Griffins: Scouting the Enemy

(Photo Credit: Sam Iannamico)

(Photo Credit: Sam Iannamico)

While I might be on the road in Nashville this week that doesn’t mean I’m ignoring Priority #1: the Milwaukee Admirals. Yes, the schedule has opened up rather nicely this past week for the group but they are going to need those rest days.

Tonight and tomorrow the Admirals will be playing against the Grand Rapids Griffins on the road. That will be quickly followed up with a two-in-two, Tuesday and Wednesday, on the road to see last weekend’s enemy of choice – the Charlotte Checkers. For as great as the down time was for the Admirals at the start of the week it all gets a bit cramped as far as road travel in a quick space of time. And it starts in grandiose fashion.

This weekend’s match-up is a very big test for the Admirals. They may have swept their three-game homestand but they did so while shooting themselves in the foot along the way. The Griffins simply aren’t a team that will let mistakes like that slide while creating many of their own. What the Admirals need to do this weekend is more of what made their comebacks a success: be direct, play North-South, and go to the net.

The Griffins enter this weekend’s two-in-two against the Admirals with a record of 34-14-1-2 (71 points, 0.696 points percentage). That has them seated atop the Central Division ahead of the Chicago Wolves (0.627) and Admirals (0.625). The only team with a better record in the Western Conference than the Griffins right now are the San Jose Barracuda (0.717) who are currently riding a 12-game winning streak.

On the Griffins roster they certainly don’t lack for offense. They have seven players with 30 points or more and AHL All-Star defenseman Robbie Russo is a point away from adding to that. The Admirals, by comparison, only have 4 players at that plateau.

As far as the top scorer title goes for the Griffins it is currently being shared. Ben Street has 40 points (16 goals, 24 assists). Matt Lorito has 40 points (14 goals, 26 assists). The difference between the two players can best be summed up with Lorito having played 3 games less than Street.

In net the Griffins have Jared Coreau back on a conditioning assignment as the Detroit Red Wings begin their NHL mandated bye-week. The 25-year old played 13 games with the Red Wings this season but has played the bulk of time as part of the Griffins in the AHL: 11-6-0-0 record from 17 appearances, 2.18 goals against average, 0.924 save percentage, and a shutout.

What are your expectations for the Milwaukee Admirals this weekend on the road against the Grand Rapids Griffins? How big of a moment will these two games against the Griffins be for the Admirals as far as the season is concerned?

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

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Catching Up with Harry Zolnierczyk

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

If you’ve been following along with the feature interview series “Fifteen” this season you may have noticed an extremely common theme. The funniest player that everyone has played with in their careers has come this season in the form of Harry Zolnierczyk.

When I last saw Zolnierczyk was after a practice at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. I gave him a small head nod as he walked out the building. Then, moments later, he raced back in. He had just been informed that he was being recalled by the Nashville Predators. We spoke briefly before he left the second time and the general conversation went as follows: So, you’re going up? “I think they just need an extra body for a road trip or something.” Well, congrats. I think that team could use your speed and energy about now.

That happened on January 2nd and the man they call “Z” hasn’t been back in Milwaukee since.

The 2016-17 season to date for Zolnierczyk has him playing 24 games in the AHL with the Admirals where he has scored 16 points (6 goals, 10 assists) and, following last night’s Predators game, 18 games in the NHL with the Predators where he has produced 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists). It is the first time since the 2013-14 season as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins that Zolnierczyk has logged more than 10 games in an NHL season.

Cheers to the Nashville Predators and Harry Zolnierczyk for providing me the time to hear from our ol’ Milwaukee Admirals player all grown up! Coming up today will be practice at the Bridgestone Arena at 12 PM CST. Hoping to round off what will be the last day of “Catching Up” interviews as the weekend slate for the Predators will be game action only.

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

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Catching Up with Vern Fiddler

Fiddler-tbt-1

(Photo Credit: Milwaukee Admirals)

Vern Fiddler‘s return to the Nashville Predators was a move that just felt right for a number of reasons. He is a well respected veteran who still delivers the grit and grind you want when the going gets tough come playoff time. His pro career started with the Roanoke Express of the ECHL as well as the -other- Admirals in Norfolk in the 2001-02 season. Yet, when things started climbing upwards into the NHL career that he’s had it begins with the Nashville Predators and Milwaukee Admirals organization the following season.

Admirals fans will always remember Fiddler as being part of the 2003-04 team that helped win the Calder Cup. He produced 24 points (9 goals, 15 assists) in 47 games that season and then 8 points (5 goals, 3 assists) in 22 games during the Calder Cup Playoffs en route to winning it all.

In Fiddler’s Admirals career he played 185 games, tallied 97 points (38 goals, 59 assists), and accumulated 232 penalty minutes. He has now played 865 career games in the NHL and continues on with his NHL career with the team that he started it with in Nashville.

