Ads Experienced Significant Success this Season
May 16, 2011
by Jason Karnosky
A regular season of 44 wins against just 22 regulation losses, first place in both the American Hockey League’s West Division and Western Conference, an un-ended streak from January 15 to the present with zero regulation losses on the road. When the disappointment finally dissipates from an abruptly ended 13-game playoff run, the Milwaukee Admirals will have a lot to be proud of from their 2010-2011 season.
Even though Milwaukee returned just two of their top 11 scorers from a season ago, the Admirals managed to outlast an ultra-competitive division that produced six teams with 89 points or more.
“I thought the resiliency of our group in dealing with all of the adversity that we faced was the most positive aspect of our team this year,” Milwaukee coach Lane Lambert said. “We had a lot of character on our team and regardless of what was going on, we kept trudging forward and managed to finish in first place.”
Despite not having a single player finish with more than 50 points, the Admirals put together a record of 44-22-6-8. Milwaukee achieved that impressive record even without top offensive weapon Linus Klasen and elite goaltender Mark Dekanich late in the season. Both of the team’s All-Stars only competed in a combined 90 games with the Admirals.
“Whenever our team was challenged, we rose to the occasion,” Milwaukee captain Brett Palin said. “We did that through a lot of hard work and continuing to improve as a group from the beginning of the season until the end.”
Along with Klasen and Dekanich, five other Admirals who started the season in Milwaukee, Nick Spaling, Chris Mueller, Blake Geoffrion, Jonathon Blum and Matt Halischuk, saw significant time in the NHL with Nashville. The promoted skaters helped the Predators close the season on an 11-3-1 run and claim the fifth spot in the Western Conference playoff race.
Once in the postseason, Nashville defeated Anaheim in a six games to win the franchise’s first ever NHL playoff series. Spaling scored twice in the decisive 4-2 victory in Game 6.
The Predators then pushed the Presidents’ Trophy-winning Vancouver Canucks to six games, winning in an elimination game for the first time ever with a 4-3 victory in Game 5 at Vancouver. Nashville’s only other victory in the series came in 2-1 decision in Game 2, when Halischuk scored the game-winning goal in double-overtime.
“With the fact that both teams (Milwaukee and Nashville) did so well and had playoff success, it led to a situation where we were missing (some of our key players),” Lambert said. “But I looked at it as opportunity for other players from within our organization to step up and take on new roles.”
Even without their top guns, the Admirals kept on winning in 2010-2011. In Milwaukee’s final 11 games, the Admirals went 7-3-1, clinching first place in both the West Division and Western Conference with a thrilling 4-3 victory at Peoria in the second to last game of the regular season.
Much of the Admirals’ roster saw impressive development and improvement during the 2010-2011 campaign. Milwaukee’s leading scorer Chris Mueller managed 24 goals and 50 points in 67 AHL games—up from 13 and 27 points a season ago. Defenseman Teemu Laakso boosted his offensive totals to 30 points this season after finishing the 2009-2010 with just 13.
In the fall of 2010, first-year forward Ryan Thang was only able to put up 11 points. However, Thang finished the 2010-2011 season with 41. Fellow rookie Gabriel Bourque had only 10 points by New Years, but finished the season with 18 goals and 36 points. In the postseason Thang and Bourque took their games to even another level, leading Milwaukee with 13 points each.
“Thang and Bourque really stepped up this season, especially with their play in the playoffs,” Palin said. “But even guys like (Ryan) Flynn really made a lot strides. Every single (young) player on our team really improved.”
Other Admirals like Roman Josi, Mike Barlett and Mark Van Guilder all took positive steps in their first full seasons of AHL hockey.
“The progression of our players is something we expected to happen and something we needed to happen,” Lambert said.
With the core of his team in the development stages of their career in 2010-2011, Lambert needed balance from some his older players to keep the Admirals moving in the right direction.
Three veteran defensemen, Scott Ford, Aaron Johnson and Palin wore letters for Milwaukee and offered plenty of leadership.
“I thought our leaders did a great job guiding this team day in and day out, and mentoring some of the younger players,” Lambert said. “Our veteran presence was an influential piece of the puzzle and was critical for our team’s success in the AHL.”
The three blue liners offered strong play every night and finished the year with a combined +28 rating.
“We’ve all played against the other team’s top lines at various points in our careers,” Palin said. “So we’re a little more comfortable with those situations and were able to provide the kind of consistency on the ice that our team needed.”
Steve Begin, one of the team’s lone veteran forwards, fought through injuries all season, but stepped up as a leader during the Admirals’ playoff run. Begin finished fifth on the team in postseason scoring with seven points.
“In the playoffs Steve Begin proved why we brought him into this organization,” Lambert said. “He put his best foot forward at the most critical time of the season.”
Milwaukee’s postseason march started out on the right foot as the Admirals eliminated the defending Western Conference champion Texas Stars in a competitive six-game series, clinching a berth in the West Division finals with a 3-2 double-overtime victory in Game 6.
As the Predators were simultaneously battling Vancouver in the second round, the Admirals faced a well-rested Houston Aeros squad that swept Peoria in the opening round.
Milwaukee looked in control of the series after taking an early 2-1 lead, but Houston won the next two games to push the Admirals to the brink of elimination. However, Milwaukee forward Ryan Thang delivered a four assist effort in Game 6 and Kelsey Wilson scored the winning goal in overtime as the Admirals as forced a winner-take-all Game 7 with a 5-4 victory.
Despite having Blum, Halischuk and Geoffrion back in lineup for the decisive contest, Houston took the series with a 4-2 victory at the Bradley Center.
“With our whole team back we thought we had a real opportunity to move on to the next round,” Lambert said. “The loss stung a lot because there was feeling in our locker room that we had a team that could win it all.”
The Admirals’ players took their loss to Aeros hard. Palin had the feeling that he was captaining a team capable of bringing home the franchise’s second Calder Cup.
“Anytime you lose in the playoffs, no matter what the game, it’s hard,” Palin said. “There was a little bit of excitement with our team when we able to get those guys back, but unfortunately we weren’t able to take that next step.”
Still, Lambert is proud of what his team and the organization as a whole achieved in 2010-2011.
“When both leagues cut down to eight teams, only two organizations, Nashville and Vancouver, had both its NHL and AHL teams remaining the playoffs,” Lambert said. “That’s quite an accomplishment and says a lot for the franchise as a whole. Expectations for our teams will only grow for the future.”
During the summer months this offseason, Milwaukee will deal with their fair share of player losses and defections. However, in 2011-2012 the Admirals should return a solid core of players eager to erase this year’s setbacks.
“The young players were really a huge part of our team and carried us at points this season,” Palin said. “That’s huge for next year’s team because those guys will have one more year of experience that will be invaluable going forward.”
Admirals’ fans are already counting down the days until the first drop of the puck for next season. October is only five months away.