by Aaron Sims
Being at home during the Pandemic, we all have had to figure ways to occupy our time. If you’re like me, you have spent quite a bit of time scanning old rosters from every league and every team in hockey. That’s when it struck me that there are a lot of players who have passed through Milwaukee and also had great NHL (or WHA) careers. Notice I didn’t write “went on to have”. Many players made the most of their stint in Milwaukee and moved up to the top league, while some used Milwaukee as a springboard to later success after having played in the show. Some also finished their careers in Milwaukee after great success at the top level.
The Admirals began play in 1970. This list, which could be titled, “Oh, He Played Here?!?!”, will only consist of Admiral alums.
(It should be noted that there is only one Hockey Hall of Fame member to have played some of his pro career in Milwaukee, but never for the Admirals. Bert Olmstead played 12 games in the 1950-51 season with the Milwaukee Sea Gulls of the USHL. In the 1955-56 season, “Dirty Bertie” centered Jean Beliveau and Bernie “Boom Boom” Geoffrion. Olmstead, who was inducted into the Hall in 1985, was also the first coach of the 1967-expansion California Seals.)
There have been 17 occurrences of former Admirals scoring 30-or-more goals in a single season in the NHL or WHA. The latest was Viktor Arvidsson, who tallied 34 for the Nashville Predators in the 2018-19 season. Here, in ascending order, is the list of those occurrences.
30 goals – Patric Hornqvist, Nashville Predators, 2009-10 Hornqvist has made his living in front of the net since he came to North America. The 230th overall selection in the 2005 NHL Draft, the last player selected, scored 17 goals in 49 games for a very good Admirals team in the 2008-09 season. Hornqvist has won two Stanley Cups with the Pittsburgh Penguins and is now a member of the Florida Panthers after a trade before the 2020-21 season.
31 goals – Stan Weir, Edmonton Oilers (WHA), 1978-79 Stan Weir played with the Admirals when Milwaukee was the top affiliate of the Chicago Blackhawks in 1984-85. It was the last season of pro hockey for him, although he did play in a senior league in Ontario a couple years later. Chicago, and Milwaukee, suffered many injuries and Weir was enlisted to help. He posted 21 points in 26 games for a bad Admirals team. It was the only season the Hawks and Admirals would be partners.
One other note about Weir, he attended Glen Sather’s hockey camp in his youth, eventually playing for Sather’s Oilers teams. Sather recognized Weir as the first graduate of his hockey school to make it to the big time.
31 goals – Bryan Smolinski, Boston Bruins, 1993-94 Smolinski holds the distinction of having the most NHL goals by any player who has worn an Admirals sweater (274). His rookie season would be the only time he cracked the 30-goal-barrier. As he was winding his career down, playing for the nearby Port Huron Icehawks of the IHL, Admirals head coach Lane Lambert enlisted Smolinski for the team’s playoff series against the Houston Aeros in 2009. Smolinski scored three goals and added an assist in the seven-game series, but the Ads lost the best-of-seven set, 4-3. Milwaukee was down 3-1 in the series when Smolinski posted a 3-point game in game five and added another goal in a 7-0 Game Six win over the Aeros.
31 goals – Filip Forsberg and Viktor Arvidsson, Nashville Predators, 2016-17 The Predators made it to the Stanley Cup Final this season as Arvidsson, Forsberg and Ryan Johansen all scored at least 58 points. It was Arvidsson’s first full season in the NHL. Forsberg scored 33 goals the season before. Unfortunately, the Predators lost in the Final to Pittsburgh…Patric Hornqvist scored the final goal of the series for the Penguins.
The 16-17 season is one of just three seasons in Nashville Predators history to feature two 30-goal scorers (Steve Sullivan and Paul Kariya in 2005-06 and Forsberg and James Neal in 2015-16).
32 goals – Michel Bergeron, Detroit Red Wings, 1975-76 Not to be confused with the long-time head coach of the Quebec Nordiques, Bergeron turned pro after scoring 143 points in 70 games in 1973-74. As a rookie, he split time between the Red Wings and AHL Virginia. He blossomed in his second season. On a bad Wings team, which posted a 26-44-10 record, Bergeron led the team in goals and was third in points (59). His 32 goals were a then-Red Wings rookie record. In 142 games with the Admirals between 1978 and 1982, Bergeron scored 66 goals and 172 points.
