Welcome back, Milwaukee. The long off-season done. The pre-season camps are all over. It is the start of the regular season. The Milwaukee Admirals open up the 2015-16 calendar with a road game tonight against the Chicago Wolves. Let’s check in on what’s new with the Amtrak Rivals to set the stage for tonight’s season opener.
~Recapping the Wolves~
Last season the Wolves finished the regular season with a record of 40-29-6-1 (87 points). They were third in the Midwest Division behind the Grand Rapids Griffins and Rockford IceHogs and were 6 points clear of the Admirals.
There is no escaping how painful last season was for the Admirals and the Amtrak Rivalry really reflects that. The Wolves went 8-2-2-0 head-to-head with the Admirals and outscored them 42-30 (sans shootout). This hasn’t been the kindest of series in general for the Admirals. The last five seasons the Wolves lead the Amtrak Rivalry with an overall record of 30-18-4-6.
The Wolves bowed out of the playoffs in the dreaded eight seed versus first seed match up against the Utica Comets but went down swinging hard. The best of five series went the distance with three of the five games needing overtime – including game four in which the Wolves won to force game five. It might have been a tough exit to lose the very next night -but- the Wolves pushed the Comets big time before Utica would go all the way to represent the Western Conference in the 2015 Calder Cup Finals.
~Who What Now?~
Who returns from that tough 2014-15 Wolves roster then? Plenty of highly skilled and successful players: Jordan Binnington, Ty Rattie, Magnus Pääjärvi, Pat Cannone, Yannick Veilleux, Jeremy Welsh, Cody Beach, and Petteri Lindbohm. There are of course several new names and -of them- I look immediately at proven veteran experience that will be stationed on the Wolves defense: Peter Harrold and André Benoît. Who could be some of the younger names that step up big for the Wolves this season? Pheonix Copley, Ivan Barbashyov, Thomas Vannelli, and Jordan Schmaltz all come to mind. Plus, additions such as Zach O’Brien and Danny Kristo, both of whom had strong seasons in the AHL last year, will strengthen the scoring attack at forward.
The biggest name to me on the Wolves roster is Binnington. The 22-year old goaltender is a stud and he proved as much in his first full-season at the AHL level last season. In 45 appearances in 2014-15 he had a record of 25-15-4-1, 3 shutouts, 2.35 goals against average, and a 0.916 save percentage. If the added year under his belt isn’t enough to make him better than the competition in net he’ll face from Copley should be. Copley was part of the package back to the Blues in the T.J. Oshie to the Washington Capitals trade. Copley made his AHL debut last season with the Hershey Bears and was just as -if not better- than Binnington: 26 appearances, 17-4-3-1 record, 3 shutouts, 2.17 goals against average, and a 0.925 save percentage. If these two push each other to a higher level it means bad things for all who face the Wolves this season.
When it comes to the forward to watch out for tonight you’re safe bet might be Rattie. Why not? He has 90 points (52 goals, 38 assists) in 131 games for the Wolves. That’s your safe bet. The smarter bet would be Welsh. He terrorized the Admirals last season with the most points produced by anyone in the match-up by a comfortable margin, 13 points (8 goals, 5 assists) in 11 games. What’s scarier than that might actually be that of those 8 goals that Welsh scored against the Admirals last season is that 3 goals were scored shorthanded. Heck, basically one-fourth of his points production in 75 AHL games last season came from his work against the Admirals. He’s the sneaky threat to watch out for tonight just as he was all of last season.
~Yesterday’s AHL Scoreboard~
Expectations for tonight’s regular season opener? Is it important for the Admirals to get off to a fast start this season like last? What do you think will be the key to the Admirals having success against the Wolves this season?