We could see history in Allen Thursday night.
The Allen Americans have a chance to bring home the ECHL Kelly Cup for the second straight year. In fact, it would be their fourth straight cup championship, winning the CHL President’s Cup twice before joining the ECHL.
“It’s exciting right?” said Co-Captain Gary Steffes. “It’s like there’s a little bit more at stake. We are fighting for something that is a tad bigger than winning a championship. We are part of an amazing organization doing an amazing feat with four in a row potentially and going back-to-back.”
“I think it breeds confidence.”
But before talking championship, there’s still business left on the ice. The Americans, an affiliate of the San Jose Sharks, still need to beat the Wheeling Nailers in Game 6 Thursday to win the Kelly Cup Finals in the best-of-seven series.
“We are trying to keep it pretty light, but we are definitely being as determined as possible, staying focused and making sure we have everything in line,” said forward Spencer Asuchak.
“I have enough experience to know that you can’t take anything for granted, so we’ve got to go out and be prepared to play our best game,” added head coach Steve Martinson.
This is the first Kelly Cup Final for Tristan King as a member of the Americans. The center played for the Ontario Reign last season, which gave up a 3-1 series lead to Allen in the Western Conference finals. The Americans went on to win the series and eventually the Kelly Cup.
King is happy to be on the right side of things this time around.
“I’ve played with quite a few guys that’s been here in the CHL and ECHL and had a lot of buddies on the team last year. They said they loved it and the city is awesome,” said King. “The fans are great and the city is first class. I couldn’t be happier.”
However, when the Americans take the ice Thursday night, they will be without one of their key players in last year’s playoff run. Right winger Dyson Stevenson is out with various shoulder injuries. He had three goals and five assists in the 2015 playoffs.
Stevenson admits it’s tough not being out there on the ice with his teammates.
“I want to say it’s probably the toughest thing in hockey; to get injured when you’re close to winning the championship,” said Stevenson. “You go through the whole season and get to the final round; you feel like you’ve done so much to help your team. It’s tough.”
While it’s unfortunate the Americans won’t have Stevenson in uniform, there’s still excitement going into Thursday on the verge of history. The key will be to remain focused at the task at hand.
“We have a good veteran group which is huge,” said Steffes. “In times like this you need that kind of experience where emotions don’t control you and you have poise in these situations.”
Some players, and even coach Martinson himself, admit it would be nice to win on home ice in front of their fans.
“To me they are the best fans I’ve ever played for,” said Asuchak. “It definitely means something to win it in front of them.”
“We’ve got great fans and I always say the players really play for each other and they are entertaining the fans, that’s what they do,” said Martinson. “Obviously, they would like to win at home.”
Wheeling is an affiliate of the Pittsburgh Penguins, who happen to be playing the Sharks in the Stanley Cup finals. The Sharks are down 3-1 in their series against the Penguins, while the Americans are up 3-2 in their series against the Nailers.
Maybe a little redemption for what’s going on in the Stanley Cup Finals?
“I think it’s kind of cool having the affiliates going after each other too,” said King. “We are hoping that San Jose has a couple of good games and pulls it off.”
But wait, there’s more when it comes to the Americans. EA Sports recently announced that the NHL ’17 videogame will include teams from the ECHL, including Allen.
So what do the players think about being in a videogame?
“It’s pretty cool, definitely an exciting thing for friends and family to see,” said Asuchak.
“It will be interesting to see where all the guys are ranked,” added King. “I’m sure everyone’s probably going to give each other a pretty hard time after those come out.”
Game 6 of the ECHL Kelly Cup Finals between Allen and Wheeling will be Thursday at the Allen Event Center. The puck drops at 7:05 p.m.
Written by C. James