Gary Steffes vs. Scott Ford; 2015 ECHL Kelly Cup Finals Set

(Photo Credit: Scene by Kimberly)

Gary Steffes has had an incredible 2014-15 season. It was only fitting that he would score the game-winning goal that saw his Allen Americans go through in Game 7 of the Western Conference Finals and to the Kelly Cup Finals in their first season in the ECHL. (Photo Credit: Scene by Kimberly)

Wednesday night was a big one for the ECHL. Both Conference Finals were decided in thrilling Game 7 fashion. Now that the dust has settled from those contests it will be the Allen Americans and South Carolina Stingrays facing off in this year’s Kelly Cup Finals.

~2015 ECHL Kelly Cup Finals~

(1 – West) Allen Americans vs. (1 – East) South Carolina Stingrays
Game 1 – Sun, May 31 – @ Allen, 7:05pm CST
Game 2 – Tue, June 2 – @ Allen, 7:05pm CST
Game 3 – Wed, June 3 – @ Allen, 7:05pm CST
Game 4 – Sun, June 7 – @ South Carolina, 6:05pm CST
Game 5 – Tue, June 9 – @ South Carolina, 6:05pm CST
Game 6 – Wed, June 10 – @ South Carolina, 6:05pm CST
Game 7 – Sun, June 14 – @ Allen, 7:05pm CST

The Allen Americans came all the way back from 3-1 down in their series against the Ontario Reign to advance to the Kelly Cup Finals in their first year of existence within the ECHL. The Americans were part of the Central Hockey League (CHL) from 2009 up until the league ceased operations October 2014. They would join the ECHL as an affiliate to the San Jose Sharks and, well, look where they are now.

The game-winning goal in the Americans’ Game 7 was none other than Gary Steffes. In all competitions (regular season and playoffs), between the Allen Americans (ECHL) and Milwaukee Admirals (AHL), Steffes has scored 88 points (57 goals, 31 assists) in 90 games. He’s been outstanding and should be up in the AHL for the 2015-16 season.

As for the Eastern Conference Finals? That roller coaster ride ended with Scott Ford‘s South Carolina Stingrays taking down the Toledo Walleye in their Game 7. About that: the Walleye were down 3-0 in the series but came all the way back to force Game 7, that Game 7 was played in Toledo, and that Game 7 became the longest scoreless deadlock in ECHL history.

It wasn’t until 5:35 into triple overtime when Joe Devin scored the game’s only goal to help the Stingrays from blowing a 3-0 series lead. The heroes of that game, as you’d expect, were both goaltenders: Jeff Jakaitis (South Carolina) stopped all 44 shots en route to the shutout while Jeff Lerg (Toledo) stopped 41/42 shots.

With no Cincinnati Cyclones to cheer for this means exactly what I was hoping for all along: Ford vs. Steffes. The Sheriff against The New Guy. Two members of this year’s Admirals team, teammates for a brief while, and they should be matching up throughout the series. I feel like most Admirals fans will be backing Ford here. Me? I’m happy that both made it to the 2015 ECHL Kelly Cup Finals and it’s great that one will come out a champion. These were the top two teams in the entire ECHL this season. It’s fitting that it boils down to South Carolina and Allen.

~Meanwhile in the American Hockey League~

The AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals were nowhere near as dramatic or long lasting. The top seeded Manchester Monarchs swept the third seeded Hartford Wolf Pack to advance to the 2015 AHL Calder Cup Finals.

This is a bit of a swan song season for Manchester. The Los Angeles Kings moved their AHL affiliate as part of the new Pacific Division and will be known as the Ontario Reign next season. Manchester, who began operations in 2001, are sort of a question mark moving forward. Will they survive in name like the Peoria Rivermen? Perhaps, but the great thing here is that they are going out from the AHL with a bang. This is the first time in the franchise’s history that they will be playing in the Calder Cup Finals. As a fan of the game itself that makes me pretty happy for the people of Manchester.

