The Milwaukee Admirals open up playoff hockey tonight for their twelfth straight season tonight. They finished the regular season with a record of 39-24-6-7 (91 points). That placed them third in the Midwest Division and netted the sixth seed in the Western Conference.
Their opponent is the Toronto Marlies who finished the season with a record of 45-25-2-4 (96 points). They won the North Division by a comfortable 11 points over the Rochester Americans but were lesser off than fellow division winners the Texas Stars (106 points) and the Chicago Wolves (100 points). That’s what put them on a collision course for the three versus six match-up that we have. And, with the choice of the first two at home or the last three at home, the puck drops for games one and two here in Milwaukee.
Toronto only played against the Admirals twice this a season and lost both games. If you look back on recent history the head-to-head history really favors Milwaukee. In the last five seasons the Admirals are 8-2-1-1 (18 points) from twelve games.
While that history might be plenty of seasons ago – Scott Ford and Mark Van Guilder both participated as far back as the 2009-10 season: Ford, eleven games, 2 points (1 goal, 1 assist), a plus/minus rating of +1, and 15 penalty minutes… Van Guilder, nine games, 4 points (3 goals, 1 assist), a plus/minus rating of +3, and no penalty minutes.
The veterans are certainly there for the Admirals. You have the names above as well as Francis Wathier, Joe Piskula, and Bryan Rodney. Between those five players they have a combined 189 games of AHL playoff experience between them.
The most seasoned of the Admirals veteran core would be Wathier who has logged 51 AHL playoff games. That includes a deep run with the Texas Stars in the 2009-10 season when he made it all the way to the Calder Cup Final. The Hershey Bears would get the best of Wathier and the Stars that season – beating them in six games.
In Marlies camp they have a quality group of veteran experience as well. In fact, they have two senior members on the team who have played playoff hockey in Milwaukee. Jerred Smithson has played 23 AHL playoff games and 31 NHL playoff games in his career. Drew MacIntyre has played a whopping 62 AHL playoff games in seven career playoff runs. Smithson played with the Admirals in the 2004-05 season and briefly in 2005-06. MacIntyre appeared in 55 games with the Admirals during the 2008-09 season – including 11 playoff games.
Then you have the young-guns. The Admirals will have Calle Jarnkrok, Colton Sissons, Filip Forsberg, and Miikka Salomaki. The Marlies will have Greg McKegg, Josh Leivo, and Sam Carrick. For the Admirals group – they lack playoff experience at the AHL level. That group from the Marlies all managed to get their crack at it last season. It is going to be an interesting watch to see how the youth of Admirals performs in the playoff spot light – especially given how much should be expected out of them to produce offensively for the team.
Another interesting comparison from the two teams are young forwards with plenty of playoff experience underneath them. One of them is 22-years old. The other just turned 23-years old. Each are entering their fourth AHL Calder Cup playoffs tonight. Those two would be Taylor Beck and Carter Ashton. The two play a fairly similar game and can generate offense. Expect both to be igniters in this series.
If you’re looking at the biggest factor in this series it has to be the goaltending battle. MacIntyre’s experience and track record speak for itself. He is not going to be phased by the moment. Meanwhile, Marek Mazanec is in his first full North American playing season – has played twice as many games as his previous career high for games in a season – and is expected to be the number one for the Admirals in the playoffs. He enters the playoffs on perhaps his hottest run of the entire season: winning four straight games, 1.00 goals against average, and a 0.965 save percentage. The pressure will be on each to be brilliant. One has been there. One hasn’t.
What are your expectations for tonight’s game one? Who will be the major players in this series? How confident are you in Marek Mazanec leading the Admirals into the playoffs?