Welcome back, hockey season. We all missed you dearly. I know that tonight is only an exhibition game but there should be plenty of talent on display for the Milwaukee Admirals and Rockford IceHogs when the two take the ice tonight at the MSOE Kern Center. Everyone is still competing for those final roster spots and coaching staffs are also looking into line combinations that have great chemistry. The result of the exhibition game might not mean much as far as a win or loss goes. But who performs well and doesn’t can have big implications before the regular season begins.
We’ve talked plenty of the Admirals since their training camp started this week so let’s shift to the divisional rival that enters tonight. Right off the bat there are a few familiar names on the roster: Mike Liambas, Kirill Gotovets, Mark Visentin, Jeremy Morin, Mark McNeill, Daniel Paille, and Jake Dowell.
Liambas hardly needs to explained. Anyone that gets endeared by an organization and fan base to the point a bobblehead gets made actually says a lot from an AHL team. His time with the Admirals was tremendous in terms of his development away from out-and-out enforcer to a solid checking forward that can play smart on the ice. He went from playing defenseman in juniors to left wing when he joined the Admirals and his work on the wing will continue as he shifts into the next chapter in his career as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks organization this season.
Remember Gotovets? Of course you do! How can you not? He made his professional playing debut with the Admirals back at the end of the 2013-14 season. The 24-year old defenseman from Belarus spent the majority of last season with the Indy Fuel in the ECHL but did make it up to play 12 games for the IceHogs and now looks set for an extended run in the AHL.
If you’re familiar with Admirals goaltending you probably know the name Ben Vanderklok. He was an assistant goaltending coach who went on to succeed Mitch Korn as the goaltending coach of the Nashville Predators. Why is all that important information? Visentin. The 23-year old played in net for the Niagara IceDogs in junior hockey while Vanderklok was his goaltending coach. He was a prized student of his, had a great junior playing career, and worked his way into an NHL debut two season ago. Unfortunately for him, he suffered an ankle injury that required surgery which sidelined him for all of last season. The Arizona Coyotes opted not to submit a qualifying offer on him which made him a free agent this summer. He lands in the Blackhawks organization where goaltending success stories are starting to build up. Visentin has the potential to be the next one. How does he look and perform after missing a season due to injury? That’ll be a story to watch this season.
With Morin and McNeill you get two very “oh, them again” IceHogs. Morin is the organization’s all-time leading goal scorer and a man who I wonder if he will ever get a long run in the NHL. McNeill, on the other hand, would just like a game or two at the NHL level. This will be his third full professional playing season and the past two campaigns, all with the IceHogs, have equated to 81 points (41 goals, 40 assists) in 139 games. These are two key scorers who will be looking to do even more damage in an effort to push for an NHL call up.
Paille and Dowell are the real solid veteran skaters that the IceHogs will have this season. Paille was a Stanley Cup winner with the 2010-11 Boston Bruins and was signed to a PTO contract with the IceHogs this week. Dowell’s solid pro career continues with his second stint with the IceHogs. He was a fifth round draft pick of the Blackhawks in 2004 as a product of the Wisconsin Badgers. He is a solid locker room and on-ice leader who is coming off of a season with the Hamilton Bulldogs that saw him play every single game.
~Already Warmed Up~
Tonight might be the first exhibition game for the Admirals but they’ll be facing a team in the IceHogs who played last night. The IceHogs lost 2-2 in a shootout to the Chicago Wolves – a team that the Admirals get to play in their second exhibition game, a road game, on Saturday night.
In last night’s contest the IceHogs managed to claw out of a 2-0 deficit in the third period to force overtime and eventually a shootout. Casey Thrush scored a rebounder to get Rockford on the board and then Morin picked up the equalizer. The goaltending duel was Jordan Binnington for the Wolves against Visentin and it was the man in net for the Wolves that won this one: 35 saves and 2/4 in the shootout.
~Big Mouth Billy Bass Reference Here~
Lost in the news shuffle yesterday afternoon was that the Admirals now have Cody Bass. The former IceHogs forward cleared waivers yesterday from the Predators to reach the Admirals and should provide that little bit of balance in regards to Liambas crossing the divide to the visiting bench.
What are your expectations for tonight’s exhibition game? Should the Admirals start Brandon Whitney for tonight’s game or should Juuse Saros attempt to start and play all of tonight and tomorrow’s game in preparation for the regular season?