Trevor Ludwig was out again. This year, their heart and soul, Jarrett Lukin was out with injury. The 2013-2014 Allen Americans were a patchwork of the team they skated when they hoisted the 2012-2013 championship banner into the rafters to begin their title defense back in October.
Tonight, 364 days since celebrating their first Ray Miron President’s Cup, the Americans defeated the Denver Cutthroat by a score of 5-2 and won their 2nd championship in a row, 4 games to 1.
The first period really saw Denver take advantage of their speed game and their passes were tape-to-tape. However, once they got over the blue line, it was hard to get any significant looks on Bryan Pitton as Allen used their physical presence to clear the lanes for Pitton to see everything coming at him. It was on the man advantage a little more than half way through the first when Denver’s Kyle Fletcher found a rebound off the post in the low slot and knocked it into the half-open net to give Denver their first, and ultimately, their last lead.
When asked what was said during the first intermission, assistant coach, Richard Matvichuk said, “We weren’t really playing our system. We built the team this off-season to our strength of getting the puck low and working the defense. When we play like that, we usually win.”
American’s forward, Daryl Bootland who tied the game at 5:13 of the 2nd period after an amazing pass from Kale Kerbashian from behind the net added, “To play the way we did and to only have been down 1-0, we actually felt pretty good in our minds.”
That confidence was evident the entire period as Allen stepped on the gas and never looked back. After Bootland’s tying goal, the Americans would add 3 more goals in a span of 2:22 seconds. First, the playoff MVP, Jamie Schaafsma gave Allen the dreaded 2-goal lead. Kale Kerbashian, 1:03 found the back of the net when Jonathon Lessard found Kerbashian splitting the Denver defense and hit him in stride for the breakaway. Lessard capped off the 2nd period outburst when Anthony Maiani fed Jonathon after receiving a pretty pass from Jonathon Zion, who notched his 2nd assist of the night.
The third period was spent with Allen in a total prevent defense. Denver pulled their goalie with 3 minutes left and with exactly one minute remaining scored with the extra attacker. On the ensuing faceoff, the Cutthroat got the puck deep and again got a 6th skater on the ice, however this time, Allen was able to clear the puck out of the zone to Kerbashian who found the empty net and the celebration began.
When asked if he felt that after all the changes the team went through due to injury if he thought they’d be celebrating another title, Bootland said, “You know, every series we do it the hard way…and with last year, you always have that thought. Our team is too powerful for any team in the league. I watch a lot of E[CHL] and A[HL] and I don’t know if there’s a lot of teams out there that could have beat us.”
The Central Hockey League’s rookie of the year, Alex Lavoie was a little more speechless, “It’s awesome. As a first year pro and all the guys who have helped me all year. I…I just…it’s awesome.” When asked what he thought this title meant for hockey for the country of France, “Oh for sure this is huge. Any time you can win a championship, it’s going to make people take notice. It’s perfect.”
Well, it was anything but perfect for the Americans, but like Bootland said, this team has never done anything the easy way. That feeds perfectly into the system put into place by head coach, Steve Martinson and assistant Matvichuk. Both are known for their hard-nose demeanor and grit. Last year, minority owner, Craig Ludwig said the Americans would be built to be a team that would be hard to play against. If you beat Allen, you would find yourself limping back to the bus.
For the 2nd year in a row, it’s the Central Hockey League looking up to Allen and wondering if they’ll have what it takes to beat this team in a 7-game series. So far under the new leadership that was put into place in the summer of 2012, the answer is a resounding, “NO.”