32 goals – Andrew McBain, Winnipeg Jets, 1987-88 After a couple great seasons in Winnipeg, McBain was dealt to Pittsburgh where he was expected to continue his high-scoring ways. Unfortunately, a youngster named Mark Recchi took his job and relegated McBain to the fourth line. Then, McBain came to Milwaukee when he was traded to the Vancouver Canucks in January 1990, just six months after he had been traded to the Penguins. He didn’t stick with Vancouver and was sent to the team’s IHL affiliate, the Admirals. In 47 games, McBain scored 27 goals and had 24 assists playing for head coach Mike Murphy. McBain had some ok seasons in the NHL with the Jets as he was a regular for four seasons before his breakout year of ’87-’88. That year, he was placed on a line with future Hall-of-Famer Dale Hawerchuk. An amazing 20 of McBain’s 32 goals that season were scored on the power play. McBain had 78 points in 65 games for the Admirals in 1991-92. He ended up signing with the expansion Ottawa Senators for the 1992-93 season.
33 goals – Weir, Edmonton Oilers, 1979-80 This was the Oilers first season in the NHL after the WHA folded. Edmonton, Hartford, Quebec and Winnipeg were absorbed into the NHL, giving the league 21 teams. Weir ranked third on the oilers in goals behind 18-year-old Wayne Gretzky (51 goals) and veteran Blair MacDonald. The following season, Edmonton would add rookies Jari Kurri and Glenn Anderson. Mark Messier factored into the scoring much more frequently than he did as a NHL newcomer. Paul Coffey, Charlie Huddy, Kevin Lowe and Andy Moog also played in that ’80-’81 season as the Oilers took the first steps to building its dynasty.
33 goals – Forsberg, Nashville Predators, 2015-16 Forsberg enjoyed his highest scoring year in this season. He and James Neal both notched more than 30 goals for the Preds. Forsberg recorded two natural hat tricks in a four-day span, the shortest time period between natural hat tricks since 1987-88. At the end of the season, he was added to Sweden’s World Cup of Hockey roster.
34 goals – Arvidsson, Nashville Predators, 2018-19 Arvidsson set the Nashville record for goals in a season when he scored the game-winner in a 5-2 win over the Chicago Blackhawks Apr. 6, 2019. The win clinched the Division title for Nashville. Arvidsson was a member of the AHL All-Rookie team with the Admirals in the 2014-15 season with 55 points in 70 games.
37 goals – Bob MacMillan, Atlanta Flames, 1978-79 The 1978-79 season was one of the all-time great seasons for an Ads alum. MacMillan won the Lady Byng Trophy, which is given “to the player adjudged to have exhibited the best type of sportsmanship and gentlemanly conduct combined with a high standard of playing ability.” MacMillan is the only player to ever wear an Admirals uniform to score 100 points in a NHL season. He had 108 this year. It was his first full season with the Flames after coming over from St. Louis the previous season. MacMillan began his career with the St. Paul Saints in the WHA.
Traded with Don Lever to Colorado for future Hall-of-Famer Lanny McDonald in 1981, MacMillan would later be traded to the Chicago Blackhawks in the summer of ’84. He played 36 games with the Hawks and just 8 with the Admirals, recording two goals and two assists in the ill-fated ’84-’85 campaign.
37 goals – McBain, Winnipeg Jets, 1988-89 After scoring 32 the previous season, McBain cranked it up for the Jets. He played in all 80 games that season. The Jets, as a team, struggled and McBain was traded after the year to Pittsburgh for a package that included Randy Cunneyworth and Rick Tabaracci. McBain had never played in the minors until he joined the Admirals in the 1990-91 season.
38 goals – Claude St. Sauveur, Vancouver Blazers (WHA), 1973-74 Claude St. Sauveur posted two of the great season in Admirals history when he joined the team at the beginning of the 1979-80 season. That year, in 43 games, St. Sauveur had 38 goals and 95 points. Despite averaging 2.21 points per game, St. Sauveur was a 2nd-Team All-Star in the IHL. It was his first full season in the minors after nearly eight years in the WHA and NHL. In his lone NHL season (1975-76) St. Sauveur had 24 goals and 48 points for the Atlanta Flames.
