Brief Recap From Practice

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I finally had the chance to take the perfect photo of Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason… then he turned away from me.

This morning I had a few Roundtable readers with me at practice at the MSOE Kern Center. I didn’t really want to break from the crowd to sneak in some interviews, therefore, this is a little bit more of a recap of what I saw.

When I walked through the doors I saw a very pleasant sight on the ice: Mike Liambas. He was in a red “no contact” jersey just putting in the paces. My guess: I caught him cooling down. He skated by himself almost forty-five minutes before the rest of the team held practice.

Good news continued because there were so many healthy bodies at today’s practice an addition set of forward jerseys were used. Generally, to make the lines distinct, the forwards wear white, baby blue, royal blue, and yellow practice jerseys. Because of the numbers we saw green practice jerseys in use. Here were the forward line combinations from practice:

Forsberg-Jarnkrok-Cehlin
Moser-Sissons-Beck
Watson-Van Guilder-Wathier
Salomaki-Tousignant-Saponari
Pendenza-Pimm-Rask

That’s right. Mark Van Guilder was back and skating. He was in full-contact practice and, for a lower-body injury being the label, showed no ill signs. Of the listed lines – it is that last one that I suspect would be the scratch line when all is said and done for the playoffs. The other four lines? They excite me. They excite me a lot. There is incredible depth throughout those four lines. Much to be giddy about, I think.

All defensemen were on hand except for Kirill Gotovets. As the AHL recent transaction wire states: he was released from his ATO. He played real well in his professional debut. I expect him to find a place quickly – unless he is still under contract with the Blackhawks – even he didn’t sound like he really knew when I spoke with him about how he joined the Admirals.

The last thing to note: Marek Mazanec has brand spankin’ new CCM goalie gear in complete Admirals colors. Nice!

What do you think of these line combinations? Is this as balanced and as talented as the Admirals have looked all season? 

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T.J. Brennan Wins Eddie Shore Award

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T.J. Brennan has consistently led AHL defensemen in scoring this season. The next closest, Adam Clendening of the Rockford IceHogs, has ten fewer points. (Photo Credit: David Cooper / Toronto Star)

The AHL announced today that Toronto Marlies T.J. Brennan was voted the winner of the Eddie Shore Award as the league’s most outstanding defenseman during the 2013-14 season.

Brennan has been a dynamic offensive force from the blueline all season for the Buds, racking up a team-leading 24 goals and 69 points in 73 games (good for fifth in the AHL). Those numbers stand as the most points by an AHL defenseman since 2005-06, and the most goals since 1999-2000. Brennan has a league-leading 42 power play points, and leads the league with 12 man advantage goals. The full season proved to be a carry over of the 25-year-old’s fast start, as Brennan picked up two hat tricks in his first three games.

Previous NHLers who won the award include Johnny Boychuk, Justin Shultz, Sheldon Brookbank (with the Admirals), Niklas Kronwall, Eric Weinrich, Brian Engblom, Darren Rumble and Brad Shaw just to name a few.

Considering the Admirals current playoff position (fifth), one point ahead of Abbotsford which has a game in hand, and Toronto’s (third), Brennan could be a Milwaukee foe in the first round of the Calder Cup Playoffs.

So Roundtable . . . Who is your vote as the Admirals best defenseman this season? Lots of good choices to pick from: Anthony Bitetto (10 goals, 35 points & 85 PIMs), Bryan Rodney (33 points), Joe Piskula (23 points, team-best not including Jarnkrok +20 rating), captain Scott Ford (+6 & 81 PIMs) are all great choices, or perhaps Charles-Olivier Roussel, Joonas Jarvinen or Scott Valentine?

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The 2014 Stanley Cup Playoffs

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The Stanley Cup playoffs start tonight. How great is that to say? While our Nashville Predators may have missed out on playoff hockey for the second consecutive season – I always find the playoffs to be a fun watch when you are a neutral. That said, boy are there some fun match-ups right in the first round.

