The last seven times he has made it to a championship final he has won. Here is a story written by Rick Gosselin that makes to case for for Steve Martinson. It is a must read: http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-stars/stars/2016/06/10/gosselin-best-gm-town-stars-jim-nill-rangers-jon-daniels-itsnbspsteve-martinson-allen-americans

- Hard to overstate the importance of Chad Costello to the Allen Americans. Last night he became the first player in ECHL history to win the regular season MVP and go on to win the playoff MVP award. His 29 assists in the playoffs blew away the all time record which was set way back in 2000 at 26. He served as co-captain of the team. He won the ECHL regular season scoring championship the last two seasons. With all of Chad's offensive accomplishments, maybe his most impressive stat is he  has never missed a game (regular season or playoffs) since joining the team last season. He is the true ironman of this team.

- Allen would not be the two time Kelly Cup champions with out goalie Riley Gill. There is nothing more important in the playoffs than an experienced goalie. Riley had a couple of injuries during the season and in the playoffs but as he has done in the past, when it is crunch time he is as good as it gets. The higher the stakes the better he plays. That is why he has won the Kelly Cup three times in the last four years. With 3:44 remaining in the game and Wheeling trailing by one goal, Riley made an unbelievable save as Nailer forward Ty Loney had a wide open net at point blank range. Riley somehow slide to his right and got a piece of the puck with his pad. It was definitely a game saver and a shot Loney will see in his sleep for a long time. Riley ended the playoffs with the most wins (12), minutes (997), saves (469) and a save percentage of .923.

- With his 12 wins in the playoffs this year Riley Gill now owns the all time ECHL record for playoff victories. He has 48 playoff wins. Second all time is 43 and third is 31. That record may stand for a while and my guess is Riley is not done adding to his total.

- Congrats to the Wheeling Nailers team and entire organization for an unbelievable playoff run. They certainly earned the moniker of "comeback kids" with what they accomplished to get into the playoffs and to the final. Here is what coach Martinson had to say about Wheeling, "Wheeling had a great playoff run. It is always a crap shoot when you are a small market northern team. Getting guys back from the AHL in time to win in the playoffs is always critical. I have a ton of respect for what the coaches and players accomplished in the playoffs. Coaches that have not had the opportunity to work in the north don't realize how hard it is not to have your best team going down the stretch. When I coached in Elmira, I used to get multiple calls from the AHL every Friday. We played over 30 games with less than 16 skaters. Wheeling had a great playoff run. I think what differentiates our team is the experience our battle tested players have gets passed along and spreads to the entire team and helps make us a tough team in the playoffs."

- On a personal note what a thrill to be at the Kelly Cup clinching game to celebrate with the team, front office and fans. It took a 14 hour drive from Minnesota on Thursday but it was worth the effort. I am so fortunate to be a small part of the Allen Americans family.

- I thought it was a nice touch for the team to allow fans on the ice to celebrate with the team. There are always concerns about liability when you let so many people on the ice, many with shoes not fit for the occasion. The players were great in staying out to greet the fans and take pictures until everyone had their fill. Job well done.

- Speaking of fan support, the Americans averaged 5082 fans per game during the playoffs which was a big increase over the regular season (4571) and last year's playoff attendance (3547). Let's hope the enthusiasm carries over in ticket sales for next season.  

- If there was a negative concerning what was an amazing night for all involved it was the fact that none of the team owners or their representatives showed up for the game. Seems like the least you could do for the most successful on ice product in minor league hockey is show up and say thanks. One can only hope the lack of support means the owners are negotiating to sell the team to local ownership which is precisely what needs to happen.


- If you haven't had a chance to read some of the stories about the Allen victory here a few links.

Rick Gosselin from the Dallas Morning News has been a big supporter of the Allen Americans and having someone of his stature with a national reputation support the team is invaluable. Here is the story Rick filed after the game last night: http://sportsday.dallasnews.com/dallas-stars/stars/2016/06/09/gosselin-riley-gill-vital-allen-americans-second-consecutive-echl-kelly-cup-championship-fourth-title-row

Here is a story from Patrick Hayslip from the Denton Record Chronicle: http://www.dentonrc.com/sports/sports-headlines/20160610-allen-americans-win-kelly-cup.ece

Here is a story from collegehockeyinc.com that talks about the 12 college alumni who were part of the Kelly Cup championship last nght. http://collegehockeyinc.com/articles/allen-wins-another-kelly-cup

Here is a story from Shawn Rine of the Intelligencer/Wheeling News-Register titled "Bakker, Nailers helping rebuid city of Wheeling"...http://www.theintelligencer.net/page/content.detail/id/662523.html

Here is the story from the ECHL with some more stats about Costello and Gill: http://www.echl.com/allen-claims-second-consecutive-kelly-cup-title-p202765

Here is a story written by Matt Harding of Team Sin Bin, "No Mistaking the Greatness of Allen's Run"... http://thesinbin.net/no-mistaking-the-greatness-of-allens-run/

THANKS FOR A GREAT SEASON BOYS! - photo by Dianne Webster



DID YOU KNOW: To say Allen Americans fans are spoiled with success would be a huge understatement. In their seven years as a franchise they have never experienced a team that did not make the playoffs. Allen made the CHL final in their very first season and has lost in the first round just one time. Throw in two regular season titles and the last four championship seasons and it has been quite a ride.
 

3 comments:

  1. It was great to have you there this time to enjoy the win.

    ReplyDelete
  2. All I've been saying since waking this morning is WOW! This has been a whirlwind ride this season, and I want to thank you for capturing it. A perfect way to wrap things up nicely Barry! Just like we'll never tire of winning, we'll never tire of reading your pieces. Thanks for capturing the memories we'll all treasure forever!

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