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Americans two games away from CHL championship

by John Tranchina / Dallas Stars

Allen, Texas - The attention of the minor league hockey world descended upon North Texas Wednesday night and the Central Hockey League’s Allen Americans, who bill themselves as ‘the AA affiliate of the Dallas Stars,’ excelled with the spotlight shining. 

In Game 3 of the Ray Miron President’s Cup Final, the Americans defeated the Rapid City Rush 5-2 to take a 2-1 lead in the best-of-seven series.

Chris Whitley
Colton Yellow Horn scored three goals and an assist and Justin Bowers contributed two goals to lead the Americans’ offense, while goaltender Chris Whitley continued his stellar post-season by making 35 saves. 

“It felt good, I had some trouble scoring the last few games,” Yellow Horn said of his big night. “I had a couple of chances in Rapid and didn’t score, I had a chance there with five seconds left in Game 2 to win the game and I missed, so it was good to come bounce back with a couple of big goals and get a win.”

Defenseman Tyler Wooddisse and captain Jarret Lukin added two assists each for the CHL expansion team that plays out of the brand new Allen Event Center. 

Game 4 is Friday night in Allen, while Game 5, which could possibly clinch the title, will be on Saturday, each starting at 7:30 pm, although Americans coach and general manager Dwight Mullins isn’t worried about his players looking ahead to a possible celebration.

“I think one of the biggest strengths of our hockey team, from Day 1, is that we’ve never looked ahead of ourselves,” Mullins said of his team that defeated the CHL’s regular season champion Odessa Jackalopes in an exciting seven-game Southern Conference Final series last week. “The same process will go into preparing for Game 4 as went into Game 3. We have to park this one now, learn from it, and now we have to make sure we’re putting our best effort fourth in Game 4. We are in no position to get ahead of ourselves.” 

The Americans built up a 4-0 lead in the second period before Rapid City attempted a comeback, cutting the advantage to 4-2 when Scott Wray blasted a slap shot from the top of the left face-off circle past Whitley with 7:48 left in regulation.

But the Americans, and Whitley, who turned aside a combined 100 shots in the first two games of the series, shut down the Rush late, and Yellow Horn completed his hat trick into an empty net with 52 seconds to go to clinch the triumph. 

“I thought that Chris Whitley was phenomenal tonight,” Mullins said of his goaltender who led the CHL with 31 regular season wins. “I thought he played very well and he’s continued to be very steady for us. I don’t care if it’s the National Hockey League or the Central Hockey League, you got to have (good goaltending) and when you have it, you’ve got to ride it and have an advantage. Chris Whitley is giving us that opportunity.”

The Americans jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead on Bowers’ first goal, just 2:10 into the opening period, a mere 19 seconds into the game’s first power play. Rapid City starting goaltender Danny Battochio made the initial save on Bruce Graham’s wrist shot from the right corner, but Bowers managed to fight through two defenders to poke the rebound in. 

“We got a power play there and I was just trying to get in front of the net and get a screen,” said Bowers, whose 27 post-season points leads all CHL players. “Bruce put a nice little shot on net there, and the rebound just kind of popped out to me and I managed to get it up over him. We definitely wanted to get the first one and we did, so it was a good start.”

Allen went up by two with 6:22 left in the first period with the clubs skating 4-on-4, as Bowers finished off a beautiful cross-ice pass from Erik Adams by drilling a one-timer past a helpless Battochio for his 10th playoff goal.

Yellow Horn’s shorthanded goal just 1:35 into the second put Allen up 3-0 and seemed to change the complexion of the game, as he made a slick dipsy-do move around Rapid City forward Brandon Hodge in the right circle before sliding a quick shot past Battochio.

“I saw he was a forward, and when you see a forward on defense, you try to attack them,” Yellow Horn said of Hodge. “And I had a good move and got a little lucky.”

“Any time you can get a shorthanded goal, it’s kind of like a bonus,” Bowers said. “Yellow had a nice move there, he’s got great hands on him. He does moves like that all the time and he managed to bury that one.” 

The Americans increased their lead to four on Yellow Horn’s second of the night and eighth of the playoffs at 10:09, finishing off a nice cross-crease pass from Lukin with an easy tap-in at the left post. 

That goal signaled the end of Battochio’s night, as he was pulled after surrendering four goals on 12 shots in 30:10, giving way to Miguel Beaudry, who played quite well in relief.

The move seemed to spark the Rush a bit as they came back and scored just 2:03 later, as Brendon Cook notched his fifth of the post-season on a wrist shot from the high slot that beat a screened Whitley.

Emotions got heated in the third period as it seemed like Rapid City began to get frustrated and took some retaliatory penalties, including a high-sticking call on Beaudry that sent him into a very  animated tantrum. Bowers indicated that getting under their skin was all part of the game plan.

“We’re a pest to play against, we skate well, we track back well, we backcheck well and we finish our hits, so I think their guys are getting frustrated,” said Bowers, who played in the CHL All-Star Game this year. “They don’t always want to compete for the puck and I think when we got up 4-0 there, they finally turned on and started winning some battles, but the first two periods, I think we won most of the battles and it paid off.” 

Exciting playoff hockey in the Metroplex continues Friday night, when the Americans will have the chance to move to within one win of the championship.


- Former Stars owner Norm Green, the man who thought it would be a good idea to move an NHL team from the hockey hotbed of Minnesota down to Dallas back in 1993, was in the building and participated in the pre-game ceremonial puck drop. Mr. Green was also presented an Americans number 1 jersey, which is fitting, because there’s no question the Allen Americans would not exist if not for him and his vision.

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