It is game day as the Allen Americans finish the regular season with three games in four days against the Iowa Heartlanders. It is unusual for the Americans to finish the season playing against a team outside of the division. With seven teams in the Mountain Division, Allen was the one team scheduled to finish the season playing a team outside the division. Here are the other Mountain Division match ups:
- Idaho at Utah (2 games)
- Tulsa at Rapid City (3 games)
- Kansas City vs Wichita (3 games, 2 in Wichita, 1 in Kansas City)
– It is not unprecedented that Allen is finishing the season against an opponent outside the division. It happened one other time since Allen joined the ECHL in 2014. In 2015-16 Allen finished the regular season at home, playing three games against the Evansville IceMen, who were in last place in the Midwest Division. Allen won two of the three games and headed to the Kelly Cup playoffs as the #5 ranked team in the league. Allen beat Idaho (4-3), Missouri (4-2), Fort Wayne (4-2) and Wheeling (4-2) to win its second Kelly Cup. That was the season the Missouri Mavericks were the #1 seed with 109 regular season points, which was 10 more points than any other team. Allen had 89 regular season points.
– These three games against Iowa will decide Allen’s fate and could be the road to second place in the final division standings or they could miss the playoffs. That is the definition of critical series. Here is a comparison between the two teams:
- Points Percentage – Allen .543, Iowa .492
- Record – Allen 33-27-8-1, Iowa 28-32-8-1
- Last 10 Games – Allen 5-3-2-0, Iowa 2-7-1-0
- Ave Goals For – Allen 3.3, Iowa 3.2
- Ave Goals Against – Allen 3.4, Iowa 3.7
- Ave Shots For – Allen 28.4, Iowa 29.2
- Ave Shots Against – Allen 35.1, Iowa 34.4
– If there was a theme for this series it would be the rookies versus the vets. Allen has one of the oldest teams in the ECHL, Iowa one of the youngest. Four of Iowa’s top five in points are rookies. Allen’s four top scorers are all veteran players. 20 of the 22 players on the Iowa roster are rookies. Allen has 26 players on the roster and just five are rookies and that includes Gavin Gould and Andrew Jarvis who are out for the season.
– Don’t let all of the rookies fool you because Iowa has some of the best rookies in the league:
- Rookie Kris Bennett is the team captain and a lock for the ECHL Rookie of the Year. He leads all ECHL players in goals (35), is fifth in points (71) and second in power play points (25).
- Rookie Jake Smith leads the league in power play goals (13).
- Of the ECHL Rookie scoring leaders, Iowa has the #1, #9, #10 and #16 top rookie point scorers.
– Special teams will play a big role in this series with Iowa. Both teams take a lot of penalties. Here is a comparison:
- Penalty Minutes – Allen 943, Iowa 1003
- Minor Penalties – Allen 299, Iowa 314
- Major Penalties – Allen 41, Iowa 51
– The best way to compare special teams between two teams that have not played each other is to look at overall home versus road percentages. The percentages clearly favor Iowa. The Heartlanders road power play is ranked #2 (24.4%) and their road penalty kill is ranked #3 (85.4%). Allen’s home power play is ranked #13 (19.4%) and its home penalty kill is ranked #22 (77.0%).
– Allen has done a good job of staying out of the penalty box the last month. The Americans average power play opportunities allowed per game over the last month is just under three per game (2.89). It is a small sample, but the referee scheduled tonight (John Lindner #6) has worked four Allen games this season that resulted in 12 Allen power plays opportunities to eight for the opponents, an average of just five power plays per game. A low number of power plays should work to Allen’s advantage.
– If any of the games in this series go to overtime it will be a real crap shoot. Both teams have been horrible in extra time games but have the exact some record. They have both been to extra time 13 times (19%), are 2-8 in overtime and 2-1 in shootouts. That converts to an identical points percentage in extra time games of .308, which is the worst record in the ECHL
– Here is a series preview from “The Daily Iowan” which is the newspaper published by the University of Iowa. It has been around since 1868. https://dailyiowan.com/2022/04/12/iowa-heartlanders-aim-to-wrap-up-season-with-a-bang-against-allen-americans/
COACH’S CORNER WITH STEVE MARTINSON
“The key to this series for us is how we play as a group on defense. We can score enough goals to win but can we defend enough to win.”
