Admirals Begin a New Era in 2015-2016
By Jason Karnosky
The 2015-2016 season marks the start of a new era for the Milwaukee Admirals. Representing this change is the American Hockey League (AHL) franchise’s dramatic new look, represented by a sharp new logo combined with a bold color scheme.
“It’s been nine years since the last logo change and it was just time,” Team Owner Harris Turer said of revamped Admirals icon. “There is tremendous history with this franchise and we took a bit little of the past when we created the new logo.”
From the early returns, Milwaukee’s players approve of the dramatic change and are looking forward to showing off their new wardrobe at the BMO Harris Bank Bradley Center.
“I love it,” Admirals forward Colton Sissons said of his squad’s new look. “I think it looks awesome. We are going to look sharp.”
On the ice the most significant change this offseason for Milwaukee was in goal. After a couple of years with the tandem of Magnus Hellberg and Marek Mazanec, the Admirals will feature a new pair in goal this season. Joining Mazanec between the pipes is highly-touted Finnish prospect Juuse Saros.
Though European, Nashville’s 2013 fourth-round draft pick breaks the mold of a typical Predators goaltending prospect. The 20-year-old Hameenlinna, Finland native is just 5’10”, more than half a foot shorter than his countryman, and current Nahsville star netminder, Pekka Rinne.
If Saros is as good as advertised, and Mazanec can re-find his form from the first half of last season, Milwaukee is primed to have one of the best tandems in the AHL.
“It’s good opportunity for (Saros),” Evason said. “(Juuse) is a very committed guy, he’s very detailed, and obviously he’s stopped the puck. Between him and Maz we are excited about those two being with us, pushing each other and on any given night either one of them can be our starting goalie.”
Arguably the most important new face on the offensive side of things for Milwaukee is actually an old face ready for a breakout year. You can almost pinpoint Milwaukee’s decline last season to the loss to injury of heart and soul forward Miikka Salomaki.
Salomaki will be a key part of a young but highly skilled offense that will include top prospect Kevin Fiala, who is starting his first full season in North America after narrowly missing out on a roster spot in Nashville.
After joining Milwaukee near the midway point of last season, the then 18-year-old Swiss sparkplug showed flashes of offensive brilliance, racking up 11 goals and 20 points in 33 games in Milwaukee. Fiala also dressed for two games with Nashville, including a playoff contest against eventual Stanley Cup champ Chicago.
“There is no question that (Kevin) has enough talent and ability to play in the National Hockey League, but he still has to learn the North American game, the small ice, the straight lines and the (limiting of) turnovers,” Evason said of Fiala’s return to Milwaukee. “He’s got to turn this into a situation where he learns from the experience and gets himself in a position to get back to Nashville.”
The 2014 11th overall selection is hoping to follow in the footsteps of Filip Forsberg, who spent an entire season maturing in Milwaukee before going on to star with the Predators as a rookie last year.
“Yeah I hope I can,” Fiala said of following the same path as Nashville’s star rookie. “He had an unbelievable season last year and I hope that I can make it there soon.”
Other notable new faces for Milwaukee’s opening night roster include last year’s Kontinental Hockey League (KHL) leading goal scorer Steve Moses (36 goals in 60 games) and fellow forward Max Reinhart. Reinhart, who is just 23-year-old, already has that many games at the NHL level on his resume, while the European-trained Moses wants to crack an NHL lineup in his home continent.
Another Admirals name to pay attention to is the team’s first Russian born player in nine years Vladislav Kamenev. The 19-year-old and 2014 Nashville second-round pick is a developing power forward with two years of experience competing in the KHL.
“Kamy is a great kid,” Admirals assistant coach Scott Ford said of the Orsk, Russia native. “The language barrier is obviously something that he will deal with, but he’s fantastic on the ice. He’s so attentive, pays attention to detail and his willingness to learn and be a sponge is just fantastic.”
Another new import is Max Görtz, who should feel right at home skating with fellow Swedes Pontus Åberg and Johan Alm.
“We have some Europeans here and then we have the (North) American guys, so I think it’s a good mix,” Görtz said. “I think the longer the season goes the more that we are going to be a better team and better together.”
Altogether Milwaukee’s lineup will feature players from up to seven countries, including the United States, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Switzerland, Russia and the Czech Republic, an astonishing statistic for an AHL team.
“It’s like the United Nations in there (in the locker room),” Ford joked. “There are a lot of nationalities and a lot of personalities and that bodes well for us. We are going to have a diverse room where guys are going to be forced to hang out and learn different cultures and different kinds of idiosyncrasies of their (teammates).”
Where Milwaukee must make its biggest improvement in 2015-2016 is on its blue line, where last year the squad’s lack of experience showed through, especially during the team’s trying stretch run.
Enter the intense Conor Allen (113 AHL PIMs last year along with seven career games of NHL experience), who will be expected to take on a significant leadership role and fill the skates of departed former captains Ford and Joe Piskula.
“Last year our young professionals on defense were put in positions to play a lot and to develop,” Evason said. “That bodes well for us this year because (as a group) they will be more confident, more prepared for different situations, good and adverse, and will handle things a lot better.”
With Milwaukee looking to return to playoffs this season, there is one challenge that the organization has little control over. Last year Milwaukee finished fifth in the cutthroat Midwest Division—the only AHL grouping where all five squads finished with more wins than regulation losses. That disappointing finish brought to an end the franchise’s remarkable run of 13 straight postseason appearances.
“We had a very streaky team and I think that is part of maturation in hockey,” Admirals forward Colton Sissons said. “We had a really young team, and unfortunately guys were great one night and then not so great the next. We just have to keep that even keel and not have those highs and lows.”
After a dramatic AHL landscape change in the offseason, Milwaukee is still aligned with the always tough Grand Rapids and Chicago, along with Rockford and Lake Erie, but gains Charlotte, Iowa and Manitoba in a new eight-team Central Division. Meanwhile, the Western Conference as a whole added five new California squads as part of the Pacific Division, which also includes strong holdovers Texas and San Antonio.
Görtz is very optimistic about his first North American campaign upcoming and the team he is joining.
“We have a lot of talent and a lot of skilled guys,” Görtz said. “It’s going to be good hockey (to watch) as we are not just going to be a team that dumps the puck. (Instead) we are going to play (up tempo) hockey and that’s how we are going to win games.”
Not only should Görtz and Milwaukee win a lot of games in 2015-16, they will look good doing it.
“I think the new look, the gear and the colors, is awesome,” said Ford, who played for the Admirals from 2008-2015. “The color concepts with all of the blue look fantastic and the new logo is great. I haven’t seen too much of the new jerseys, but it will be interesting to see them in action.”
Milwaukee will first wear the new uniforms Saturday night in Chicago as they open the season against the Wolves. The following Friday marks the new look’s home debut as the Admirals take on Charlotte.