The two high power opening round meetings that I am most looking forward to are the St. Louis Blues against the Chicago Blackhawks and then the Boston Bruins against the Detroit Red Wings. Each of those series should be gripping to watch and each will see a serious contender not reaching the second round. Were I to pick my winners from those series: Blackhawks in six games… Red Wings in seven games.

As for a personal Stanley Cup prediction – I think we could see the Anaheim Ducks against the Pittsburgh Penguins – with the Ducks winning in six games. If that were to happen, think of the perfect send off for Teemu Selanne to end his career on.

What are your predictions? Which match-ups excite you the most in the first round?

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Nashville Predators sign Felix Girard

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This is Felix Girard. And he is here to compete with Calle Jarnkrok for sickest flow in the organization. (Photo Credit: Bruce Bennett)

Yesterday, the Nashville Predators officially came to terms with Felix Girard on a three-year entry level contract. The Quebec native was drafted by the Preds in the 2013 NHL Draft in the fourth round (ninty-fifth overall).

The 19-year old center just finished his playing time in the QMJHL with Baie-Comeau Drakkar. In four seasons he played in 240 games, scored 142 points (45 goals, 97 assists), amassed 288 penalty minutes, and has a plus/minus rating of +31. In his last two junior seasons he won the Guy Carbonneau Trophy as the QMJHL’s top defensive forward.

In the press release there is no mention of him reporting to Milwaukee. Should I see otherwise, when attending practices today and tomorrow, I will provide an update.

Is this another element to next season’s Admirals group? What do you expect from Felix Girard in the Predators system?

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Jeff Blashill voted AHL Coach of the Year

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Mike Babcock is a brilliant coach. His understudy in Grand Rapids isn’t that bad, either. (Photo Credit: Mark Newman)

The next AHL award has been announced and, yet again, the Midwest Division is in the mix. Jeff Blashill of the Grand Rapids Griffins has taken home the 2013-14 season’s Louis A.R. Pieri Memorial Award as the AHL’s most outstanding coach.

AHL’s Press Release:

Blashill has steered the Griffins to the second-best record in the Western Conference entering the final week of the 2013-14 regular season despite a large-scale roster turnover. With a 46-22-2-4 record (98 points) and two games remaining, Grand Rapids is closing in on a second consecutive Midwest Division title despite seeing just four of their top 12 scorers from a year ago spend even half of this season with the AHL club. The Griffins, who rank seventh in the league in offense (3.15 goals per game) and second in defense (2.42), have managed to sit in first place in the division since Nov. 3 and have not lost more than two consecutive games in regulation at any point this season.

Blashill’s influence has had a tremendous impact on the success of the parent Detroit Red Wings as well. Thirteen members of the 2013 Calder Cup champion Griffins have skated for Detroit this season and nine Red Wings have graduated from Grand Rapids to make their NHL debuts, helping the club extend its streak of reaching the Stanley Cup Playoffs to 23 consecutive seasons. All told, 18 members of Blashill’s 2013-14 Griffins squad were called up to play a total of 391 games in the National Hockey League, including AHL All-Rookie Team members Ryan Sproul and Teemu Pulkkinen, Second Team AHL All-Stars Adam Almquist and Petr Mrazek, and Red Wings goal-scoring leader Gustav Nyquist.

Born in Detroit and raised in Sault Ste. Marie, Mich., the 40-year-old Blashill won the Calder Cup with Grand Rapids in his first season as a professional head coach in 2012-13 after serving as an assistant coach with Detroit the previous season. Before joining the Red Wings organization, Blashill spent 10 seasons as an assistant at Ferris State (1999-2002) and Miami University (2002-08) before landing head coaching jobs with Indiana (USHL), where he won a league championship in 2009, and at Western Michigan University (2010-11).

