Cincy Provides Depth, Seasoning for Ads
Jan 10, 2011
by Jason Karnosky
As the Nashville Predators face a rash of injuries during the holidays, the Milwaukee Admirals developmental role for their parent NHL club has come to the forefront as the Predators try to stay afloat in the tight Western Conference playoff race.
With some of Milwaukee’s top talent, players like Chris Mueller and Linus Klasen, now getting their well deserved opportunities in the National Hockey League, the Admirals have been forced to replenish their vacated roster slots. Milwaukee had stayed competitive in large part thanks to the replacements they’ve received from their ECHL affiliate, the Cincinnati Cyclones.
First year head coach Jarrod Skalde is the man responsible for guiding one of the ECHL’s most successful franchises, but his task can be a difficult one because players aren’t always enthusiastic about playing in Cincinnati.
“It’s a different dynamic at times (coaching in the ECHL) because guys don’t always want to be here,” Skalde said. “Players want to be in Milwaukee or Nashville, or with some other organization that will give them a chance in the AHL or NHL, but in the mean time they try to impress while they’re here because they never know when they are going to get the call to move up.”
Despite the negative stigma that is at times attached to ECHL, the league plays a role that is essential for the success of NHL organizations such as Nashville. NHL teams are only allowed to dress only 20 players per game including two goaltenders, and carry just 23 active players on their rosters.
AHL squads face a similar dynamic. Therefore some players get sent to teams like the Cyclones due to a lack of roster room on the parent clubs.
“Sometimes it’s just a numbers situation,” Admirals coach Lane Lambert said. “Guys end up going to Cincinnati for space reasons rather than anything else.”
However, being sent to the Cyclones can be a positive thing. Instead of seeing limited minutes in Milwaukee, a player gets ample opportunity to perform in the ECHL. Many skaters like Admirals forward Mark Van Guilder improve dramatically while competing in Cincinnati.
“You have to prepare yourself for the right attitude, facts like you are going to play twice as much and that you get to take on much more of an offensive role,” Van Guilder said. “You try to have fun with it.”
But it can hard to have fun when a player is told one of the other reasons why they are being sent to the Cyclones. They are either aren’t ready for the level of play in the American Hockey League, or there is something specific that they need to work on that is lacking at the AHL level.
“Sometimes guys go to Cincinnati because they need to find their game and build on their game because they’re not ready for this league,” Lambert said. “The idea is for them to go down and develop there and work their way up, just like a player would who was sent down from Nashville to Milwaukee.”
This is where Skalde really has to work his magic by making sure that a player who is sent down to Cincinnati realizes that despite their demotion, playing in the ECHL may be a real opportunity.
“There’s obviously disappointment,” Skalde said. “But you want a player to get over that hump right away when they are here. It’s important to let a player know that it is up them to decide how long they are going to be here based on how hard they work and how well they perform.”
Like Mueller, Admirals goaltender Mark Dekanich saw time in Cincinnati last season. But instead of seeing the demotion as a negative, Dekanich became a more determined goaltender.
“At the time I was sent down to Cincinnati, I had a record of 5-5,” Dekanich said. “It wasn’t great, but I also don’t think I was playing too bad. I didn’t think I belonged there, but it wasn’t my choice, so I just did what I had to do. (When) I came back to Milwaukee I won my next five starts in a row and eight of my next ten.”
Van Guilder was crushed the first time he was sent to Cincinnati, but grew to relish the opportunity that playing with the Cyclones provided.
“It’s a tough thing to do the first time you get sent to play in the Coast,” Van Guilder said. “It’s kind of a stomach punch because you’re not making as much money and it’s just not as glamorous. But I loved my time in Cincinnati because my game improved.”
With players moving back and forth between Milwaukee and Cincinnati, communication between Lambert in Milwaukee and Skalde in Cincinnati is essential for both organizations to be successful.
Skalde values his relationship with Lambert, especially the insights the Admirals coach can provide for his team.
“I have direct contact with Lane all the time,” Skalde said. “He’s a tremendously hard worker who’s passionate about the Nashville organization and the Milwaukee Admirals, but he also has consideration for the efforts we’re doing down here. . . . We talk a lot about players coming up and down and on a personal level about how things are going with his team and how things are going with mine.”
Despite Cincinnati’s developmental assignment for Nashville and for its other parent affiliate, the Florida Panthers, Skalde pushes his players to thrive during their time the Cyclones. Cincinnati’s recent run of success, which includes two Kelly Cups in the past three seasons, is a testament to how well the Cyclones are run as a whole.
“We have a great core group of guys that provide a lot of leadership,” Skalde said. “It’s great to have some pieces sent down from either Nashville or Florida, but our guys know that at times we have to go into games shorthanded. Therefore it’s up to our core to step up and they’ve done that and been rewarded with championships.”
Van Guilder savors being part of a Kelly Cup title team last spring, but this year he wants to help Milwaukee bring home a more prestigious trophy, the Calder Cup.
“Winning a championship with Cincinnati was something I will never forget,” Van Guilder said. “But as much as I liked it there, I don’t want to go back. It’s a goal for me to keep moving forward.”