Cheers to the Nashville Predators and Vern Fiddler for providing me the time to hear from our ol’ Milwaukee Admirals player all grown up! Coming up today will be practice at the Bridgestone Arena at 12 PM CST. Hoping to round off what will be the last day of “Catching Up” interviews as the weekend slate for the Predators will be game action only.

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

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Catching Up with Jeremy Smith

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

(Photo Credit: Scott Paulus)

Whenever you bring up the name Jeremy Smith around the hockey circles one of the first things that usually comes up is what a great person he is. It’s stories such as his that are why I greatly enjoyed covering the game from the AHL level because Smith’s path to making his NHL debut this season is one that went clean through the ladder in order to achieve it.

Smith was drafted in the second round of the 2007 NHL Draft by the Nashville Predators. In his first professional playing season, 2009-10, he would spend a massive majority of it as a member of the Cincinnati Cyclones in the ECHL. That season ended with him and his Cyclones teammates lifting the Kelly Cup. It was the second time in team history that the Cyclones won the Kelly Cup.

Following the ECHL run Smith’s attention turned to duties with the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL. He played 128 career games with the Admirals before moving towards a journey that have him bounce around a bit over these last four seasons: Springfield Falcons, Providence Bruins, Iowa Wild on loan, back to the Providence Bruins, and then the San Antonio Rampage.

At the age of 27-years old, after a career mainly spent on the AHL map, Smith finally had his opportunity to play in the NHL as a member of the Colorado Avalanche on Valentine’s Day this year. He made 37-saves in a losing effort on the road against the New Jersey Devils – but was a standout player on the night. More than anything, it was the hopeful beginning of a new path and the one that Smith has worked so hard for so long to finally be on.

Cheers to the Nashville Predators for letting me swing in for practice and a big thanks to the Colorado Avalanche and Jeremy Smith for providing me the time to hear from our ol’ Milwaukee Admirals player all grown up! Coming up next we’ll hear from Vern Fiddler and Harry Zolnierczyk.

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

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Catching Up with Pekka Rinne

(Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch)

(Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch)

There almost isn’t a need for an introduction for this one. Pekka Rinne was named the top Admiral of All-Time during the Milwaukee Admirals 35th Anniversary season and with good reason. He was phenomenal from the day he arrived from Finland.

The 2005-06 season was Rinne’s debut to the North American pro game. He did well enough to get a cup of coffee in the NHL and then was the backbone of an Admirals team that made it to the AHL Calder Cup Finals against the Hershey Bears. He would spend a further two seasons in the AHL as the go-to option in net for the Admirals before becoming a staple for the Nashville Predators.

The photo used for this story came from his conditioning assignment with the Admirals during the 2013-14 season. Rinne was back in Milwaukee for two games, won on both occasions, and proceeded to giveback to the fans who introduced him to North America. My biggest takeaway from that small stint was seeing Rinne give a child his goaltending stick after being announced as the game’s second star. He knew it was his last time out in Milwaukee and made a kid’s day without giving a second thought about it. So, when ushering in a new goaltender such as Juuse Saros, it isn’t surprising to see him look after him with much the same care with the exact same instinct of, “why not?”

Cheers to the Nashville Predators and Pekka Rinne for providing me the time to hear from our ol’ Milwaukee Admirals player all grown up! Coming up next we’ll hear from Jeremy Smith, Vern Fiddler, and Harry Zolnierczyk.

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

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Catching Up with Viktor Arvidsson

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

Perhaps the only people who aren’t surprised by what Viktor Arvidsson is doing right now in the NHL are people he played alongside or fans who watched him play as a member of the Milwaukee Admirals. In his 87 career games in the AHL he produced 73 points (30 goals, 43 assists). He might not be the biggest player on the ice but it will never stop him from going to the most damaging areas of the ice needed to be a threat.

By now it feels that Arvidsson is a very well documented player. It still seems surreal that the 5’9″ forward from Kusmark, Sweden -for all that he does- went undrafted twice. It wasn’t until his final season with Skellefteå AIK when he made too big of a statement that the NHL had to take notice. He scored 40 points (16 goals, 24 assists) in 50 games during the 2013-14 season that ended in his Skellefteå team successfully defending the SHL Championship they had won the season prior.

When Arvidsson finally found an NHL destination it was with the Nashville Predators who selected him with the 112th overall selection in the fourth round of the 2014 NHL Draft. He was selected in a class that includes: Kevin Fiala, Vladislav Kamenev, Jack Dougherty, and Justin Kirkland. Arvidsson would be the first of that group to make the splash into the AHL ranks and he did it in a big way.

