Today I want to continue the Allen vs Fort Wayne series preview by looking at some of the players who will be involved in the series.
– Special Motivation: Three former Allen players are on the Fort Wayne playoff roster and will have special incentive to win this series against their former team:
Zach Pochiro – Zach scored a team leading 34 goals with in Allen in 2018-19. He played in only 105 games over two seasons with the Americans but is ranked #12 all-time in goals with 52. Pochiro got off to a great start when Fort Wayne started its season in February scoring eight goals in the first seven games. Zach missed a month of the season with an injury which I heard was the result of a fight and is still not 100% from what I have read. He did not play in Fort Wayne’s win in game five against Wichita. A pure goal scorer who will be more dangerous than normal if he plays against his old team.
Nick Boka – Nick was under contract with the Iowa Wild (AHL) last season but was assigned to Allen. He suffered a season ending injury in January when he broke his leg. Nick has logged a lot of ice time with Fort Wayne playing in 44 of 51 regular season games and all five playoff games. His 130 penalty minutes (122 regular season, 8 playoffs) leads the Komets.
Justin Kapelmaster – Justin was released by Allen late in the season and if anyone is motivated to play well against his former team it would be Kapelmaster. He got caught up in a numbers game when Allen ended up with four goalies at the end of the season after Frank Marotte and C.J. Motte returned from the AHL. When Fort Wayne had one of its goalies get hurt with two games remaining in the regular season, they signed Kapelmaster. He started one game for the Komets, the last game of the season, and lost 6-0 to Utah. Fort Wayne’s top goalie, Dylan Ferguson, was the only goalie used in the five game series against Wichita in the first round of the playoffs. This series with Allen has a schedule that calls for five games in six days with the only off day (Sunday) for travel from Allen to Fort Wayne. You have to assume Kaplermaster will get a start against his former team.
– Allen’s strength is its depth and that starts in goal. Coach Martinson has been able to use two goalies in the playoffs, both veterans, and keep them rested. I would expect you will see that pattern continue against Fort Wayne. Jake Paterson started the first and third games against Utah and had a save percentage of .929. C.J. Motte started game two and had a save percentage of .931. Two solid, experienced goalies is a good foundation to build on. It will definitely be a contrast of two veteran goalies for Allen against two rookie goalies for Fort Wayne. Both approaches can be successful as Allen has won championships with a rookie goalie (Aaron Dell) and a veteran goalie (Riley Gill).
– Coach Martinson always says when it comes to playoffs your best players have to be your best players. Allen has the top two scoring defensemen in the ECHL in Les Lancaster and Matt Register. They finished #1 and #3 in the Defenseman of the Year voting. Register holds almost every ECHL playoff record for defensemen and true to form had a point in all three games against Utah (1G, 2A). Lancaster also had three points (1G, 2A) against Utah and his goal was a big one. Les scored the series clinching goal in overtime.
– The top forward for Allen this season was Corey Mackin who finished second in the league in goals with 30. A tireless worker, all Mackin has done in the playoffs is get four assists in three games in the first round. His four assists are tied for second in the playoffs but his assists per game (1.33) are #1.
– Rookies at this point of the season are no longer rookies and Steve Martinson has said consistently the rookies would get better and better as they played more games. Most of the rookies played very little hockey in the last year before arriving in Allen. Brett Neumann led all rookies in the first round with three goals in three games. Brett had the game winning goal in the first two games and scored the goal to send the third game into overtime. Sam Ruopp leads all rookies in plus/minus (+3). Zane Franklin didn’t have a point in the first round but plays a vital role with his physical play. Ben Carroll has been an unsung hero on defense and Collin Shirley had two key assists in the first round. Bottom line is the rookies will have to play a big part if Allen is to advance.
– As fans you don’t get to see inside the locker room but what happens in that room plays a big part in team success. The best teams have leadership that combines support for one another, accountability and having fun. You can’t overstate the tradition of winning in Allen that Dyson Stevenson and Spencer Asuchak bring to the locker room. There is plenty of leadership in this group beyond the players wearing a letter as most of the players have been leaders on teams in the past. This is a team that is starting to show the whole is greater then the sum of the parts.
– Game one tomorrow night will be close to a must win game for the Americans. In the first round the team that won game one was the winner of all four series. FYI, South Carolina won game one of the Eastern Conference Finals last night beating Greenville 5-1. If the Americans lose Friday night it means winning two of three games on the road in Fort Wayne.
– South Carolina was ranked #7 in points percentage in the regular season and had to win its last six games of the season just to make it into the playoffs. All they did in the first round was win two road games to knock of the #1 seed, Florida. Next up for the Stingrays is the #2 team in the Eastern Conference, Greenville. The Swamp Rabbits had a record of 9-3-3 against the Stingrays during the regular season. South Carolina took a 1-0 series lead at home last night but the next two games are in Greenville. It remains to be seen which team will win this series but history is on the side of Greenville. It has happened just once in the last 15 seasons that a team finished as low as #7 in the regular season and went on to win the Kelly Cup.
Here are the last 15 Kelly Cup champions with their regular season finish in parenthesis. Anyone who says once you get in the playoffs anything can happen hasn’t looked at ECHL history. In most of these seasons there were 14-16 teams in the playoffs.
2020 – No playoffs
2019 – Newfoundland (3rd)
2018 – Colorado (4th)
2017 – Colorado (3rd)
2016 – Allen (6th)
2015 – Allen (2nd)
2014 – Alaska (1st)
2013 – Reading (2nd)
2012 – Florida (7th)
2011 – Alaska (1st)
2010 – Cincinnati (5th)
2009 – South Carolina (4th)
2008 – Cincinnati (1st)
2007 – Idaho (6th)
2006 – Alaska (1st)
2005 – Trenton (4th)
– If you watched the Greenville vs South Carolina game on Flo Hockey last night you noticed the game was played in the practice rink. It was like watching a youth game with one camera located in the stands with the parents. No zoom, shooting through the glass and netting with plenty of blind spots. My understanding is the South Carolina main arena is being used by HBO to shoot a movie. It is an unfortunate situation for the fans, the team and the league. The good news is all three South Carolina home games thus far in the playoffs have been sellouts, the bad news is the per game average attendance is 550. The teams will play the next two games in Greenville and if necessary return to South Carolina for games four and five.
– Wichita also had to play its two first round games in a practice facility and averaged 866 per game. Florida was eliminated in the first round by South Carolina but averaged a league high 3589 for its three home games. The ECHL average attendance after 18 playoff games is 2102.
DID YOU KNOW: Brett Neumann has a three game goal streak in his first three playoff games. The longest goal streak in the playoffs since Allen joined the ECHL is four games. When Allen won its first Kelly Cup in 2015 three players had four game goal streaks; Spencer Asuchak, Gary Steffes and Chris Crane.