The Louis A.R. Pieri Award, which was first presented in 1968, honors the late Mr. Pieri, a long-time contributor to the AHL as the owner and general manager of the Providence Reds and a member of the American Hockey League Hall of Fame. Previous winners of the award include Frank Mathers (1969), Fred Shero (1970), Al MacNeil (1972, ’77), John Muckler (1975), Jacques Demers (1983), Larry Pleau (1987), Mike Milbury (1988), John Paddock (1988), Marc Crawford (1993), Barry Trotz (1994), Robbie Ftorek (1995, ’96), Peter Laviolette (1999), Claude Julien and Geoff Ward (2003), Claude Noel (2004), Randy Cunneyworth (2005), Kevin Dineen (2006), Mike Haviland (2007), Scott Gordon (2008), Scott Arniel (2009), Guy Boucher (2010), John Hynes (2011), Jon Cooper (2012) and Willie Desjardins (2013).

The next award set to be announced is the Eddie Shore Award for the AHL’s most outstanding defenseman. That will come tomorrow afternoon.

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Calle Jarnkrok Returns to the Admirals

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Calle Jarnkrok is rejoining his pals in Milwaukee today after a good first look in the NHL. (Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch)

The NHL’s regular season officially ended this past weekend. That means certain players will be making the trip back to the AHL for its final week and playoff season. For the Milwaukee Admirals they’ll be seeing the return of super Swede Calle Jarnkrok.

Jarnkrok’s season started with the Grand Rapids Griffins where he played 57 games, scored 36 points (13 goals, 23 assists), had a plus/minus of +19, and 14 penalty minutes. At the NHL’s trade deadline he was a part of Detroit’s package to the Nashville Predators for David Legwand. He made an instant impact as a member of the Admirals: 5 games, 7 points (5 goals, 2 assist), plus/minus of +5, and no penalty minutes.

He was officially recalled to Nashville near the end of March. Since then he has played 12 games in the NHL, scored 9 points (2 goals, 7 assists), has a plus/minus of +7, and 4 penalty minutes. In yesterday’s season finale to the Predators 2013-14 season – Jarnkrok scored 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists) in a 7-3 win over the Minnesota Wild.

How big of an addition will Calle Jarnkrok be for the Admirals playoff run? If you had the chance to watch him in the NHL – how do you feel he performed in his time with Nashville?

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Quotes from Yesterday’s Presser by David Poile

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Nashville Predators GM David Poile will have plenty to digest in the coming weeks and months. (Photo Credit: Sanford Myers / The Tennessean)

Yesterday’s news that Nashville Predators head coach Barry Trotz will not be returning for the 2014-15 season was massive. It is the first change at the head coaching position in the history of the franchise. Quite possibly lost in the attention and emotion from yesterday’s press conferences were the words spoken by Predators Executive Vice President of Hockey Operations and General Manager David Poile.

Here are a few quotes said by Poile that relate to rebuilding, the Milwaukee Admirals, and the future of the organization:

“I’ve been consciously making some changes over the last year. It’s really started with Marty Erat requesting to be traded. So, we traded a veteran stable. A guy that was a foundation of our team for many years for a young player in Filip Forsberg. So it’s a 33-year old player for a 19-year old player.

We brought in Phil Housley last year to our coaching staff to change that up – to work with our power-play and with our young defense core. In the off-season we signed several free agents. And we traded another veteran this year in Kevin Klein for Michael Del Zotto – another younger player.

At the trade deadline this year we traded our first player that we ever drafted in David Legwand for Calle Jarnkrok and a second round pick from the Detroit Red Wings.

Essentially, we’ve been on a little bit of a rebuild on the fly. To me, we have enough good parts to build around. We have two of the league’s best in Pekka Rinne and Shea Weber. We finished the season here last night with nine-players 24-years or younger – five of those are defensemen: Josi, Ellis, Del Zotto, Ekholm, and Jones. And we got four forwards that are 24 or younger: Jarnkrok, Smith, Bourque, and Wilson. And I think you’ve seen a little bit of a glimpse of the future with Colton Sissons, Filip Forsberg, and I think we’ve got a couple other forwards coming in the pipeline.

I really believe in this roster going forward. I think, with reasonable good health but more importantly every player playing to our expectations, this is a team certainly capable of making the playoffs.

