Tuesday, May 21, 2019

Walleye Are My Favorite, Kelly Cup Playoffs, Off-Season Transactions, Wichita Hires Coach and More

I am about to head to Canada (Ontario) on my annual fishing trip where for a week we will be off the grid and the daily agenda is very simple. Sleep, eat, fish, eat, nap, fish, eat and repeat. I am the camp cook and I have four different recipes for all of the walleye we will catch from fried Walleye, to Parmesan broiled walleye to tented baked walleye with vegetables to a seafood chowder with walleye, clams and shrimp for the cold rainy days. You can only bring four walleye each back home but you can eat 20 per day (four walleye times five fishermen) so lots of fish meals.

- The Kelly Cup finals won't be set until tomorrow (Wednesday) night when Tulsa and Toledo meet in game seven of the Western Conference finals. The Oilers went into a sold out (7542) Huntington Center last night and beat the Walleye 4-2 to force a game seven which will be in Tulsa. There have been just two seven game series in the 2019 Kelly Cup playoffs with both involving Tulsa. In the opening round the Oilers beat Kansas City in game seven (at home) after falling behind in the series 3-2. Can Tulsa use home ice advantage to advance to the Kelly Cup finals and bring a fifth straight championship to the Mountain Division?

- Awaiting in the wings are the Newfoundland Growlers who clinched the Eastern Conference championship on Saturday. It is already a given that Newfoundland will have home ice advantage in the Kelly Cup finals because they finished #3 during the regular season and are the highest ranked team remaining. Games one and two of the finals will be in Newfoundland on Saturday and Sunday. It will be the classic case of rest or rust as the Growlers will go a week between games while the winner of Tulsa vs Toledo will go from one series to the next.  

- Cincinnati and Florida dominated during the regular season. Cincinnati finished with 110 points which was 16 points more than third place Newfoundland and Florida finished the regular season with 106 points, 12 more than the Growlers. The fact that Cincinnati and Florida didn't make it to the Kelly Cup finals is not a huge surprise but the way they lost was a big surprise. Cincinnati lost to Toledo 4-1 in the Central Division Finals and Florida lost the Newfoundland 4-1 in the Eastern Conference Finals.

- The Newfoundland Growlers are the story of the playoffs. A first year team affiliated with the Toronto Maple Leafs and Toronto Marlies, the Growlers had their head coach (Ryane Clowe) step down in January for medical reasons. Assistant coach John Snowden was named the new head coach. Newfoundland won the North Division easily but struggled at the end of the regular season losing nine of their last 14 games. The Growlers won the first round of the playoffs against Brampton 4-2 but three of the wins came in overtime. Newfoundland improved each round and by the time they took on the favored Florida Everblades in the Eastern Conference Finals they were playing their best hockey. Newfoundland went to Florida to start the series and beat the Everblades twice and the series was essentially decided. It ended up going five games but the Growlers were dominate. Here are a few examples:

In their four wins against Florida the Growlers outscored the Everblades 16-1.

In 79 playoff games so far there has been nine shutouts, the last three have been by Newfoundland's Micheal Garteig against Florida who was #2 in the ECHL in the regular season averaging 3.83 goals per game.

Newfoundland was very disciplined in the series allowing only eight power play opportunities to Florida and the Everblades scored only one power play goal. Florida allowed 22 power plays to the Growlers that resulted in five power play goals.

Growler forward Zach O'Brien had his second hat trick of the playoffs in game four against the Everblades. There have been five hat tricks in the playoffs so far and Zach has two of them. He is tied for the lead in playoffs in goals (14) and is second in points (24). O'Brien leads the playoffs in game winning goals with five. By the way the ECHL record for most goals in one playoff year is 17.

- The Kelly Cup finals will be unique no matter who joins Newfoundland. The Growlers are a first year franchise and you have to go back to 1990 to find the last time that has happened. The Greensboro Monarchs won the 1990 ECHL championship (Riley Cup) as a first year franchise beating the Winston-Salem Thunderbirds 4-1.

- If Tulsa makes the finals it will be the first time since joining the ECHL in 2014. The Oilers missed the playoffs the last three seasons.