While the 2014-15 season may go down as “that one season where the Admirals missed the playoffs for the first time in twelve seasons” it did offer early flashes for several players that now play their trade in Nashville. Arvidsson is on the top of that list. In his first North American pro playing season he was the leading scorer for the Admirals with 55 points (22 goals, 33 assists) in 70 games. He also did so well that he earned the opportunity to play 6 games in the NHL during that debut season.

In the time after Arvidsson’s one solid season playing in Milwaukee he has grown from NHL regular to someone that the Predators just can’t wait to put back on the ice. What impresses me the most with Arvidsson is that -when you watch him play now versus his time spent in Milwaukee- you see the exact same player. Arvidsson is the most relentless player that I have ever watched, period. He never stops working. And that attitude that people see during a game is performed in the exact same fashion away from the rink. He only wants to keep pushing himself to be the best that he can be.

Cheers to the Nashville Predators and Viktor Arvidsson for providing me the time to hear from our ol’ Milwaukee Admirals player all grown up! Today is a scheduled off-day for the Predators so there won’t be anything gather today. Hopefully Thursday will provide some more.

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

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Catching Up with Colton Sissons

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

(Photo Credit: Stephanie Moebius)

It didn’t take long for Colton Sissons to ascend to where he is today. Even when you view the step-by-step path that he had in his 176 game career with the Milwaukee Admirals in the AHL it wasn’t that surprising to see he had the qualities to make him a success for the Nashville Predators.

Sissons was part of a 2010 NHL Draft Class by the Predators that saw him selected in the second round behind Pontus Åberg. Sissons would get a year leap on the Swede by playing pro hockey with the Admirals but the two would face-off against one another in the 2014 AHL All-Star Classic that pitted Sissons on the AHL All-Stars against Åberg as a member of Färjestad BK. Sissons’ side would win 7-2 that night.

The following season Sissons at the age of 20 was voted by the Admirals locker room to be an alternate captain. The very next season he would be voted by the Admirals locker room to be the team captain. His leadership qualities were made that apparent by how mature he was from the moment he arrived after a junior playing career with the Kelowna Rockets.

As the 2016-17 season goes by it does so as the first season of Sissons professional playing career that he has not spent time in Milwaukee. That doesn’t detract from the way the Predators organization can make players in Sissons’ position feel comfortable. All he has to do is simply look around and he will find countless players he has directly played with at the AHL level as a member of the Admirals.

Cheers to the Nashville Predators and Colton Sissons for providing me the time to hear from our ol’ Milwaukee Admirals player all grown up! Expect plenty of these this week and feel free to leave suggestions in the comment section below. 

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

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Catching Up with Austin Watson

(Photo Credit: Darren Abate // San Antonio Rampage)

(Photo Credit: Darren Abate // San Antonio Rampage)

This week I am on the road in Nashville, Tennessee as the Milwaukee Admirals actually have a nice gap in the schedule in which I can travel down and take in Nashville Predators hockey. Having the chance to watch the process from the AHL for so long this is a great way to catch up with former Admirals who have accomplished their pursuit of playing in the NHL.

I start with someone I’ve known since my tenure around the Admirals started, Austin Watson. For many they see his 2016-17 season as a resurgence despite having started the campaign off being place on waivers, clearing waivers, and playing for the Admirals. He was brought up by the Predators when they suffered a bout of food poisoning. He’s not been in the AHL since.

Watson was the eighteenth overall selection by the Predators in the 2010 NHL Draft. He played 232 games in the AHL with the Admirals prior to finally getting on the big run topside with the team that drafted him over six-years ago. His NHL career now spans 117 career games and that will continue as takes further steps forward.

Watson’s time a season ago for the Predators doesn’t quite feel anywhere close to what he has found in himself this season. His skating has improved and the physical elements he has added to his game makes him every bit the power-forward that the Predators hoped for. All that is left to start manifesting even more is his track record of goal scoring that he displayed so well in Milwaukee where he produced three consecutive 20-goal seasons.

Cheers to the Nashville Predators and Austin Watson for providing me the time to hear from our ol’ Milwaukee Admirals player all grown up! Expect plenty of these this week.

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

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Daniel Lavender Heading to Nashville

(Photo Credit: Daniel Lavender)

(Photo Credit: Daniel Lavender)

The Nashville Predators have officially recalled Daniel Lavender from the Milwaukee Admirals. Lavender is expected to be in attendance Tuesday night when the Predators play at the Bridgestone Arena at 7:00 PM CST against the Calgary Flames. The duration of his recall is expected to last one-week (seven consecutive days).

This is the first career NHL recall for Lavender who joined the Admirals in the 2012-13 season after finishing his collegiate career at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside. He has covered 356 career AHL games as well as 10 games in the AHL Calder Cup Playoffs.