St. Sauveur’s 38 goal season in the WHA for Vancouver came in the team’s first season in British Columbia. The season before, the Blazers called Philadelphia home, but that lasted just the one season. St. Sauveur played two games for Philly before moving west with the team. It should be noted that St. Sauveur led the WHA’s Indianapolis Racers in scoring in the 1977-78 season, the year before a 17-year-old rookie named Wayne Gretzky would join the team. The team folded in December of 1978, with three Racers, including Gretzky, being sold to Edmonton.
After the 1980-81 season, St. Sauveur finished his playing career with Sapporo of the Japanese League.
38 goals – MacMillan, St. Louis Blues/Atlanta Flames, 1977-78 For two seasons, ’75-’76 and ’76-’77, MacMillan played every game for the St. Louis Blues. In Dec of ’77, MacMillan, who had scored seven goals for the Blues that year, was dealt to the Atlanta Flames for a package which included goalie Phil Myre. MacMillan took off from there, adding another 31 goals in only 52 games with the Flames, to finish with 38 for the season. He would have the first of six career hat tricks in March 1978 in a 9-3 win over the Cleveland Barons.
38 goals – Walt Poddubny, New York Rangers, 1987-88 and Quebec Nordiques, 1988-89 Poddubny put together the three greatest NHL goal-scoring seasons by an Admirals alum, and he did it in three consecutive years. The 6’1”, 210-pound center was a strong presence on the ice. Drafted by Edmonton in 1980, Poddubny began his career in the minors. The Admirals were a secondary affiliate of the Oilers at the time. Other players who were property of the Oilers to play for the Admirals include Blaine Peerless and Cal Roadhouse. In just five games for Milwaukee, Poddubny had four goals and two assists. He was promoted to Wichita, where he would spend the rest of the ’80-’81 season and all of ’81-’82. After just a cup of coffee with the Oilers, he was dealt to Toronto and produced 28 goals in the ’82-’83 season.
In his second, and final, season with the New York Rangers, Poddubny led the team in goals and points (88). The next season, Poddubny was dealt to Quebec in what was, by all accounts, a horrible deal by Rangers GM Phil Esposito. Esposito had an itchy trigger finger when it came to trades and made, probably, his worst trade in his stint as Rangers GM. Quebec was the beneficiary as Poddubny tallied 38 goals for the second straight season. He was second on the team in points to Peter Stastny. Stastny, Michel Goulet and rookie Joe Sakic would all be inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame.
After one season with the Nordiques, Poddubny was traded to New Jersey for a package that included future Admirals defenseman Joe Cirella. Over the next three seasons, Poddubny would appear in just 54 NHL games due to damaged knees.
40 goals – Poddubny, New York Rangers, 1986-87 The only player to wear an Admirals sweater and also be a 40-goal scorer in the NHL is Poddubny. Poddubny probably goes down as Rangers GM Phil Esposito’s worst trade when he dealt his leading scorer to Quebec, but acquiring him was probably his best. Poddubny came from Toronto for aging forward Mike Allison and lit up Broadway. He scored 29 even-strength goals that season.
I have a Walt Poddubny story. During the ’87-’88 season, I was 14 going on 15. The father of a hockey teammate of mine was friends with someone in the Rangers traveling party. At the time, I was told it was a broadcaster, but I’m really not sure. The Rangers came to Minnesota to play the North Stars and Roy, my teammate, was going to the morning practice and meeting the players. I gave him a bunch of cards to hopefully get autographed. He came back with two signed: James Patrick and Poddubny. I still have both cards.
Poddubny had some troubles in life. He coached for a while, but he ended up living with his sister. He died in 2009 of a heart attack at his sister’s home. He was just 49 years old. Former Admirals coach Lane Lambert was a teammate of Poddubny’s for a time in New York and Quebec. Lambert had been traded by Esposito to Quebec after 18 games in the ’86-’87 season and played just 13 games with the Nordiques in the ’88-’89 campaign. I remember asking Lane about him, but he admitted he didn’t remember much.
There you have it. We’ve all heard, “The road to Nashville goes through Milwaukee.” Well, Milwaukee has been the home of many, many elite goal scorers. Yes, this was lengthy, but I hope you saw some names on this list that you weren’t familiar with.