When I think about Pekka Rinne being back to 100% and having a great off-season, along with Carter Hutton, we could have one of the best goaltending tandems in the league.

Our defense, there is no question in my mind, that our defense is going to be one of the best defenses in the league: led by Weber - who should win the Norris Trophy this year, Roman Josi, Seth Jones – is gonna be a star, I think you all saw how good Ekholm and Ellis got in the last part of the season.

And our forwards are changing. They’re getting better. If this last ten-games is any indication of the future with all the scoring – bring it on - that’s exactly what we need.”

“Milwaukee, our farm club that we are so proud of, has made the playoffs again. We’re going to watch them play. As I mentioned a couple of names like Filip Forsberg, Austin Watson, Taylor Beck, Salomaki have all had good years down there.”

“We’ve been focusing the last two or three years on player acquisitions and trying to get more offensive players. We got a couple of kids coming out of juniors. Brendan Leipsic, who is one of the leading scorers in the Western Hockey League that should be in Milwaukee next year. We hope to sign Pontus Aberg from Sweden – who is an offensive player – to get him started in Milwaukee.”

“How about our scoring in the last ten-games? I mean – where did that come from? Is that the real thing or is it not? Craig Smith had a really off year last year – gets twenty-four goals this year. We need a few more of those stories. A young player like Calle Jarnkrok has come in and almost has a point a game. I’m not saying that’s what he going to be but looks like he’s going to bring some offense. I know that Filip Forsberg, down in Milwaukee, he’s young – he’s got to mature – I know he is going to bring us some offense. I hope it is as soon as next year.”

There is a lot to take in from what was said. What are your impressions of everything mentioned by David Poile?

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Curtis McKenzie takes home the AHL’s Rookie of the Year

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The Texas Stars have had a massive season. Curtis McKenzie taking home this season’s Rookie of the Year might prove to be the first of more individual accolades. (Photo Credit: Texas Stars / Facebook)

Yesterday the AHL announced the winner of the 2013-14 Dudley “Red” Garrett Memorial Award as the league’s most outstanding rookie: Curtis McKenzie.

The 23-year old winger was one of many putting up big numbers this season for the Texas Stars. In his first full AHL season he played in seventy-three games, scored 64 points (26 goals, 38 assists), had 85 penalty minutes, and a plus/minus rating of +6.

The AHL’s Press Release:

McKenzie, a 2009 draft pick by the Dallas Stars, has recorded 26 goals and 38 assists for 64 points in 73 games for the league-leading Stars this season. McKenzie is currently tied for ninth overall in league scoring, and among AHL rookies he ranks first in points, assists, power-play points (33) and power-play assists (23); second in shots on goal (210) and tied for third in power-play goals (10). A 23-year-old native of Golden, B.C., McKenzie was the CCM/AHL Rookie of the Month for December, and was named to the AHL All-Rookie Team last week. He made his pro debut with Texas at the end of the 2012-13 season following four seasons at Miami University,

This award, which was first presented by the AHL in 1947, honors the late Dudley (Red) Garrett, a promising young player who lost his life during World War II while serving in the Royal Canadian Navy. Garrett split his only pro season, 1942-43, between the AHL’s Providence Reds and the NHL’s New York Rangers.

Previous winners of the Garrett Award include Terry Sawchuk (1949), Wally Hergesheimer (1951), Jimmy Anderson (1955), Bill Sweeney (1958), Roger Crozier (1964), Gerry Desjardins (1968), Rick Middleton (1974), Darryl Sutter (1980), Pelle Lindbergh (1981), Steve Thomas (1985), Ron Hextall (1986), Brett Hull (1987), Felix Potvin (1992), Darcy Tucker (1996), Daniel Briere (1998), Rene Bourque (2005), Teddy Purcell (2008), Nathan Gerbe (2009), Tyler Ennis (2010), Luke Adam (2011), Cory Conacher (2012) and Tyler Toffoli (2013).