-If Toledo makes the finals it will be the first time since 1994. The Walleye won their division four years straight (2015-18) but never advanced to the finals. This season they finished second to Cincinnati in the Central Division but can advance to the championship finals with a win in Tulsa tomorrow night.

- Here is a story from the Toledo Blade about the disappointment of the Walleye losing game six at home and having to take a 15 hour bus ride to Tulsa for game seven: https://www.toledoblade.com/sports/walleye/2019/05/21/why-the-toledo-walleye-are-busing-to-tulsa-echl-playoffs/stories/20190521092

- The off season changes will pick up next month but several notable ones have already been announced. Allen captain Joel Chouinard and former players Peter MacArthur and Tyler Barnes have retired. Defenseman Etienne Boutet has signed to play in France. Utah's leading scorer (71 points, 32 goals), Caleb Herbert, has signed in Austria where his teammate will be Allen goalie C.J. Motte who signed earlier. Goalie Joe Cannata, who led the Colorado Eagles to the Kelly Cup in 2018 and played for Utah this season has signed to play in Sweden in 2019-20. If this off season is typical the majority of the top 10 ECHL scorers will not return to next season. If they don't get AHL deals they will head to Europe.

- The Wichita Thunder announced last week that their new coach will be Bruce Ramsay who Allen fans will remember from his six years (2009-15) as the head coach in Tulsa. There has been speculation that Wichita Thunder captain Dyson Stevenson could return to Allen. Since Dyson is now a veteran with 288 pro games he can become a free agent and sign with any ECHL team. Will Stevenson re-sign with Wichita now that the Thunder have selected Ramsay as their new coach? Ramsay played a similar style to Stevenson during his pro career. Ramsay played one season in Wichita (2000-01) and had 35 points in 60 games to go along with 364 penalty minutes. Stevenson could also look at playing in Europe. The bottom line is Dyson will have lots of option on where he will play next season and Allen is just one of them.

DID YOU KNOW: There are so many stats you can look at to determine which of the three teams left in the playoffs will win the Kelly Cup. Here are a couple of comparisons looking at games played in the division and conference finals.

Goals Differential
+21 Newfoundland
+9   Toledo
-1    Tulsa

Goals Allowed Per Game
1.73 - Newfoundland
2.00 - Toledo
2.33 - Tulsa


Monday, May 13, 2019

Weekly Update - Martinson Returns from Iowa, Kelly Cup Playoffs, 2019-20 Schedule, Boutet Signs in France and More

 - Steve Martinson is back in Allen from a week in Iowa and reports that in addition to being involved in the "Black Aces" practices he had the opportunity to work with the Wild staff in planning for next season. He still expects to get more players assigned to Allen than last season. The recruitment process is still in the very early stages. Keep in mind the ECHL protected lists are not due until June 1, the season ending roster is not due until June 15, the first day to sign players isn't until June 16 and qualifying offers aren't due until June 30.

- If you have been following the conference finals of the Kelly Cup playoffs you have watched the lower seeded teams (Newfoundland in the Eastern Conference, Toledo in the Western Conference) take 2-0 leads.

Newfoundland vs Florida - This is the typical 2-3-2 series where the higher seeded team (Florida) started with two home games. The Growlers went to Florida and beat the Everblades 2-0 in game one and 5-1 in game two. Newfoundland now heads home for the next three games. NHL history paints a bleak picture for the odds of Florida coming back in this series. According to the website WhoWins, in NHL conference finals when a team starts on the road and takes a 2-0 lead they go on to win the series 95% of the time.

Tulsa vs Toledo - This series pits the Mountain Division champions (Tulsa) against the second place team from the Central Division (Toledo). Because of arena availability this series is 2-3-1-1 and the higher seeded team (Tulsa) had to start on the road. Toledo held serve at home beating Tulsa 6-2 in game one and 4-1 in game two. The series now moves to Tulsa for the next three games on Wednesday, Friday and Saturday. WhoWins shows in the history of the NHL, in the conference finals, when a team starts at home and takes a 2-0 lead they have gone on to win the series 90.2% of the time.

- The full ECHL schedule won't be published until sometime in June but teams can put out their home schedules whenever they want. The only announcement from the Americans thus far is they will open the 2019-20 season at home on October 11 against the Tulsa Oilers.