With the Lavender recall coming it is likely that he will cover the upcoming Admirals road games against the Grand Rapids Griffins from the comforts of Nashville. The expected return date from Nashville will have him back in Milwaukee in time for the road slate against the Charlotte Checkers next Tuesday and Wednesday.

All jokes aside, I will be driving down to Nashville today and will be down through the weekend. I’ll be attending all practices and Nashville Predators home games during that time and should be providing guest host duties Wednesday night for Penalty Box Radio at 8:00 PM CST on 102.5 The Game ESPN Nashville. I will be conducting interviews with recent and former Milwaukee Admirals players. So, expect plenty of soundbites. If you want to catch up or meet during the week I am down all you need to do is give a shout. I’ll be around.

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

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Chatterbox, Vol. 182

(Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch)

(Photo Credit: Jeff Hanisch)

It may have been best for me to really wait and process yesterday’s 5-4 overtime win for the Milwaukee Admirals over the Charlotte Checkers. That was one of those games where there was probably more bad than good but -hey- the Admirals somehow, someway won again. The term resiliency has been used ad nauseum when describing the Admirals this season but with great reason. The Admirals are more resilient than tardigrades.

When looking at the bad there is plenty to talk up. Let’s start with the running theme of losing the game’s opening face-off and proceeding to concede a goal in the game’s first shift. It’s a scenario which I would now like to describe as the Félix Girard effect.

It started with Girard’s return to Milwaukee on Wednesday night: he wins the face-off, the San Antonio Rampage run roughshod in attack, and Girard scores. Friday night the Checkers win the opening face-off, dominate the attacking zone, and Valentin Zykov scores. Yesterday the Checkers win the opening face-off, get the puck deep in attack, and Lucas Wallmark scores. Wednesday night: 0:57 of ice-time. Friday night: 1:21 of ice-time. Sunday evening: 0:19 of ice-time.

It’s unacceptable and it’s shocking that it could happen twice in a row much less all three-games of the homestand when the team’s task was to make playing in the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena a place of pride and something opponents would dread having to go to. They couldn’t have delivered a more wrong message in all three-games this past week in the way they started. It was bizarre.

Then there were several other goals against yesterday that didn’t make much sense in the defensive aspects for the Admirals. There were two goals scored by the Checkers in which a player was left directly camped in front of Marek Mazanec all alone for either a direct pass or a rebound. Again, it is an unacceptable and self-inflicted issue.

What stands out from every game of the homestand was that resiliency element to the Admirals. It was pretty straight forward Wednesday against the Rampage. They made the opening shift mistake but quickly accounted for it and made a statement as the game pushed forward. In the weekend games against the Checkers there were multiple occasions in which the Admirals trailed by multiple goals. Each time they fought back. And each time they fought back, equalized, and won the game.

Consistency has been lacking for a long time now. While the consistency of the last three-games may have some odd ups-and-downs there is semblance of good things to come with the Admirals willingness to battle, fighting back, and earning the positive results late. The true tough times are ahead of the Admirals and they need to start leveling out their mistakes and getting on the form that they can compete at late in games for a full sixty-minutes.

It shouldn’t be a fun thing to say “we’re losing 3-1, we’ve got them right where we want them” as was the case Friday and Sunday. If the resiliency of the Admirals can simply lend itself to a direct and simplified approach in the opening period it would be great seeing the team act from the front rather than be the ones chasing. It worked this week. It shouldn’t really be an expected way to haul in points.

A dash of good news for the Admirals is that the week ahead for them now is a bit more relaxed than it has recently. The team does not play again until Friday and Saturday this week but they will be doing it on the road against the Central Division leading Grand Rapids Griffins. The Van Andel Arena hasn’t been kind to the Admirals. The Griffins have been playing lights-out lately. The week ahead should give the Admirals rest and serious look at themselves and the opponent they want to knock-off the top step. The resiliency of a tardigrade is good. Never needing it in the first place is the next step.

After last night’s game I spoke with Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason as well as Frédérick Gaudreau, Derek Army, and Andrew O’Brien. I was lucky to get to do the interviews alongside Rick Braun of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel who enjoyed his first Admirals game at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena since covering a game back in October of 1986. I could have heard Rick’s stories all night. It was great. Here were the interviews the two of us had.

Comments on the comments? Where do you stand with the Milwaukee Admirals 2016-17 season at the moment: is this team capable of great things or are they going to keep on stumbling around? If the Admirals go into Grand Rapids this coming weekend and knock off the Griffins twice would that be the sort of boost that the team needs to get on a truly big push?

Be sure to keep updated with Admirals Roundtable through social media platform of your choice: follow along Twitter, like us on Facebook, get photo updates on Instagram, and listen along on SoundCloud.

Posted in Chatterbox | Leave a comment