The Allen Americans, the Texas Stars' CHL affiliate, have done exceptionally well this year and are currently in the finals of the CHL's Miron Cup Playoffs. They are tied at one with the Rapid City Rush and will play Game 3 of the series at the Allen Events Center tomorrow night. I got a chance to interview Brandon Cox, who writes for "Don't Stop Living in the Red", a hockey blog much like Hundred Degree Hockey for the Americans. Here is the interview:
HDH: Tell us about the Allen Americans season overall.
DSLITR: You never really know what to expect with a first year expansion team, so to do what the Americans have done is very impressive. The Americans finished the regular season with a 42-17-5 record, which was good for 89 points and the 2nd best record in the Southern Conference. The 89 points that Allen posted was the 2nd most for a first year franchise, trailing only the Colorado Eagles who tallied 91 points during their inaugural season. Even more impressive was the Americans 23-5-4 record at the Allen Event Center. That home dominance has continued into the postseason, as the Americans have gone 5-2 at the AEC so far.
The postseason has seen the Americans compete in 2 series, both of which went to Game 7s. The Americans ousted the #3 seeded Laredo Bucks in the Conference Semi-Finals and most recently defeated the top seeded Odessa Jackalopes in the Southern Conference Finals. Allen is now taking on the Northern Conference’s top seeded team in the President’s Cup Finals, the Rapid City Rush.
The Americans also had 2 players nominated for major CHL awards this year. Goalie Chris Whitley was nominated for Rookie of the Year and Most Outstanding Goaltender, while forward Bruce Graham was nominated for Most Valuable Player. Neither player won, but their on-ice contributions were definitely not overlooked.
HDH: Can you tell us a little bit about the teams in the CHL, that is, where are they located and what is the league's format, etc? Anything that might be different for AHL or NHL fans.
DSLITR: The CHL consists of 15 teams divided into 2 conferences. The Northern Conference features the Rapid City Rush, Colorado Eagles, Bossier-Shreveport Mudbugs, Mississippi RiverKings, Missouri Mavericks, Tulsa Oilers and Wichita Thunder. The Southern Conference features the Odessa Jackalopes, Allen Americans, Laredo Bucks, Texas Brahmas, Corpus Christi Icerays, Rio Grande Valley Killer Bees, Arizona Sundogs and Amarillo Gorillas. As you can probably tell, the majority of the teams are located in the Southern United States (Texas has 7).
The CHL’s season consists of 64 regular season games and a 4 round postseason. The top 5 teams in each conference quality for the playoffs and earn the chance to compete for the Ray Miron President’s Cup. The opening round of the playoffs features the 4th and 5th seeded teams playing each other in a best-of-3 series. The Conference Semi-Finals, Conference Finals and President’s Cup Finals are all played using the standard best-of-7 format.
The rules in the CHL are pretty similar to those seen in the NHL or AHL. A first time CHL viewer might notice that the league uses a no-touch icing system, which is probably the only noticeable rule difference between the leagues.
HDH: How has fan participation and attendance been in Allen this first season?
DSLITR: Fan participation and attendance have been pretty good for Allen this year. Weekend games drew pretty nice crowds all year, and we even had a few sell-outs. It seemed like the crowds got bigger and bigger each game, which really showed just how good of a product the organization was putting out on the ice. Playoff attendance started off a little slow but really picked up during the Conference Finals series versus Odessa.
As far as fan participation, the Allen Event Center can get very loud. The fans have been great all season long and have really gotten behind this team. It seems like there is always some kind of a chant going on during the games. The organization does a great job of keeping the fans entertained during the breaks and intermissions as well. It’s definitely a really neat atmosphere in there.
HDH: Who are the key players on the team? Have any gotten extended callups?
DSLITR: The big 3 on the Americans are Bruce Graham, Justin Bowers and Nino Musitelli. All 3 had great regular seasons, but they have been downright dominant playing on a line together so far in the postseason. Bowers currently leads all playoff skaters in points while Musitelli is ranked 4th and Graham 5th. Their play is probably the biggest reason why the Americans find themselves in the President’s Cup Finals right now. You also can’t forget about goaltender Chris Whitley, who led all CHL goalies in regular season wins (31) and has been just as good in the playoffs.
There weren’t any extended callups for the Americans during the season, but both Chris Whitley (Texas Stars, Lake Erie Monsters) and Justin Bowers (Abbotsford Heat) saw brief action in the AHL.
HDH: Stars fans would be interested to see Jordie Benn on the roster for the Americans. What has his role and impact been on the ice this year?
DSLITR: Jordie is an exciting player for the Americans. He is more of an offensive defenseman, but is very strong and responsible on the defensive side of the ice as well. Jordie quarterbacks the 2nd powerplay unit for the Americans and is not afraid to join the rush whenever the opportunity presents itself. He has a great shot and is very good at moving the puck. Jordie tallied 9 goals during the regular season (18 total points) and has added 2 more so far in the postseason. I can definitely see him jumping up to the AHL level next season.
HDH: How has the netminding been for the Americans? I know there was a trade in the middle of the season that affected the team between the pipes. What has been happening in net?
DSLITR: Netminding has been very solid for the Americans throughout the season. They started the year off with the duo of Charlie Effinger and Chris Whitley between the pipes. Both goalies had strong starts and split playing time for the most part. As the season progressed, Whitley emerged as the starter which really started to limit Charlie Effinger's playing time. Effinger wanted to start and the Americans wanted Effinger to be able to play, but unfortunately there was not enough room with Chris Whitley playing so well. The Americans decided to give Effinger a chance to start elsewhere and traded him to the Missouri Mavericks at the trade deadline. Chris Whitley showed the Americans that they made the right decision by keeping him as the starter, finishing the regular season with an outstanding 31-8-1 record and a 2.60 GAA. Whitley has been just as good in the playoffs, including stopping 48 of 49 shots during Game 1 of the President's Cup Finals.
HDH: What is the makeup of this team? For example, the Texas Stars are a defensive team that has opportunistic offense. What about the Americans?
DSLITR: The Americans are a defensive team but can also be very explosive offensively. They allowed the fewest amount of goals (183) in the Southern Conference during the regular season but also scored the 4th most (210). Their diverse style of play is really what makes them so tough to beat. If you want to play a run and gun style of game the Americans can do that or if you want to play a low scoring 2-1, 1-0 game the Americans can do that as well. Once the Americans have the lead they are almost impossible to beat, going an incredible 25-1 during the regular season when leading after 2 periods of play. That stat kind of reminds you of the old Dallas Stars teams from the late 90's and early 2000's.
HDH: Predictions for this series?
DSLITR: I think that this will be another tough series for the Americans, but I really do like their chances in taking it. Rapid City is a talented team and was the Northern Conference's top team throughout the season, but I just don't think that they can match the Americans play. The Americans got the series off to a great start by taking Game 1 (4-1), so things are definitely looking good right now. I'd like to see the series end on home ice in Game 4 of 5, but I'm going to have to go with the Americans in 6.
HDH: Why should Dallas Stars fans come out to the AEC for this series?
DSLITR: When you come out to the AEC, you're not only going to see some great hockey, but you're are also going to have a great experience. The AEC has only one seating bowl, so you really feel like you're right on top of the action no matter where you sit. There's not a bad seat in the house, and tickets start as low as $9 most nights. The atmosphere is always great, and I really think that it's neat to be part of a small, local team that not everyone knows about. The Americans organization has put together a very good product on and off the ice, and the game presentation is always top notch. It's really a great place to bring the whole family, and now is the perfect time to make your first time out to Allen, with Games 3, 4 and 5 of the President's Cup Finals being played there starting on Wednesday.