After a week off it is game day for the Allen Americans as they take on the Fort Wayne Komets tonight (7:05 pm CDT) in game one of the Western Conference Finals. Ironically the last time Allen was in the Western Conference Finals was 2016 against Fort Wayne. It was a different time as the Americans had already won two best of seven series to get to the conference finals. They beat Idaho 4-3 in the opening round and eliminated the #1 seed Missouri Mavericks (Brabham Cup winner) in the second round before taking on the Komets in the conference finals. Fort Wayne reached the conference finals in 2016 defeating Cincinnati 4-3 in the first round and Utah 4-0 in the second round.
– As a member of the media I was able to attended practice yesterday and the good news is this past week has helped the team get healthy. Every player was skating at practice and they have all been cleared to play tonight with the exception of Dyson Stevenson who will be behind the bench. Coach Martinson won’t make final decisions on who will play tonight until after morning skate but it is clear from watching practice that Colby McAuley, Phil Beaulieu and Darian Skeoch, who missed the series with Utah, are ready to go.
– I would describe the practice yesterday as intense, the players were working hard and it showed. By the same token you could tell the players were loose and having fun. One thing I have learned over the years is Martinson’s approach to practice the day before the conference finals isn’t any different from any other practice. Martinson believes the players are very aware of the situation and his role is not to build up the series. He sees each practice as another building block in getting better, nothing more or nothing less.
– Martinson has alternated goalies in the playoffs and it is C.J. Motte’s turn in goal tonight. At some point Motte or Paterson may get back to back games if they have a shutout or stand on their heads in a win but right now Allen is doing very well with the alternating system.
– A start tonight similar to the start in game one in 2016 would be nice. In that game (played in Fort Wayne) Allen had a 3-0 lead midway through the first period on a shorthanded goal by Gary Steffes and power play goals by Greger Hanson and Casey Pierro-Zabotel. The final score was 5-3 but the game wasn’t decided until Vincent Arseneau scored an empty net goal with 36 seconds remaining.
– One thing you can take from the series Allen and Fort Wayne played in 2016 is special teams will play a key role in who wins this series. Thus far in the playoffs Fort Wayne is the most penalized team and Allen is the least penalized team. During the regular season the Komets (25.9%) and Allen (20.5%) had the top two power plays in the ECHL. In the first round of the playoffs Fort Wayne was 2-17 (11.8%) and Allen was 1-12 (8.3%). If either team can get its power play clicking it could make the difference.
– The Americans have been moving the puck well on the power play but haven’t been able to finish. You will most likely see some new combinations on the power play tonight.
– I have talked about getting off to a good start in the earlier previews. During the regular season the combined record for Allen and Fort Wayne when scoring first was 51-11-4-0. In the first round of the playoffs neither team lost when they scored first.
– I mentioned yesterday winning the first game of the series is very important as the four first round winners all won the first game of the series. This doesn’t always hold true as I was reminded when doing research for this preview. In Allen’s first championship season in 2013 it lost the first game of all three series. In the first round Allen lost game one 2-1 to Denver but won the series 4-1. In the second round Allen lost game one 5-1 to Missouri but won the series 4-3. In the championship finals Allen lost game one 4-1 to Wichita and won the series 4-3.
– The referees scheduled tonight are #24 Andrew Wilk and #4 Sean MacFarlane. These are two experienced referees, it will be Wilk’s fifth conference finals and MacFarlane’s second. Allen had Wilk five times this season and he called an average of 9.6 penalties per game ranging from six (twice) to 15. Allen had MacFarlane nine times and he called an average of 10.8 penalties per game ranging from six to 17.
– Here is the ECHL Today with a preview of both playoff games on tap tonight: https://www.echl.com/en/news/2021/6/echl-today-june-18
– In the worst kept secret since the ECHL approved a franchise in Iowa, the Minnesota Wild have officially switched their ECHL affiliation from Allen to the Iowa Heartlanders. Once Allen has a coach for next season the first order of business will be to find an NHL team to affiliate with. Finding an affiliate that will work with and help the ECHL team is not easy to find. Seems like the Wild lost interest in Allen once the new ECHL franchise in Iowa (Coralville) was announced. Here is the press release on the new affiliation: https://www.echl.com/en/news/2021/6/heartlanders-announce-affiliation-with-minnesota
– Justin Cohn, who is the senior sports writer for The Journal Gazette and covers many sports in Fort Wayne including the Komets has had some great tidbits of information in his Twitter posts (@SportsiCohn) leading up to the Western Conference Finals: Here are a few of his posts. If you are on Twitter, Justin is a must follow for this series:
“Steve Martinson against the Komets in the playoffs: He’s won 3 of 4 series and 16 of 22 games, the loss being 2005 with Rockford when his team squandered a 3-1 lead.”
“Allen’s goalies vs. Komets:
Jake Paterson: 2015-16, Toledo, 3-1-1 .916 & 2016-17, Toledo, 4-1-0, .925
C.J. Motte: 2016-17, Quad City, 3-3-0, .913: 2017 playoffs, Quad City, 1-4, .912: 2017-18, Quad City, 1-2-0, .921″
“Looking at some film of Allen. Big takeaways are, they are finishers and they get a lot of traffic but they also take a lot of chances. A lot of the onus is going to be on the Komets’ defensemen, not getting caught up, looking for steals, clearing front of net.”
“Can we discuss the crazy schedule. Allen sacrificed home ice for first two games, presumably so they could get Friday and Saturday nights. But given a travel day, couldn’t they have had Games 3-5 not on three straight nights? I mean 5 in 6 days, in Texas and Indiana, rough.”
– My final thought for fans going into this series is do as the players talk about all the time, go out and have fun. It has been a tough season with all of the pandemic issues but Allen played all 72 games and provided much needed entertainment when it was needed most. Watch these playoff games and appreciate how fortunate the fans of the Allen Americans have been from the start of the franchise in 2009-10. It has been an on ice product second to none for 12 years.