The Milwaukee Admirals are on a four-game winning streak. How nice is that to say after the first few games felt very icky and cringe inducing to watch? The reality is that this is a young group that probably needed to get through a stretch like that in order to grow and really find its identity. When I say identity I’m also talking about that on an individual basis. This group now knows one-another very well and chemistry is starting to really form on the ice.
What impressed me the most about the Admirals 6-3 win today was their start. You might only remember the goals which sprung a 3-0 first period lead but think about those first few minutes of the game. Juuse Saros was tested in a big way from a partial breakaway, a full-on breakaway, and a racing counter attack that finished with a clean shot from the right wing. All of those came early while it was a scoreless game. If so much as one of those shots gets past Saros it could be a completely different game recap. Instead, Saros bailed out his defensemen getting caught out with turnovers on their attacking blueline and provided a platform to unload from. That’s precisely what they did after weathering a quick storm in the first period. The result was three goals scored at even strength by the likes of Pontus Åberg, Trevor Murphy, and Taylor Aronson. The Admirals ability to recover off an early lull and tilt the ice gave them a first period lead that they would never let go of.
~The Admirals Brightest Line~
I think the next bright spot is when you start to see a line that isn’t really getting changed around often. That to me is a great signal that the coaching staff sees a line paring that understands how everyone is playing, feed off each other, and are playing successfully on both ends of the ice. That one line that really doesn’t feel like it should be going anywhere for awhile features Åberg on the left wing, Vladislav Kamenev down the middle, and newly signed to a standard player contract Adam Payerl on the right wing. That line has been paired up these last two games with a combined 8 points (3 goals, 5 assists) between the three. Kamenev is such a smooth player who looks really confident and controls the puck well. Payerl can bring a slightly harder edge to the ice but actually mirrors his centerman in ability pretty closely. And I think right now this might be the best Åberg has looked in an Admirals uniform. Around this time last season, specifically dialing it to November 11th on the calendar, he had a quick start: 5 points (4 goals, 1 assist) in seven games of work. This season Åberg has 5 points (3 goals, 2 assists) in ten games. He’s producing the points while limiting the mistakes that were very prevalent in his game a season ago. That’s progress and I think his skill level is really what makes this line combination as explosive as it has been, is, and will continue to be.
~Fiala: The Lightning Rod of Lake Erie’s Hate~
I suppose now is the time to hit upon that rough stuff that took place. Yeah, the headline player involved here is Kevin Fiala but I have to believe any player that is seen running through a goaltender would incite negative attention. In fairness to Fiala, the replay that was shown of the incident in which he collided with Joonas Korpisalo appeared as if he was given the ejector seat treatment after a stiff crosscheck propelled him into the Monsters netminder. In the speed of the moment all you view of the situation is Fiala bumping into Korpisalo, Korpisalo selling like death, and a lot less thinking and a whole lot more “why I outta” happens. This seemed to then stick with Fiala like a lightning rod and, in some ways, I actually think he likes playing up to that. There is nothing wrong with having a competitive edge and playing aggressive while chirping away. I think Miikka Salomäki‘s playing style alone when he was a rookie with the Admirals got under the opposition’s skin. The problem is really all between Fiala’s ears after this situation takes place. Yes, the wrong call might have been made by him getting a charging minor instead of Lake Erie being assessed a crosscheck but don’t lose your composure to tack on yet another minor penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct after the fact. That first minor for charging? Admirals not only killed it off but Frédérick Gaudreau and Max Reinhart contributed with a fantastically worked shorthanded goal. That second part to the double minor? The one that Fiala received while losing his composure? That turned into a power-play goal for Sonny Milano. That never needed to happen.
