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Taylor Stands Tall behind Ads Bench

by Jason Karnosky

As the Milwaukee Admirals begin their quest this week for the 2024 Calder Cup, they do so playing under the guidance of one of the best coaches in the American Hockey League.

Since being hired as the team’s bench boss for the 2018-19 season, Taylor has amassed a stunning record of 204-112-43 during that span. Under Taylor, Milwaukee won its division twice, and advanced farther in the playoffs in each of his team’s three prior postseason appearances.

“(Karl’s) had a huge impact on our organization, and every year he checks off something new as far as the boxes and accomplishments,” Admirals general manager Scott Nichol said. “Last year he checked off making it to the Western Conference final, and we finished first in our division this year. Karl has a good balance of pushing the right buttons, but he’s also willing to just put an arm around a player when they need that. His success shows with his track record and with how he has grown as a coach.”

Milwaukee finished with a record of 47-22-2-1 in 2023-24, and are now preparing to face the Texas Stars in the Central Division semifinals. With 11 days to prepare, Taylor will have the Admirals ready and chomping at the bit to take on the Stars, a squad Milwaukee ousted from the playoffs in a tight five-game series last spring.

“Our focus right now is on our group and getting our team ready to face Texas,” Taylor said. “We are in a similar spot to last year in that we had two weeks off before the playoffs, so we already had a plan in place on how to handle it. It seemed to go ok last year, and the lengthy time off will help us recover from some of our injuries and to get some guys back in our forward group.”

While Milwaukee is gearing up for a long postseason run, the team is thrilled to win the Central Division once again this season. Unlike the COVID-19 shortened 2019-20 season, this time the Admirals get to move on and play for a Calder Cup.

“We are proud to have finished first in our division and to get home ice for the playoffs through divisional play,” Taylor said. “Winning your division does state something for sure, especially in the AHL where your roster changes so much. You go through two or three different teams every season of just your own players, so you try to survive the hard moments and enjoy the good ones. We aren’t wearing goggles and spraying champagne, but we are proud of our accomplishment.”

One new player Milwaukee has this time around for the battle with Texas is Zach L’Heureux, a feisty rookie with an agitating streak. Mentoring and unleashing the talented forward, who leads all Admirals rookies with 48 points, has been one of Taylor’s pet projects all season.

“I usually kind of know when it is time to mix things up and when it is time to get in the other guy’s face,” L’Heureux said. “Hopefully when I do something like that it doesn’t hurt the team or put us on the penalty kill. If I’m able to take another guy out on their team or shake things up a little bit, maybe it can bring some energy to our team. I think I’ve done a good job personally, knowing when the time is and isn’t to do something like that. Karl definitely lets me know if it isn’t the right time.”

As much focus as Taylor spent on L’Heureux, he spends similar amounts of time with all of his players. That’s something that Nichol and the Admirals players really appreciate.

“Karl isn’t just focused on the Nashville prospects in Milwaukee, but he’s focused on the free agent American league guys that we get too,” Nichol said. “He puts the same amount of time into everyone that plays in Milwaukee and that’s why we’ve had success over his six seasons coaching there. There is a really good balance with him.”

This season Taylor helped Milwaukee rewrite its and the league’s record books, guiding the team through a historic 19-game winning streak in the first two months of 2024. That stretch set an Admirals record and ended up as the second longest streak in AHL history.

“During the winning streak (Karl) did a good job of keeping us present, making sure we didn’t get too comfortable or complacent,” Admirals captain Kevin Gravel said. “Our coaching staff have done a really good job of keeping us grounded all season long, but also keeping us growing as a team and as individuals.”

Taylor also reached the mark of 400 wins as a professional coach during the run, a milestone he credited to an Admirals organization that always puts him in a position to win.

“When you’ve coached for a while, you have a lot of players and coaches that assist you, and here in Milwaukee, I’ve been very fortunate with the teams I’ve had,” said Taylor, who has a .630 winning percentage as head coach of the Admirals. “(Former Predators general manager) David Poile, (current Nashville general manager) Barry Trotz, and Scott Nichol have provided us here in Milwaukee with good players and supported our team. Scott is very determined to have a good organization here in Milwaukee. He wants to win and develop players as well. And then our entire coaching staff is outstanding. Greg Rallo and Scott Ford do a fantastic job and they really take a lot of weight off my shoulders.”