- Here are some of Allen's away games based on opponents releasing their home schedules:

Rapid City - Allen will make one trip to Rapid City for three games against the Rush on February 12, 14 and 15.

Kansas City - Allen visits Kansas City five times spread out throughout the season. It seems strange but they play just one game against the Mavericks on all five trips to Kansas City. Here are the dates:
November 19
January 18
February 8
March 6
April 1

- Based on home schedules released by other ECHL teams, Allen will not be visiting Indy, Fort Wayne, Brampton or South Carolina in 2019-20.

- The second official announcement about players from last season happened this past week. The first or course was the retirement of captain Joel Chouinard. The latest was the announcement that defenseman Etienne Boutet has signed to play in the top league in France (Ligue Magnus) for a team called Rapaces de Gap which translates to the Gap Raptors. Gap is an alpine town in the southeast of France with a population of just over 40,000. Former Allen players that have played in Ligue Magnus include familiar names like Brian McMillin and Jonathan Lessard. Here are some others that played briefly in Allen and went on to play in France:

Dallas Ehrhardt (2013-14)
Alex Quesnel (2010-11)
Spencer Edwards (2011-12)

- Dallas Ehrhardt has played in England the last three seasons for the Manchester Storm and is also a member of the Great Britain national team which for the first time in 25 years is playing in the top tier of the Hockey World championships against the elite teams in the world (United States, Canada, Russia, Sweden, Finland). A great experience for Dallas and his teammates playing against some of the best players in the world. Great Britain is the lowest ranked team in the tournament (#22) and has lost to Germany 3-1 and Canada 8-0.     

- Allen's AHL affiliate, the Iowa Wild, are on the verge of elimination in the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs. Iowa is trailing Chicago in the series 3-2 with game six (tonight) and game seven if necessary on Wednesday. Both games will be in Chicago. The Wolves took the lead in the series with a 7-4 win over the Wild in Iowa on Friday night.

- Former Allen Americans are playing a big role for the Toledo Walleye in the Western Conference finals against Tulsa. Toledo has taken a 2-0 lead in the series. Chris Crane had the game winning goal last night to go along with an assist in game one. Bryan Moore had a goal in game one, it was his sixth goal of the playoffs. Matt Register had three assists in the two games against Tulsa.

- Matt Register is going for his fourth straight Kelly Cup championship having won in Allen in 2016 and in Colorado in 2017 and 2018. Register is the only player in ECHL history that has won three straight Kelly Cup titles.

DID YOU KNOW: Allen's home opener in 2019-20 will be against Tulsa (October 11). It will be the third time in team history the home opener has been against Tulsa. The first two did not go well for the Americans. In 2011-12 Tulsa beat Allen 4-1 and in 2014-15 the Oilers beat the Americans 9-6. Here are the teams Allen has played in their first home game each season.

2009-10 - Corpus Christi 
2010-11 - Texas
2011-12 - Tulsa
2012-13 - Arizona
2013-14 - Wichita
2014-15 - Tulsa
2015-16 - Quad City
2016-17 - Missouri 
2017-18 - Orlando
2018-19 - Wichita
2019-20 - Tulsa


Sunday, May 5, 2019

The Curse Strikes Again, Martinson Helps Out the Wild, Home Schedule Coming, Update on Former Ice Angel Brooklyn, Stories About Joel Chouinard, Rick Pinkston and More

- The Brabham Cup curse has struck again. The Toledo Walleye beat the Cincinnati Cyclones last night to advance to the Western Conference finals in the Kelly Cup playoffs. Toledo won the series 4-1. Cincinnati follows a long list of teams that have won the regular season championship and failed to win the Kelly/Riley Cup. The Cyclones won the Brabham Cup this season with 110 points which was four more points than South Division leader Florida, 16 more points than North Division leader Newfoundland and 20 more points than Mountain Division leader Tulsa. In the 31 year history of the ECHL only three teams have won the Brabham Cup and gone on to win the Kelly/Riley Cup. Alaska did it three times (2014, 2011, 2006), Cincinnati did it in 2008 and South Carolina in 1997. It has to be disappointing to be so dominating in the regular season and go out in the second round of the playoffs losing the series 4-1. The Cyclones lost only two games in regulation at home during the entire regular season but went 0-2 in the playoffs against Toledo. Congrats to Toledo who will now take on the winner of the Tulsa vs Idaho series for the Western Conference championship. Tulsa leads in that series 3-2 with game six in Tulsa tonight. If the series goes to a game seven it will be in Tulsa on Tuesday night.