“We will have a full lineup (16 skaters) tonight but will be missing some key players. Chad Costello is still day to day coming off his injury. JD Dudek, Colby McAuley and Phil Beaulieu are sick and will likely not play. We are up to 13 players that have dealt with this stomach virus.”
“Luke Peressini will start in goal. Both goalies have played well recently. We need to avoid all of the odd man rushes we allowed in the last game.”
“Iowa has a lot of rookies on its roster but quite a few are AHL/NHL contracted players. I think there are seven contracted players on the current roster and most of them are rookies.”
“Our roster can expand to 24 (20 active and four reserve) on Monday from the current 20 active and two reserve. It sets up some difficult choices the last week of the season that would be avoided if the four reserve spots would start the week prior to the playoffs.”
“Iowa has a very good top line that that we will have to defend 5-on-5 and on the power play. Last change will be a big help against a team like Iowa.”
– As a first year franchise, Iowa has had its ups and downs this season. With a team full of rookies along with call-ups, loans and injuries, that is to be expected. At one point in early March the Heartlanders were in the hunt for a playoff spot. Here is Iowa’s record for chunks of the season:
- 1st 12 games: 2-8-2-0
- Mid Feb-Mid March: 9-1-0-0
- Last 12 games: 2-8-2-0
– Scoreboard watching tonight will be focused on the Tulsa at Rapid City game which won’t start until an hour after the puck drop in Allen. If you are an optimist you might be hoping Rapid City loses as that would keep second place in play for Allen. If you are a pessimist, you will be cheering for Rapid City to win as that will help Allen make the playoffs in third or fourth place. No scoreboard watching for Idaho vs Utah, as they don’t play until Friday.
– It could be a big night in the ECHL with three more teams possibly joining the eight teams that have already qualified for the Kelly Cup playoffs. Rapid City, Wheeling and Trois-Riviéres can all punch playoff tickets tonight. In addition, Reading can clinch the North Division title tonight if it can win on the road against Maine. Here is the ECHL Today with previews on all nine games on tap tonight and what needs to happen for three more teams to qualify for the Kelly Cup playoffs: https://www.echl.com/en/news/2022/4/echl-today-april-13
– Last week I wrote about the season Fort Wayne forward, Will Graber was having and he would likely win the ECHL scoring title and plus/minus title. Here is the exact wording:
The race for the leading scorer in the ECHL is all but over. Will Graber (Fort Wayne) has 83 points and a nine point lead over Patrick Watling (Wheeling) and TJ Hrnsick (Toledo). Graber could get the rare double by leading the league in points and plus/minus. He is +37 and has a +7 lead over second place.
I think I jinxed Graber since he has no points in his last three games and is -5 in his last six games. He still has the lead in both categories going into the weekend for Fort Wayne’s final two games of the season against Wheeling. Graber has 83 points and a five point lead over Zach O’Brien (Newfoundland) and is +36 with a +2 lead over Orrin Centazzo (Newfoundland).
The race isn’t over because Newfoundland has three games remaining versus Fort Wayne’s two and the players chasing Graber have been hot. Graber has no points in the last three games while O’Brien has eight points in the last three games. In the last six games Graber is -5 while Centazzo is +7.
DID YOU KNOW: The ECHL Stats post today is about teams that are good in both average goals scored and allowed. Allen is ranked #10 in goals scored (3.33) and #18 in goals allowed (3.39).
There are just three ECHL teams that average more than 3.50 goals per game and allow fewer than 3.00 goals per game. They are all serious Kelly Cup contenders:Newfoundland – 3.95 vs 2.89Toledo – 3.78 vs 2.84Reading – 3.68 vs 2.81