Smith, Van Guilder Key Game 6 Victory
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.”