Now all that is left is to await the winner of the AHL Western Conference Finals between the Utica Comets and Grand Rapids Griffins. The Griffins were able to take a game in Utica to make the series 1-1 before shifting back to Grand Rapids. The next three all take place in the Griffins barn so they have the opportunity to punch their ticket to the 2015 Calder Cup Finals without needing to travel back to Utica. That’s a tough ask. First part of which starts with Game 3 tonight.

Who are you rooting for, the Stingrays (Ford) or Americans (Steffes)? Do you think that the Manchester Monarchs will be hurt or helped by waiting a long time before the Western Conference Finals ends?

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Patrick Cehlin signs with Rögle BK

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

When he was 100% healthy Patrick Cehlin could be a major contributor to the Milwaukee Admirals offense. Unfortunately for both parties that was a rarity. (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

When Patrick Cehlin was shipped back to his native Sweden on loan with Leksand IF for the rest of the 2014-15 season it effectively signaled the end of his time playing hockey in North America for the foreseeable future. His time in the Nashville Predators organization was up following this season and, injury after injury, things sadly didn’t work out. Hopefully his time back home in Sweden will see him get back in form and find success. Leksand IF was the temporary stop. Rögle BK will be his home for the 2015-16 season.

For as rough as Cehlin’s past season already was things came to an end all the same when Leksand IF was relegated from the top tier of the Swedish Hockey League. Rather than compete in the second division of Swedish hockey by sticking with Leksand IF he will join the newly promoted Rögle BK in their first season back in the SHL since the 2012-13 season.

Cehlin was a fifth round draft choice of the Predators in 2010. He made the leap to North America for the 2012-13 season and -unfortunately- his debut season would be as good as it gets. He battled through concussion woes, bone chips in his hip, and a blood clot. In total, he recorded 56 points (15 goals, 41 assists) in 112 games with the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL – including 3 points (2 goals, 1 assist) in 6 playoff games. He also suited up 10 times as a member of the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL where he tallied 5 points (4 goals, 1 assist).

~UPDATE~

Per a reliable source I’ve been informed that Cehlin was actually never “loaned” to Leksand IF but rather was placed on unconditional waivers and had his contract terminated. That allowed for his move back to Sweden.

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Ads Re-Sign Frédérick Gaudreau to One-Year Contract

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

Go Freddy Go! Go Go Freddy Go! (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

The Milwaukee Admirals have just announced that forward Frédérick Gaudreau has been re-signed to the team to a one-year AHL contract.

Press Release via Milwaukee Admirals:

Milwaukee, WI—The Milwaukee Admirals announced today that they have signed forward Frederick Gaudreau to a one-year AHL contract.

Gaudreau finished his rookie season with the Admirals last year, tallying four goals and adding seven assists for 11 points to go along with 12 penalty minutes in 43 games. He also totaled seven points (5g-2a) in 14 games with the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL.

The Bromont, QC native finished a distinguished junior career in 2013-14 with the Drummondville Voltigeurs (QMJHL). Gaudreau won a Memorial Cup with Shawinigan in 2012 and was named the QMJHL’s Most Sportsmanlike Player in 2013-14. He was also Shawinigan’s captain in 13-14 prior to being traded to Drummondville.

The Admirals will open their 2015-16 home schedule on Friday, October 16th at 7 pm at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Plus, classic rock legend Foreigner will perform in a post-game concert on October 24th

I quite like this move. Gaudreau showed on quite a few occasions last season how good he can be. He, like the Admirals first off-season re-signee Joe Pendenza, is also able to play center or out on the wing. Those two are a nice complement to one another I think. Both play a safe but smart two-way game and skate real well. If the idea is to adapt Peter Laviolette’s uptempo style of hockey then having guys like Gaudreau and Pendenza are a nice start to keep that speed game rolling along.

Thoughts on the Milwaukee Admirals bringing back Gaudreau? Who do you think could be next on the list as far as re-signings go and should the veterans get locked up next?