While each coach is different and has different styles and philosophies, Milwaukee has an impressive track record of graduating its coaches into the NHL, just as it does with its players. For the 2018-19 season, Taylor took over from Dean Evason, who just a year and half after leaving Milwaukee went on to a successful stint coaching the NHL’s Minnesota Wild.

“That spot in our organization, head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals, is a vital cog in the success we have as a whole in Nashville,” Nichol said. “The whole coaching staff, led by Taylor, has great relationships with the players and great communication.”

Since becoming Milwaukee’s head coach, Milwaukee has finished in the top three in its division in all five of seasons that Taylor’s coached. No other AHL franchise can boast that mark, a testament to Taylor’s success. The 53-year-old also earned the Louis AR Pieri Memorial Award back in 2020, given to AHL’s most outstanding coach.

“(Karl) sees the game really well and he’s really a detailed coach,” Admirals defenseman Roland McKeown said. “Everyone knows what their job is on our team, and there aren’t any grey areas. As a player that is all you can ask for. I’m very fortunate to have him as a coach and he’s allowed me to flourish as a player.”

Under Taylor’s guidance, the Admirals have had an impressive track record of developing NHL-level talent. The current Nashville 2024 Stanley Cup playoff roster features 11 players who played for the Admirals with Taylor as their coach. Mark Jankowski, Spencer Stastney, and Juuso Parssinen all played games in Milwaukee this season before joining the Predators.

“If you look at all of the players that Milwaukee’s coaching staff have developed that are now playing up here in Nashville, you have guys like Kiefer Sherwood, Luke Evangelista, and Spencer Stastney, and all those guys played in the AHL playoffs for us last year,” Nichol said. “Now they are up playing in the NHL playoffs for Nashville this year. But even beyond those players, there is a laundry list of prospects who have gone through our system and played for Nashville or another NHL team, guys like Jarred Tinordi, Colin Blackwell, and Rocco Grimaldi.”

Prior to Taylor, every Milwaukee head coach except Ian Herbers either later served as a head coach in the NHL, or in the case of Dave Allison, did so prior to taking the job with the Admirals. Milwaukee’s NHL coaching alumni includes Evason, Lane Lambert, Kirk Muller, Claude Noel, and Peter Horachek. Former Admirals assistant coach Todd Richards also moved on to the NHL, serving as a head coach with both Minnesota and Columbus. He later returned to the Nashville Predators organization as an NHL assistant coach in 2020-21.

That impressive track record of success was certainly appealing to Taylor when he took the job with the Admirals. At the time of his hiring in Milwaukee, the North Bay, Ontario native was a lesser known, but sought-after assistant coach working with the Texas Stars. In Taylor’s four seasons as Derek Laxdal’s right hand man, Texas made the playoffs three times, advancing to the Calder Cup Finals in 2017-18.

Prior to that point Taylor spent six seasons as a head coach in the ECHL with both Reading and Ontario, before moving on to assistant coaching positions with two highly successful franchises, the AHL’s Chicago Wolves and WHL’s Portland Winterhawks.

Taylor certainly paid his dues before becoming one of the AHL’s top coaches.

“When we hired him, it was my first year as general manager of the Milwaukee Admirals (the summer of 2018),” Nichol said. “I had some help from David Poile and even Peter Laviolette in making that decision. Like a player, Karl was someone that needed a team to give him a chance, and we gave him that chance. We liked his presentation, we liked the way he carried himself, and we liked his coaching philosophy.”

Last season Taylor nearly guided Milwaukee to the AHL’s holy grail, as Milwaukee advanced to its first AHL Conference Final since 2006. The Admirals fell in six games to the Coachella Valley Firebirds, but that experience only served as motivation for his team this season.

It seems like only a matter of time before Taylor will join Milwaukee’s former head coaches with a job in the NHL. For now, Admirals players know they have the luxury of being guided by one of the AHL’s best bench bosses.

“When I was with Iowa, we played Milwaukee a lot, and a lot in the playoffs and they always had good teams,” Admirals forward Cal O’Reilly said. “They were always great defensively, but they created a lot of offense, made plays, and played a fast game. I always liked that about them, and I knew I would like to play here for coach Taylor. Milwaukee was always tough to play against, so to come back to Milwaukee and to play for basically that same coaching staff, worked out really well for me.”

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