The Fiala vortex unfortunately doesn’t end there as he picked up a game misconduct for an unsportsmanlike penalty with nineteen-seconds remaining in regulation. Still the target of the Monsters frustrations, Brett Gallant saw Fiala – measured his scope to snipe – checked Fiala in the head – and then was left to do battle with Cody Bass. This is where this storyline should be over. But it isn’t. As Fiala is being escorted away from the fracas he proceeded to flip off the entire Lake Erie Monsters bench and get himself a game misconduct for an unsportsmanlike penalty. Now, I get the built up frustrations, emotions, anger, and confusion of the matter all connecting back to the incident with Korpisalo getting hit – but there is just no reason for him to do that in any way shape or form. My best defense for him in this situation is that, for all that transpired leading up to it, he was a 19-year old kid who had no other idea how to show his anger at a team that was looking to get after him following an incident that he doesn’t think he’s responsible for. The reality is that if he skates to the bench and sits down for nineteen seconds I think the scoreboard would have spoke bigger volumes that his middle digit did. It’s now something that the AHL will be taking a closer inspection of:
Rule 23.2: A player incurring a game misconduct penalty shall incur an automatic fine of one hundred dollars ($100) and the case shall be reported to the President who shall have full power to impose such further penalties by way of suspension or fine on the penalized player, goalkeeper or any other player involved in the altercation.
Any game misconduct penalty for which a player has been assessed an automatic suspension or supplementary discipline in the form of game suspension(s) by the President shall not be taken into account when calculating the total number of offenses under this subsection.
The automatic suspensions incurred under this subsection in respect to League games shall have no effect with respect to violations during Playoff games. A member club requesting review of an automatic suspension of a player may use the services of the player during the President’s investigation of the incident. If the request for review is upheld, no
further action shall be taken against the player. If the request is denied, the player shall be suspended for the number of games that the player participated in during the President’s investigation, in addition to the number of games specified for the original suspension.
If a review is requested by a Club, it must be initiated within twenty-four (24) hours following the completion of the game in which it occurred. This does not apply to infractions addressed under Rule 28.
So, that’s fun. The biggest piece of evidence in this matter will probably come from the on-ice officials who saw the incident take place as I suspect this flipping of the Fiala bird was picked up by any cameras present at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. We’ll just have to kick back and see what transpires but I’m thinking a little heart-to-heart to Fiala from any number of people on the team, coaches or players alike, is good medicine here. Competitor? Absolutely and it makes him such a driven player. He just needs to use better judgement and learn to channel those emotions a better way than that is all.
~MAKE SOME NOISE~
Let’s get away from the bad and talk about something I thought was immensely positive: the crowd today. When I saw there were two AM games for the Admirals in this year’s schedule I wasn’t sure if there was a typo or not. How many people are really turning out of work for this on a weekday? What amount of schools would schedule field trips for a hockey game this early into a school year? Well, between Iowa last Thursday and Milwaukee today, a combined 24,475 fans watched two games of AHL hockey during the middle of the week with opening puck drop taking place at 10:30 AM. That is so unbelievably awesome to see.
What also puts a smile on my face is how many first time watchers of a hockey game there probably were in attendance this afternoon. In total, there were 11,047 students in attendance at today’s game. That has the potential to spawn plenty of, not only Milwaukee Admirals fans, but brand new hockey fans and potentially even players. I obviously wouldn’t be doing what I do if I didn’t love this sport and part of why I love it is just how exciting and non-stop the action is. Kids’ attention spans aren’t the longest in the known universe so I think a sport like hockey lends itself well to such an audience. The game itself is rather easy to pick up while you watch it. And I think by the time the game ended fans of the sport were created. That to me goes above and beyond what could have ever happened on the ice. That’s very special. And I applaud the Admirals effort and coordination to see to it that this game took place. It was a complete success and I expect this to happen once again for the 2016-17 season.
Prior to the game I actually did a pre-game interview with Milwaukee Admirals President Jon Greenberg. We discussed the school day game before it happened, the process in which it was developed, and touched upon the potential move to the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. After the dust settled on the inaugural school day game I spoke with Admirals head coach Dean Evason as well as a group of players: Payerl, Saros, Åberg, and Gaudreau. Here is what they had to say after the game:
Comments on the comments? Dare I ask for your follow up comments on what Kevin Fiala’s game and post-whistle activities were like? Do you feel as if the Admirals have finally been groomed into playing like a team as opposed to the opening few games in October?