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2015 AHL Calder Cup Conference Finals Locked In

(Photo Credit: Mark Newman)

This is Teemu Pulkkinen. All he does is score goals. (Photo Credit: Mark Newman)

The Manchester Monarchs, Hartford Wolf Pack, and Grand Rapids Griffins have been set and ready to go for the the 2015 AHL Calder Cup Conference Finals. As far as the Griffins are concerned they just needed to await the winner of tonight’s Game 7 between the Utica Comets and Oklahoma City Barons. The Comets won 1-0 behind a 35-save shutout by Jacob Markström to bring the AHL down to its final four contenders for this year’s Calder Cup.

~Eastern Conference Finals~

(1) Manchester Monarchs vs. (3) Hartford Wolf Pack
Game 1 – Thu, May 21 – @ Manchester, 6pm CST
Game 2 – Sat, May 23 – @ Manchester, 6pm CST
Game 3 – Tue, May 26 – @ Hartford, 6pm CST
Game 4 – Wed, May 27 – @ Hartford, 6pm CST
Game 5 – Sat, May 30 – @ Manchester, 6pm CST
Game 6 – Sun, May 31 – @ Hartford, 6pm CST
Game 7 – Tue, June 2 – @ Manchester, 6pm CST

~Western Conference Finals~

(1) Utica Comets vs. (2) Grand Rapids Griffins
Game 1 – Sun, May 24 – @ Utica, 6pm CST
Game 2 – Mon, May 25 – @ Utica, 6pm CST
Game 3 – Thu, May 28 – @ Grand Rapids, 6pm CST
Game 4 – Fri, May 29 – @ Grand Rapids, 6pm CST
Game 5 – Sun, May 31 – @ Grand Rapids, 4pm CST
Game 6 – Tue, June 2 – @ Utica, 6pm CST
Game 7 – Wed, June 3 – @ Utica, 6pm CST

There was a slight upset there by the Wolf Pack to advance to the Eastern Conference Finals. Hartford, the third seed, was able to top the second seeded Hershey Bears 4-2 in six games – winning two of the four in overtime to advance.

As for the top seed in the East it was another five game series for them. The Manchester Monarchs were pushed to the brink of elimination in their opening series against the eighth seeded Portland Pirates but came back with a powerful reminder of just how strong they are by defeating the fourth seeded Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins 4-1 and pelting the league’s top rookie and goaltender this season, Matt Murray, with 150 shots and 15 goals.

The Griffins were able to get the better of the fourth seeded Rockford IceHogs in the semifinals. Grand Rapids won the series 4-1 in five games with Teemu Pulkkinen scoring 9 points (7 goals, 2 assists). The Finn is now the Griffins all-time leader in playoff goal scoring with 21 goals in 34 career AHL playoff games.

Lastly, the Comets and Barons was a series that established just how tight things were going to be with Game 1. The two battled all the way into quadruple overtime and fought to the distance – all the way to a Game 7. Utica had the chance to eliminate OKC back in Game 6 but did get the job done by the hairs of their netminder’s chinny chin chin to do so.

I don’t know about you folks but my prediction of a Griffins over the Monarchs in this year’s 2015 AHL Calder Cup Final is still all systems go. I feel like that opening round series for Manchester was a slight wake up call that got them fired back up. As nice as it is to see Chris Mueller and the Wolf Pack get past Hershey I just don’t see them pulling off yet another upset. As for those Griffins? They have it all but, mostly, they have Pulkkinen and that will make all the difference when this year’s Calder Cup is decided. No offense Utica.

As for the ECHL‘s Conference Finals – things are still aligned for the Scott Ford vs. Gary Steffes showdown that would makes us all actually interested in this year’s Kelly Cup Finals. Ford’s South Carolina Stingrays are currently up 3-0 in their series against Jared Nightingale‘s Toledo Walleye. Steffes and his Allen Americans are currently deadlocked 1-1 in their playoff series against the Ontario Reign. Allen went through a similar start on home ice in the previous series in which they eventually beat the Rapid City Rush 4-2 in six games.

Who do you see advancing to this year’s AHL Calder Cup Finals? How about the ECHL Kelly Cup Finals?

