A rivalry born in the days of the Central Hockey League (CHL) and solidified when the Allen Americans came from behind in a game seven overtime win in the 2013 CHL championship final. There is nothing that matches the rivalry between the Allen Americans and Wichita Thunder. Two teams that play a similar style which always involves physical play will take on each other three times in just over 48 hours. Game one is tonight at the Allen Event Center with a 6:05 pm CST puck drop. The teams will head to Wichita after the game tonight where they will play on Friday and Saturday.
– This rivalry has sustained itself despite Allen dominating on the ice since these teams joined the ECHL in 2014. From line brawls to pregame fisticuffs this rivalry has had it all. Allen’s ECHL record against the Thunder is 42-15-7-5. Last season the Americans record against Wichita was 8-1-3-0. Allen has two Kelly Cup championships while Wichita has only made the playoffs once since 2015.
– What has happened in the past doesn’t predict much about this season. Both teams will bring to this series a combination of skill, toughness and outstanding goaltending which should make for very entertaining hockey. Both teams are playing well. Allen is on a four game winning streak during which they have outscored their opponents 17-6. Wichita is one of only two ECHL teams (Indy the other) that are still undefeated. Wichita has only played two game thus far (both on the road) beating Tulsa (3-2) on December 11 in a shootout and Kansas City (3-1) last Saturday. The bottom line is this three game series will be a good test for both teams.
– As always special teams will play a big part in this series. You can expect there will be plenty of power play opportunities for both teams if the games goes as normal. The last time these teams played (February 29, 2020) there were 15 penalties, 47 penalty minutes, 10 power plays and five power play goals. Allen won the game 6-2 and out shot Wichita 52-19 with both Thunder goals coming on the power play.
The Americans have not had a good start on special teams. After five games the power play is 2-18 (11.1%) and ranked #10 of 13. The penalty kill is 3-16 (81.3%) and ranked #11 of 13. With only two games played Wichita has had excellent special teams play going 1-5 (20.0%) on the power play and are perfect on the penalty kill (0-5).
Special teams was the focus at practice yesterday and coach Martinson said he liked the way the power play units worked in practice.
– If you are attending the game tonight you might pay attention to how much communication you hear between the players on the ice. Coach Martinson emphasized communication at practice this week and with the small crowd at the game you should be able to hear if there more communication.
– The recent games between Allen and Wichita have all been high scoring affairs with the winning team scoring 6+ goals. The last five games between these teams resulted in five wins for the Americans by scores of 6-3, 7-6, 8-5 and 6-2. In the lone Wichita win the score was 6-1. If this trend continues look for a high scoring game tonight. The counter point to a high scoring series against Wichita is the fact that these two teams rank #1 and #2 in the league in team save percentage. Wichita is #1 (.960) and Allen is #2 (.944). Zach Sawchenko leads the league in GAA (1.33) and save percentage (.966) of goalies with more than one game played.
– The referee scheduled for the game tonight is #29 Logan Gruhl. The linesmen will be #61 Dan Kovachik and #76 Daniel Barnes. Allen fans may recognize Barnes, a former pro player, who played a few games for the Fort Worth Brahmas, Denver Cutthroats, St. Charles Chill and Allen Americans. At 6’3′ and a playing weight around 240, Barnes can handle whatever comes his way on the ice.
– If you haven’t seen the press release issued by the AHL yesterday it was short and sweet saying the Board of Governors has approved the “structural framework” for a season that will begin on February 5. No details were provided as they are still being worked out. Some of the rumors are AHL teams will have to decide if they are going to opt out of the season by Monday, the minimum number of games teams will play could be as low as 24 but they would be allowed to play more if they choose and some teams may choose to play out of their practice rink. The focus seems to be try and play this season but don’t stretch it out, minimize the damage and make sure the 2021-22 season is a success. There are many moving parts and decisions that have to be made quickly including opt in or out, division alignments, where to play, how many games to play, negotiations with NHL affiliates and COVID testing protocols just to name a few. A lot is going to happen quickly and the impact on ECHL teams remains to be seen.
– The Florida Everblades are a perfect example of how quickly things can change if you lose NHL/AHL contracted players which is an issue many ECHL teams may be dealing with as the NHL and AHL start up. Florida started the season 5-0 outscoring their opponents 25-7. Then they had five NHL contracted players recalled by their NHL affiliate Nashville. Florida has played two games since losing the five contracted players and lost them both while being outscored 12-7. On Monday the Everblades blew a 3-0 lead and lost to Jacksonville 5-3. Last night they took a 2-0 lead against Orlando and ending up losing 7-4.
– The ECHL teams that will be successful this season are those that can adapt to the ever changing issues from COVID to recalls as the season progresses. The old saying, if you are standing still you are going backwards, will be the mantra for 2020-21. Steve Martinson’s many years of experience in AA hockey will serve the Allen Americans well as he navigates all the possible outcomes this season. He is always several moves ahead of the crowd and I know he is already lining up players to have maximum flexibility for whatever happens the next few weeks.
DID YOU KNOW: Zach Sawchenko was runner-up as Goalie of the Week last week. I talked about it yesterday that in my opinion, based on the numbers, Zach deserved the award. The last time an Allen goalie was selected as the Player of the Week was way back in November of 2016 and to no surprise it was Riley Gill. Riley won back to back Kelly Cups with the Americans in 2014-15 and 2015-16 but his best season statistically was in 2016-17. Gill was Goalie of the Week in back to back weeks (Nov. 28 to Dec. 4 and Dec. 5 to Dec. 11). He was Goalie of the Month in December and was also the ECHL Goalie of the Year. He led the ECHL in save percentage (.935) and shutouts (7) on the way to a record of 32-7-2-0.