Bright Spots Emerge from Ads Season
By Jason Karnosky
When the dust settled on the 2017-18 season American Hockey League season, the Admirals, like 13 other teams, failed to make the Calder Cup Playoffs.
The Admirals elimination came in the final week of the season as Milwaukee lost to Chicago in shootout on Tuesday, April 10, while Midwest Division Rival Rockford, the hottest team in the AHL down the stretch and the team most responsible for keeping the Admirals out of the playoffs, defeated Iowa 5-3.
For Milwaukee (38-32-4-2—82 points, .539 win percentage) it was just the third time in the franchise’s 17-year AHL history that their season concluded without postseason hockey.
“It was a frustrating end to an up and down season,” said Milwaukee coach Dean Evason, whose team finished tied for fifth with Iowa in the Central Division, six points out of the postseason. “We fell short and are really disappointed that we aren’t going to be playing in the playoffs.”
Evason and his team can take solace in many different positives that occurred in 2017-18. First the Nashville Predators, Milwaukee’s parent National Hockey League squad, won the NHL’s Presidents’ trophy for the very first time. The Predators compiled an NHL best 53-18-11 record and finishing with 117 points, three ahead of the Winnipeg Jets.
Several players that played games in Milwaukee in their careers contributed to success of the Predators this season, including Frederick Gaudreau and Juuse Saros, who each played for both teams this season. A vast majority of Nashville’s players spent time developing in Milwaukee, notably top-two scorers Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, captain Roman Josi, and likely Vezina trophy winner Pekka Rinne.
Like Milwaukee, the Predators season also came up short, as division rival Winnipeg dispatched Nashville in a seven-game series in the Central Division finals.
“There is balance at this level between developing and winning, and we are doing a good job of developing our players,” Evason said.
Second the Admirals saw strong and continued development of several players under Evason’s watch, including rookie Emil Pettersson, who lead the team with 46 points and was selected as an AHL All-Star. Gaudreau (43 points in 54 AHL games) continued his fine play from a year ago, while Anthony Richard contributed career high 19 goals.
“I learned a lot from my first year,” Richard said. “In my second year I knew that if I played the right way, and paid attention to the details, the offense was going to come. I think the younger guys learned that as well this year, and I think a lot of guys are going to come back and have great seasons next year.”
On the blue line second-year defenseman Alexandre Carrier led all Milwaukee defenders with 28 points, while rookie Frederic Allard had a great first AHL campaign, piling up 24 points. Defensemen Jack Dougherty and Jimmy Oligny each had solid developmental seasons.
In goal Anders Lindback was at times magical, posting a 31-20-2 record in a season where he logged significant frequent flier miles travelling between Milwaukee and Nashville. The veteran, like Pettersson, competed in Utica in the 2018 AHL All-Star Classic.
“If we could have snuck into the playoffs, we would have given ourselves a chance because we have two really good goaltenders, and we played a good, sound defensive game,” Evason said. “In the playoffs you need that style of play—not necessarily a lot of offense, but grinding guys that are opportunistic, and we had a lot of those types of players.”
Lindback’s terrific start helped Milwaukee to one of the league’s best records in the league out of the gate. The Admirals were in first place, or near the top of the Central Division for much of the season’s first half, winning four in a row right from the get go, and another four games in a row from January 5 through January 12.
Unfortunately, Milwaukee’s roller coaster of a season featured a losing streak of six games during a stretch starting in late January, which forced the team to dig out a significant hole for the remainder of the campaign.
“What cost us the playoffs this year was probably our stretch of six-straight losses in a row,” Richard said. “That was a pretty hard two weeks for us. After that we were just looking at the standings and trying to make up ground.”
Milwaukee made up significant ground by winning six out of seven games to start March, including shootout wins over Stockton (3-2) and Rockford (2-1).
“We put ourselves in a tough spot here down the stretch as we had to win basically every game,” Evason said. “Unfortunately, we didn’t (quite) get the job done.”
The Admirals had nearly climbed back into playoff position after winning five of seven games, including a 6-3 thrashing of Cleveland at the start of April.
“We had a lot of stretches where we would we would win two games, lose one, then win three more and lose one,” Richard said. “There was a lot of ups and downs and it was a roller coaster year. The young guys on this team are going to learn from that and come back next year hungrier than ever.”
However, the wheels final came off the wagon with as Milwaukee suffered defeats in their final five games, two of which came after playoff elimination.
“We kept fighting and we fought for it all year, but in the end we put ourselves behind the ball coming down the stretch,” Admirals captain Trevor Smith said. “We weren’t ready for those key games with about a month or a month and half left in the season that we kind of just gave away.”
Still Milwaukee had an enviable stretch run. If it was not for the rival Ice Hogs, currently cruising through the Calder Cup playoffs without a postseason defeat (7-0 to date), the Admirals might still be competing this spring.
“Since the deadline, excluding our last two games, we played really well and finished the year something like 12-6-2,” Evason said.
“That was ahead of everybody except for Rockford, which went 11-1-1 down the stretch. They went on a better run than we did, and that’s why they made the postseason. We got beat by a team that got really hot, and hotter than we got. There are some positives we can take out of this season and how we played down the stretch for guys that are going to be back next year.”
Despite significant changes to its roster during the season, including the loss of players like Trevor Murphy, Vladislav Kamenev and Pontus Aberg (who were all dealt in trades made by Nashville during the season), and more changes coming this summer, Milwaukee will be expecting to compete for a playoff spot once again in 2018-19.
“The playoffs are where you want to be, and I think we had the kind of team that could have had a really nice run in the playoffs,” Freddy Gaudreau said. “(However), our goal is not just to make the playoffs, but to win the Calder Cup, so to not even have a chance to do that is disappointing. There were a lot of ups and downs, and at the end of the year more ups than down and not many losing streaks. It was season that we have to learn a lot from.”