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Best Game of the 2014-15 Season

(Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch)

LOUD NOISES!!! (Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch)

Why did I save this one for last? There are two reasons. One, this was the single easiest choice of the entire “Best Of” week. Two, this should give you all good vibes to start off your weekend.

The best game of the 2014-15 Milwaukee Admirals season almost doesn’t need an introduction. It was a thrill ride. March 6, 2015. Grand Rapids Griffins in Milwaukee. Viktor Stålberg at 4:02 of the first period, with 0.4 seconds remaining of the third period to force overtime, and 15 seconds into overtime for the hat trick and game-winner.

The work rate of Kevin Fiala in those closing seconds was a small showcase of what the Nashville Predators hope to see in the NHL soon enough. He never quit. Even in the final closing second he never quit and it was the difference. As brilliant as Petr Mrázek was in the AHL, as well as in this year’s Stanley Cup Playoffs for the Detroit Red Wings, he looked as if he conceded that there was no chance that Fiala had enough time to do anything from where he was on the wall other than shoot on net. Fiala, for all that was happening, was smart enough to pick out Stålberg’s stick-blade all alone in front of the net and hammered a shot pass to him to force overtime with 0.4 seconds remaining.

The BMO Harris Bradley Center erupted when that puck went in. When the officials went to review whether or not the goal would stand or not it quieted. The fans right by the penalty box, who could view the same replays that the officials were reviewing, began to celebrate and that noise ramped back up. It was in. Count it. Overtime. Ker-blammo.

What made that game all the more incredible was that the Griffins had done the exact same feat the previous occasion the two played in Grand Rapids. Andy Miele scored with exactly 0.4 seconds remaining to force overtime before notching the game-winner 2:09 into the overtime period. Stålberg would one-up that mark by scoring only 15 seconds into overtime to not only win the game but complete a hat trick.

Honorable Mentions, in order of the date in which the occurred: 10/10/14, vs. Charlotte – home opener with plenty of big introductory goals… 10/18/14, @ Iowa – the Viktor Arvidsson Show… 11/29/14, @ Charlotte – the Admirals didn’t even win but nobody cared because Magnus Hellberg and company got into a line brawl… 1/9/15, @ Rockford – Marek Mazanec and Michael Leighton steal the show and Austin Watson steals the win in OT… 2/8/15, vs. Rochester – goals, goals everywhere, and that Watson kid strikes again in OT… 4/1/15, @ Lake Erie – Admirals come back from down 2-0, survive a five-minute major penalty kill, survive an ESPN Top Play save by Calvin Pickard, and Fiala wins it in overtime.

What was your favorite game from this past season? What were some of your favorite moments of the Admirals season?

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Best Goal of the 2014-15 Season

(Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch)

Kevin Fiala had some flashy moments in his introduction to North America. Including one of the best goals of the season when he carved up the Texas Stars. (Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch)

We all probably should have expected this season to feature some flashy goals. There were after all some fresh new forward talents added to the Milwaukee Admirals and the skill level they provided were evident on night number one of the regular season when plenty of them made a pleasant goal scoring introduction.

A question I had after the Admirals 2014-15 season opener was whether or not the fans were just given the goal of the season on game one. As it turns out, there were a few more beauties scored that were either right up there or better than that. And, push comes to shove, I need to tip my cap to the human highlight reel that was Viktor Arvidsson‘s sick backhander scored on January 10, 2015 in a 5-0 shutout at home over the Charlotte Checkers.

The sheer ability on display from Arvidsson on that play is outrageous. Speed, strength, hands, shot, and even the celebration. The Swede had a few dandies this season but this one just tops them all in my book.

There of course were some other ones right up there at the top of my list that were so good I needed to name them out ahead of the mentions section: Pontus Åberg‘s stunning goal scored on opening night (video), Kevin Fiala‘s brilliant individual effort to beat Jamie Oleksiak and then Jack Campbell (video), and Brendan Leipsic creating a turnover and then dipsy doodling in on goal to finish it all off (video). The difference between any of those taking my nod for best goal of the season isn’t that big. All of those were phenomenal goals.

