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Milwaukee Alums Find Success in NHL

By Jason Karnosky

When it comes to preparing players for the National Hockey League, the Milwaukee Admirals have few peers amongst their AHL brethren.

The Admirals parent club, the Nashville Predators, currently features five players, Nick Spaling, Blake Geoffrion, Matt Halischuk, Jonathon Blum and Anders Lindback who have laced up their skates for Milwaukee at some point this season. Another 12 Predators, Pekka Rinne, David Legwand, Cal O’Reilly, Jerred Smithson, Colin Wilson, Martin Erat, Patric Hornqvist, Jordin Tootoo, Cody Franson, Kevin Klein, Ryan Suter and Shea Weber have all put on an Admirals jersey at some point in their careers.

These skaters, combined with a flock of others who have found successes with other franchises, know just how important the time they spent in Milwaukee was to their future of their careers.

“Coming out of juniors, I thought I was ready for the NHL,” Weber said. “(But) going to Milwaukee was a big stepping stone, allowing me to adjust to the professional game and get used to playing against guys who were a lot bigger and stronger.”

Predators starting goaltender Pekka Rinne is perhaps the best example of a top-flight NHL player who honed his skills with the Admirals.

After arriving in the Nashville in the fall of 2005, Rinne spent three seasons improving his game in Milwaukee. Rinne accumulated 81 wins in 145 contents with the Admirals, while patiently waiting for his NHL opportunity behind netminders Tomas Vokoun, Chris Mason and Dan Ellis.

In 2008-2009, Rinne caught on fulltime with the Predators and has since become one of the game’s elite goaltenders, racking up 86 wins, a 2.34 goals against average and a .919 save percentage in 164 NHL contests.

After just one year at the University of Wisconsin, Ryan Suter spent a season in Milwaukee during the NHL’s lockout in 2004-2005. However, the jump to the professional ranks proved a significant adjustment for the defenseman, who needed the year to prep his game for the NHL level under the watchful eye of the Nashville brass.

“Because of the lockout the AHL was full of the NHL’s top young players, which made for a really competitive league that was a lot of fun to play in,” Suter said. “But that season I (also) got a lot of advice and guidance from the Predators organization because they were able to watch most of our games.”

Suter managed seven goals and 23 points during his year in Milwaukee, helping the Admirals to a 49-win season. But what Suter enjoyed the most about his time in the AHL was being able to play so close to his hometown of Madison.

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