- In the Eastern Conference the Florida Everblades have advanced and will play the winner of Newfoundland vs Manchester in the conference finals. Newfoundland leads the series 3-2 and has game six (Monday night) and game seven if necessary (Tuesday night) at home.

- Steve Martinson is in Des Moines, Iowa helping out the Wild who are still in the AHL playoffs. Martinson got a call last week to see if he would help out by conducting practice with the "Black Aces" for the Wild. When an NHL or AHL team makes the playoffs they will expand the roster by calling up players from their affiliates. According to the AHL website the Iowa Wild roster is at 32 players (3 goalies, 10 defensemen, 18 forwards). Typically the Black Aces do not see any playoff action. They do not practice with the team and do not travel on road games. They participate in a separate practice session reserved for extra skaters. The assignment as a Black Ace requires hard work and focus even though the opportunity to play is remote, barring injuries. Coach Martinson will be familiar with many of the "Black Aces" because of their time in Allen this season. The group includes C.J. Motte, Riley Bourbonnais, Dante Salituro, Nick Boka and Jack Sadek. Iowa is playing Chicago in the second round of the Calder Cup playoffs and trails in the best of seven series 0-2. The next three games are in Iowa.

- The schedule for next season is under going the final revisions and ECHL teams have been given permission to release their home schedules on Monday (May 6). This will be done on a team by team basis so I would expect they will be announced by different teams on different dates. Some teams have already put out on social media the announcement will be made on Monday. The entire ECHL schedule will not be released until later. I would expect the Allen home schedule will be released in the next couple of days.

- The PHPA (Professional Hockey Players Association) recently did a profile on Allen's player representative the last two season, Joel Chouinard. The PHPA asks the retiring captain everything from how he became the player rep for Allen to his junior days to being drafted in the NHL to becoming a dad to his hidden talents and much more. You can check it out here:  https://www.phpa.com/news/1494

- Former Allen forward Bryan Moore was a major factor in Toledo's win over Cincinnati in the Central Division finals. Moore had two goals in game five and was the #2 star of the game. He followed that up with scoring the game winning goal in game six and being selected the #1 star. Another former Allen player, defenseman Matt Register, had a goal and three assists in the five game series against Cincinnati.

- I am sure many of you remember Brooklyn Rivera who was one of the Ice Angels for several years and also worked in the front office for the Americans. Brooklyn has gone on to great things as a business owner and mom. She was recently selected as Mrs. McKinney and last night competed in the finals of the Mrs. Texas Pageant and finished as the 1st runner-up.  Congrats to Brooklyn, her husband Eddie and their young family on mom finishing second in the Mrs. Texas Pageant.

Ice Angel Brooklyn

The Rivera family

Brooklyn, second from left was 1st runner up and won awards for best interview and most photogenic

- If you are not on social media you may have missed this story about former Allen defenseman Rick Pinkston having to retire after a serious infection as a result of something hockey players refer to as "Bauer Bump" which is a bony growth that develops on the back of the heel. Here is the story: https://www.fifetoday.co.uk/sport/other-sport/fife-flyers-defenceman-rick-pinkston-retires-from-playing-after-hospital-scare-1-4917650

DID YOU KNOW:  In the NHL Stanley Cup playoffs all four division champions (Nashville, Calgary, Tampa Bay and Washington) lost in the first round and all four wild card teams are still alive. In the ECHL all four division champions (Newfoundland, Florida, Cincinnati, Tulsa) won their first round series and the bottom six teams were eliminated in the first round. While Cincinnati was eliminated last night the other three division champions have either already advanced (Florida) or are leading their second round series 3-2 with two games remaining at home. Anything can and does happen in the Stanley Cup playoffs but in the ECHL Kelly Cup playoffs the champion always comes from one of the top regular season teams. Unless Manchester or Idaho pull an upset by winning two games on the road the final four in the Kelly Cup playoffs will be teams rank #2, #3, #4 and #5 in the regular season.