Honorable Mentions, in order of the date in which the occurred: Pontus Åberg (video), Viktor Arvidsson’s second tally on his first North American hat trick (video), Pontus Åberg (video), Viktor Arvidsson (video), Viktor Arvidsson imitates Pontus Åberg’s home opener goal (video), Colton Sissons (video), and Kevin Fiala (video).

If you were wondering what the best assist of the Admirals past season was… I did come up with a winner in that department also. Åberg’s ridiculous no look feed from center to left wing to tee up the on-rushing Joe Pendenza for a goal.

I still have no idea how Åberg knew Pendenza was where he was on the ice, how he knew he was skating as fast as he was, and how Åberg managed to take all those into account to put a pass on Pendenza’s tape… but he did. And it was a thing of beauty.

Which goal do you think was the best goal scored by the Admirals this season? Who had the flashiest portfolio of goals: Arvidsson, Åberg, or Fiala?

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Best Save of the 2014-15 Season

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

It may have been an up down all-around sort of season for Marek Mazanec but he did make the YouTube machine on a number of occasions. (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

If I am being completely honest, the best save that occurred during the Milwaukee Admirals 2014-15 season happened with the good guys on the receiving end of a glove save that made its was from Cleveland all the way on to ESPN’s Top 10 Plays. That of course was when Lake Erie Monsters netminder Calvin Pickard robbed Kevin Fiala (video).

When it comes to the best save by an Admiral there were only two goalies who could snag the honor. It was all Marek Mazanec and Magnus Hellberg this season (sorry Rob Madore). What was their best of the best? Who came up trumps? After much reviewing I feel it has to be Mazanec’s post-to-post robbery on Brett Ritchie of the Texas Stars back on April 3, 2015.

This looked to be a bang-bang play for the Stars. They had a slight coming together that put Anthony Bitetto down and out in center that provided all the space in the world for Derek Hulak to tee up the unmarked Ritchie on the back post for a wide open one-timer. All that happened except the part where the Stars cashed in. Why? Mazanec’s speed sliding post-to-post to make the initial stop and then his quickness to ensure there would be no rebound opportunity. That’s as good as it gets.

Honorable Mentions, in order of the date in which the occurred: Marek Mazanec (video), Magnus Hellberg (video), Marek Mazanec (video), Marek Mazanec (video), Marek Mazanec (video), and Marek Mazanec (video).

Was this the best save of the Admirals 2014-15 season? Was Pickard’s save on Fiala the best all-in-all save made in hockey this season?

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AHL Sets Divisional Alignment for 2015-16 Season

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

Bye Rochester Americans! It was nice being Western Conference mates with ye! (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

So long Midwest Division. Adios three divisional conferences. Hello newly formatted, restructured, two division conferences. The American Hockey League’s President and CEO David Andrews announced that the league’s Board of Governors, convening for its Spring Meeting today in Chicago, has approved the following division alignment for the 2015-16 AHL season:

The AHL's new alignment looks like a lot a previous version, only with a new Pacific Division (Graphic via theAHL.com)

All told, I think this new divisional alignment works rather nicely and seems to mirror what the NHL did not too long ago. The format of how the 2016 Calder Cup Playoffs have yet to be finalized but I’d hazard to guess that too could mirror the NHL’s current structure. That is expected to be finalized by the Board of Governors around July 6-9 during their Annual Meetings held in South Carolina.

The Admirals will remain pretty well nestled with some familiar teams but get the return of some others as well. Fellow Midwest Division rivals the Chicago Wolves, Rockford IceHogs, Grand Rapids Griffins, and Lake Erie Monsters will all be back once again. Meanwhile the Iowa Wild, who were in the Midwest Division in the 2013-14 season, and the Charlotte Checkers, who were in the Midwest Division in the 2011-12 season, both join the mix. Then there is the return of the Manitoba Moose, last featured in the 2010-2011 season, who polish off the brand new Central Division.

