The Dallas Morning News
Hockey history’s at stake for Allen
Americans out to join Canadiens as winners of five consecutive cups
ALLEN — The greatest hockey team ever assembled won five consecutive Stanley Cups in the 1950s.
That Montreal team featured nine Hall of Famers, plus a Hall of Fame coach. For five consecutive seasons starting in 1955-56, those Canadiens led the NHL in goals. For five consecutive seasons, those Canadiens also allowed the fewest goals in the NHL.
Montreal had the best center (Jean Beliveau), the best defenseman (Doug Harvey) and the best goaltender (Jacques Plante) in hockey, and the Canadiens were never pressed in the Stanley Cup playoffs. Not a single best-of-7 series went the distance as Montreal posted a 40-9 postseason record on the way to those five Stanley Cups.
No team at any level of professional hockey has won five consecutive championships since those Canadiens. But Montreal could soon have some company.
The Allen Americans begin the quest for a fifth consecutive cup this postseason. The Americans won the Presidents Cup as champions of the Central Hockey League in 2013 and 2014. After the ECHL absorbed seven CHL teams, Allen stepped up to a higher level of competition and won
consecutive Kelly Cups in 2015 and 2016.
But there’s a difference between winning five titles in the NHL and winning five at the Double-A level. In the NHL, you can build a championship roster and keep it. And that’s what Montreal did. There were 10 Canadiens who played on all five of those Stanley Cup champions, including seven of the Hall of Famers.
Allen doesn’t have that luxury. Not a single player remains from the Allen team that won that first CHL title in 2013.
Only two players remain from the Allen team that won that second CHL title in 2014, forwards Spencer Asuchak and Greger Hanson. Only seven players remain from the team that won the first ECHL title in 2015. There are 13 players this season who weren’t on the team that won the fourth consecutive title in 2016. Allen isn’t Montreal. “In the NHL, they can sign guys long term and replace a few players each year,” said Americans captain Chad Costello. “Here, we keep a few guys and pretty much replace the whole team every year. It speaks volumes about the recruiting done by Coach [Steve] Martinson.”
In addition to coaching the Americans, Martinson serves as the de facto general manager, personnel director and recruiter. He’s the guy responsible for finding the players each season to fill out his roster and compete for championships. In the ECHL, no one does it better.
When the Americans moved to the ECHL, Martinson recruited the best goaltender in the league (Riley Gill) and the best scorer (Chad Costello). They have provided the backbone of this championship run. Gill has backstopped the last three ECHL championship teams — also Reading in 2014 — and Costello has led the ECHL in scoring all three of his seasons in Allen. He was the league MVP a year ago.
“If you play for the Allen Americans, you’re held to a high standard,” Gill said. “It’s a winning team and you’re expected to win. Marty brings winners to the table here. If you’re not producing, you’re out of here. There’s definitely a high standard.”
Still, the Americans have entered the playoffs as the top seed only once in these last five seasons. That was in 2013. And they haven’t coasted to titles like the 1950s Canadiens. The Americans captured their first Presidents Cup on an overtime goal by Todd Robinson in the seventh game of the championship finals against Wichita.
Two years ago in their first ECHL playoffs, the Americans needed to rally from a 3-1 series deficit against Ontario in the semifinals, then outlasted South Carolina in seven games in the championship round. Last postseason, the Americans survived a seven-game scare in the opening round against Idaho, rallying from a 3-2 series deficit and winning the finale in overtime.
There’s a resiliency to these Americans. The coach knows how to win. Martinson has won 10 championships in his 20 seasons as a minor league hockey coach. He knows what works and brings in players who can thrive in his fastpaced style of play.
“It’s like signing with the Yankees,” Costello said. “Our jersey has meant something these last five years. Players see themselves in that jersey and winning. Hockey players like to win. It brings the best players here and then brings out the best in them.”
Allen trailed the Colorado Eagles in the Mountain Division by seven points on March 23. But the Americans closed the season on a 15-0-1 run to win the division going away and, with 104 points, enter the playoffs as the second seed.
Costello led the ECHL in scoring by a whopping 34 points and Gill led the league with seven shutouts. Both were named first-team All-ECHL, as was defenseman David Makowski. The Americans have five recent 30-goal scorers on the roster, and defenseman Joel Chouinard led the ECHL in plus-minus at plus-47.
“Allen has been pretty special the last few years,” Martinson said. “It’s been a pretty good run, and it doesn’t look like it’s going to let up any time soon.”