Smith, Van Guilder Key Game 6 Victory
Apr 28, 2011
by Jason Karnosky
It was the biggest game of the season to date for the Milwaukee Admirals—Monday night’s Game 6 at home against defending Western Conference champion Texas Stars.
Four periods of hockey had been played, yet the Admirals and Stars remained deadlocked at two goals apiece. If Milwaukee scored the next goal, a ticket to the West Division Finals would be punched. But if Texas got the next goal, the Stars momentum likely would have carried over to a victory in Game 7 on Tuesday night.
Admirals forward Mark Van Guilder made sure there would be no seventh game showdown. Beating his defender to the front of the net, a determined Van Guilder buried a rebound off Ryan Thang’s initial shot. Van Guilder’s goal at 10:42 of the second overtime set off a wild celebration at the Bradley Center.
“Scoring a goal in overtime no matter when you score it is always fun, but I was more relieved than anything because it meant we didn’t need to play another period,” Van Guilder said. “We were pretty gassed at that point so playing in Game 7 (the next night) would have been tough.”
However, if goaltender Jeremy Smith was not in the Admirals’ net, Van Guilder game-winning goal might never have occurred. Smith made 52 saves in the decisive victory, including 13-of-13 stops in the first overtime when his team was being outshot 13-2.
His composure and willingness to stay in the moment played a big factor in giving Milwaukee a chance to win the series.
“I didn’t get worried at all because I have a lot of trust in my teammates,” Smith said after the game. “I didn’t even realize what the shots were in overtime until they announced it after the period.”
The willpower put forth by the Admirals’ Game 6 heroes came as no surprise for Milwaukee coach Lane Lambert. Lambert saw Smith and Van Guilder carry the ECHL’s Cincinnati Cyclones on an improbable run to a Kelly Cup championship last spring.
“The game-winning goal Van Guilder scored in game six wasn’t the only one he’s ever scored in his career,” Lambert said. “(Mark) can be counted on when the chips are down and it’s good to see him rewarded for solid play all season long. (With Smith) you have to factor in that he was the co-MVP of a Kelly Cup winning team. His playoff experience comes into play as a positive for us.”
After a playing in all seven Admirals playoff games last season, Van Guilder shuttled off to Cincinnati to join the Cyclones for Game 6 of their American Conference semifinal series against the Charlotte Checkers. The next night in Game 7, Van Guilder made his biggest impact of the playoffs by scoring both of his team’s goals as Cincinnati eliminated Charlotte with a 2-1 victory.
Despite playing in just 14 playoff games for Cincinnati, Van Guilder racked up five goals and 10 assists to finish fourth on the Cyclones in scoring.
“Playing in two back-to-back series that went to Game 7s, physically was a grind,” Van Guilder said. “But I learned mentally to stay calm no matter the situation whether it was overtime, playing in a seventh game or competing in an elimination game.”
Ironically, Van Guilder played the series against Charlotte opposing his 2010 Admirals playoff teammate Mike Barlett, whose ECHL rights belonged to the Checkers. The pair traveled on the same next day flight only to depart for different dressing rooms.
“That was pretty crazy last year, especially since Mike and I were college teammates from back at Notre Dame,” Van Guilder said. “We were playing on the same line with Milwaukee and then the next morning after we lost to Chicago we were on the same plane to Charlotte to compete against each other in Games 6 and 7.”
When Van Guilder joined Cincinnati, teammate Jeremy Smith was already starring in the ECHL playoffs for the Cyclones. Smith made 33 saves in the Game 7 victory over Charlotte and his play left quite an impression on Barlett.
Barlett managed two goals in Game 2 against Smith and the Cyclones before his call up to the Admirals for the 2010 AHL playoffs. Returning for Games 6 and 7, Barlett’s Checkers could only muster a single goal against a determined Smith.
“He is the kind of guy that will never give up,” Barlett said of Smith. “The other team will get multiple rebound shots and he just battles and finds ways to stop the puck. He’s quick and knows what he has to do to use his strengths.”
Smith would go on to be named co-MVP for ECHL playoffs (with fellow Cyclones goaltender Robert Meyer) as Cincinnati eliminated Reading in seven games (after losing the first three) in the American Conference finals and demolished Idaho in a five games to win the Kelly Cup.
“I think winning a championship last year helped me phenomenally,” Smith said. “It’s all mental and it’s all about your mindset because you play in so many games. You have to learn to bring it every night and not take any nights off.”
Moving forward to the present, both Smith and Van Guilder are making a major impact on Milwaukee’s Calder Cup playoff push.
Filling in for injured starting goaltender Mark Dekanich late in the season, the Admirals hardly missed a beat with Smith in goal.
Heading into the playoffs Smith won five of his last seven starts. The Dearborn, Michigan native finished the season with a 16-8-2 record, a 2.26 goals against average and a .921 save percentage. Against Texas Smith took his game to another level going 4-2-0, with a 1.89 G.A.A. and a stunning .941 save percentage.
“Whether you’re the starter or the backup you have to be ready to play and to give your team a chance to win in every game,” Smith said. “I feel I have prepared myself the best that I can for the playoffs and hopefully we can win a championship (here in Milwaukee).”
In 2010-2011 Van Guilder turned a corner in his developing career. Finally catching on fulltime with the Admirals, the Roseville, Minnesota native picked up 10 goals and 17 points in an injury shortened 62-game season.
“Last year when I would move back and forth between Milwaukee and Cincinnati, I would go from being a checking line guy with the Admirals to a player that was asked score goals and skate on the power play with the Cyclones,” Van Guilder said. “With how often players move in the AHL, your role can change from game to game, so that experience really helped.”
So far in the playoffs, Van Guilder has two goals and three points, providing the Admirals with some much needed secondary scoring.
“He’s a big, strong guy who does everything well and he’s a responsible player that can be utilized in every situation,” Lambert said of Van Guilder. “When (Mark’s) role gets expanded, he has the ability to take on the needed attributes.”
To win a Calder Cup, Lambert knows that the Admirals will need a lot more production out of both Van Guilder and Smith. Expect Milwaukee’s championship-tested contributors to be ready to deliver.