Of note, there are a few teams that have crossed conferences during the new alignment: Rochester Americans, Toronto Marlies, and Utica Comets. That of course comes without even mentioning all those new Pacific Division based teams. To which, looking at that division, I feel slightly bad for those two Texas squads and the travel they’ll get to log for the coming season. However, if it means the Pacific Division plays a full schedule like the rest of the AHL (remember the chatter of those teams playing a lesser schedule?), then I tip my cap and applaud the Texas Stars and San Antonio Rampage for biting the bullet for the rest of the league.

What is your reaction to the new AHL alignment for the 2015-16 season? Did they get it right? How will the Milwaukee Admirals handle the new Central Division? If the Pacific Division still doesn’t end up playing a full schedule how does the AHL format the playoffs?

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Best Hit of the 2014-15 Season

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

HERE COMES THE PAIN. (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

Fights are a little easier to judge than hits. Not all big checks that happen in-game get thrown into video highlight packages sadly. Lucky for us, and mostly YouTube and/or Google search, there are a few big hits that cropped up from the Milwaukee Admirals 2014-15 season.

The man who I feel delivered the biggest check of all might not be someone your brain would instantly register with in relation to that part of the game. That man is Colton Sissons. While your brain might not go there I do think Dennis Rasmussen‘s did once he regained his train of thought following Sissons hammering check that came from a 2-1 Admirals win over the Rockford IceHogs on November 15, 2014.

Not only does Sissons deliver the boom he immediately answered the bell with a fight against Klas Dahlbeck. I said in my report card that Sissons may not have increased the offensive explosiveness that the Nashville Predators perhaps wanted him to this season but he did take a massive step forward in the physical aspect to his game. Every forward who aspires to play in the NHL needs to have this level of grit to their game I feel. And it’s a play like that, combined with the added scoring touch, that makes Sissons someone who should find his way back in Nashville next season.

Honorable Mentions, in order of the date in which the occurred: Triston Grant (video), Taylor Aronson (video), Triston Grant (video), Jonathan Diaby (video), Anthony Bitetto (video), Jimmy Oligny and Mike Liambas (video), Austin Watson (video), Triston Grant (video), Mike Liambas (video), and Mike Liambas (video).

What was your pick for the best hit of the Admirals 2014-15 season?

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Best Fight of the 2014-15 Season

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

There have been a lot of bouts on the ice this season for the Milwaukee Admirals. Which do you feel was the best and who is the toughest combatant of the team? (Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

Welcome to Admirals Roundtable’s “Best of” Week! I figured with things being a bit slow there should be some sort of additional “season review” fun to be had. That’s what this week will be. There will be Best Game, Best Goal, Best Save, Best Hit, and it all starts today with my choice for the Best Fight of the 2014-15 season.

I think that this year’s Admirals squad had its share of good tilts. In fact, according to HockeyFights.com, the Admirals have increased the amount of fighting majors they’ve had in each and every season under Dean Evason. This season, naturally, meant the most fights under his watch with 66 total tilts. Not too shabby. Rich Clune lead the team with 17 and Mike Liambas was right behind him with 16.

As far as the best all-around fight goes, wearing my Dana White thinking cap here, I actually feel this is an easy choice. Triston Grant against Daniel Maggio from the Admirals 2-1 shootout victory against the Lake Erie Monsters back on October 25, 2014.

What more can you say? That was a heavyweight fight and the two unloaded punch after punch on one-another and resulted in one of my more favorite soundbites from the past season as well:

10/25/14, Grant bleeds his way through an interview after a fight:

Grant is a warrior and he proved that multiple times this season. Best example of that though? That fight and him laughing about it post-game.

Honorable Mentions, in order of the date in which the occurred: Mike Liambas vs. Chris Bruton (video),  Mike Liambas vs. Kyle Hagel (video), Magnus Hellberg vs. John Muse (video), Rich Clune vs. Duncan Siemens (video), Jonathan Diaby vs. Cody Bass (video), Rich Clune vs. Stephane Veilleux (video), Mike Liambas vs. Daniel Maggio (video), and Rich Clune vs. Mitchell Heard (video).

What do you think was the best fight of the Admirals 2014-15 season? Who is the toughest member of the Admirals when it comes to dropping the mitts?

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