As the final seconds ticked off the clock at the Allen Event Center on Sunday night, the Allen Americans faithful began chanting “Three-peat! Three-peat! Three-peat!”
The capacity crowd had plenty to cheer about as the Americans gave the north Dallas suburb a league championship for the third straight year.
Chad Costello scored two goals and added an assist, and Vincent Arseneau had a pair of goals to lead Allen past the South Carolina Stingrays, 6-1, in Game 7 of the Kelly Cup Finals before a standing-room-only crowd of 6,125.
It was the first Kelly Cup title in the club’s history.
The Americans, who captured Central Hockey League titles in 2013 and 2014, joined the ECHL just months before the season opener back in October. The Americans become just the second club to win the Kelly Cup crown in their inaugural season in the ECHL.
The Stingrays tied an ECHL record with their fourth Kelly Cup Finals appearance, but this was the first time in franchise history that the club did not skate away with the ultimate prize. The Stingrays won Kelly Cup titles in 1997, 2001 and 2009.
It was a disappointing end to what had been a record-breaking season for the Stingrays, who set ECHL marks for most consecutive wins (23), consecutive road victories (13), playoff road victories (10) and longest shutout streak (321 minutes, 46 seconds). They also tied league marks with most consecutive games without a regulation loss (23) and shutouts (11).
“I’m shocked. I’m in disbelief. I don’t know that I can come up with an adjective to describe how I feel right now,” said Stingrays coach Spencer Carbery. “I didn’t see this coming. I wish I could put a positive spin on this, but I can’t. We were literally outplayed in every facet of the game. Top to bottom. We were outskated, outcompeted and outexecuted for three periods. We did things in this game that we haven’t done all season.
“This has been such a resilient group that I didn’t see this one coming. I honestly don’t have the slightest idea of why we played the way we did with what was at stake. We were playing for a championship, but we didn’t act like it.”
It was a game that ECHL MVP and goalie of the year Jeff Jakaitis would like to forget. Jakaitis, 32, gave up four goals on just 15 shots and was replaced in the second period by rookie Clay Witt.
“Jeff didn’t have his best game, but we didn’t help him,” Carbery said. “We turned the puck over and gave up breakaways, and their goalie made saves and ours didn’t. When they had a scoring chance, they scored. When we had a scoring chance or a breakaway, they made the save. I wish I had an answer for why we played the way we did, but I don’t.”
The Americans opened the scoring midway through the opening period as forward Jamie Schaafsma won a faceoff back to Costello, who beat Jakaitis with a wrist shot over the blocker on the outside of the left-wing circle. Costello led the ECHL with 125 points during the regular season, but that was his first goal of the finals.
Moments later, Arseneau pushed the Americans’ advantage to 2-0, tipping a shot past the right pad of Jakaitis at 11:47 mark of the first period.
It was more of the same in the second period.
The Americans added three more goals, chasing Jakaitis and taking a 5-0 lead into the second intermission. Costello capitalized off a Stingrays turnover in the neutral zone at 3:16 of the second period for a breakaway goal and his second of the contest.
Allen forward Gary Steffes recorded this 13th goal of the playoffs at 6:21 to send Jakaitis to the bench in favor of Witt. As the clock wound down in the middle period, forward Spencer Asuchak knocked in a power-play goal past Witt with eight seconds remaining.
Arseneau picked up his second goal of the game at the 8:51 mark of the third period to make it 6-0.
The Stingrays finally jumped on the scoreboard on Andrew Rowe’s power-play goal as he redirected a shot from defenseman Michal Cajkovsky under the blocker of Americans goaltender Allen Gill.
Greger Hanson, who did not have a point in the last two games of the finals, led the Americans with 29 points on 12 goals and 17 assists was named the playoff MVP. Hanson won the honor despite the fact that Stingrays winger Wayne Simpson set a Kelly Cup playoff record with 38 points on 13 goals and 25 assists.