In operation since 1936, the American Hockey League continues to serve as the top development league for all 30 National Hockey League teams. Nearly 90 percent of all players competing in the NHL are AHL graduates, and through the years the American Hockey League has been home to more than 100 honored members of the Hockey Hall of Fame. The 2013-14 regular season ends on Saturday, and then 16 clubs will continue to vie for the league’s coveted championship trophy when the 2014 Calder Cup Playoffs get underway next week.

Later today the AHL will announce the Louis A.R. Pieri Award for the league’s most outstanding coach.

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Mazanec named CCM/AHL Player of the Week

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Marek Mazanec has been brilliant as of late. And that hasn’t gone unnoticed by the league. (Photo Credit: Steven Christy)

For the second time this season the Milwaukee Admirals have a goaltender taking home the CCM/AHL Player of the Week honors.

It has just been announced that Marek Mazanec has been given the distinction for his efforts this last week. He won all three starts, stopped eighty of eighty-three shots on goal, has a 1.00 GAA, and a 0.964 SV%.

Mazanec is the second Admiral this season to take home this award. His battery-mate in net Scott Darling was given the honor for the week ending 12/29/2013.

Thoughts on Marek Mazanec’s recent performances? Are the Admirals spoiled for choice with their goaltenders heading into the post-season?

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Trotz Out as Predators Coach

(Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

Barry Trotz was the only head coach the Nashville Predators bench had ever known. That all changed in the 2014-15 season. (Photo by Frederick Breedon/Getty Images)

For 16 years (since 1998) Barry Trotz has been the coach of Nashville Predators. The NHL’s longest-tenured coach with the same organization, and the franchise’s only coach to date, did not have his contract renewed today after a second-straight season finishing outside the playoffs. Nashville went 38-32-12 this season.

The move, though not shocking considering the disappointment of the previous two seasons, signals a change in direction of the Predators, who have worked seamlessly with their AHL affiliate in Milwaukee and its coaching staff, to develop home-grown players, including the likes of Shea Weber, Patric Hornqvist, Roman Josi, Colin Wilson, Nick Spaling, Ryan Ellis and Gabriel Bourque, seven of the team’s top 10 scorers, along with star goaltender Pekka Rinne. Rookie Seth Jones and Craig Smith were also drafted by the club.

Predators General Manager David Poile was quoted in the team’s statement released today:

“Our organization has high expectations and we have not met them in the past two seasons. As a result, it is my decision and determination that we need a new voice and a new direction. Our change in direction began over a year ago as we have made several personnel changes, including trading of long-time veteran players and a change to our coaching staff last offseason. Our goal is to return to the playoffs with the ultimate goal of contending for the Stanley Cup. We know that once we get into the playoffs, anything is possible.

“I also want to thank Barry for everything he has done for our franchise. He has been the face and voice of our team for 15 years. He created, developed and lived The Predator Way – on the ice, in the office and in the community. There could be no finer ambassador for the Predators or Nashville than Barry Trotz. He has laid a foundation and culture that will benefit the next coach of the Nashville Predators.”

Though it is a bit early to speculate on who will replace Trotz, who has been offered a position within the organization (Trotz will likely be a top choice of other teams looking for a new coach after Black Monday), a couple of obvious in-house candidates would be current Predators assistant coaches Lane Lambert and Phil Housley, plus current Admirals coach Dean Evason. Two others with strong ties to the organization would be current Florida Panthers interim coach Peter Horachek and current Carolina Hurricanes coach Kirk Muller, who might be out of job with the regime change occurring in Raleigh. Former Admirals coach Claude Noel, who was fired this season by Winnipeg, is also available, as is former Philadelphia Flyers coach Peter Laviolette, who has some connections to Poile via USA Hockey.

Trotz finishes his 15-year coaching career with Nashville with a record of 557-479-100 + 60 ties. After missing the playoffs the first five seasons, the Predators under Trotz were playoff bound in six of the next seven seasons before sliding back to 16-23-9 last year.

So Roundtable . . . What do you think of the big news today out of Nashville? Are more changes within the organization upcoming?

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