The Milwaukee Admirals first taste of the new Californian based teams will come tonight in the form of the San Diego Gulls. Drink it in, it always goes down smooth. Yes, the urge to use Anchorman quotes in this post and during my Twitter play-by-play today is going to be right up there with my wrasslin’ shenanigans during the Milwaukee Admirals Salute to Wrestling Night. Let’s dodge that for now and get right into the enemy because there is lots to learn about.
The San Diego Gulls were announced as part of the AHL’s Pacific Division back in January as the Anaheim Ducks AHL affiliate. This put an end to there being two teams named the Admirals in the AHL. The Ducks affiliation change meant the Norfolk Admirals transitioning from being the Ducks AHL affiliate to becoming the Edmonton Oilers ECHL affiliate.
That is simply sad days for Norfolk to say the least. It was an organization that entered the AHL as an expansion franchise in the 2000-01 season as the affiliate to the Chicago Blackhawks. That partnership would last until 2007 when the Tampa Bay Lighting moved into Norfolk’s AHL setup and that is where they would find Calder Cup winning success in 2011-12 under the guidance of current Lightning head coach Jon Cooper. The Ducks would step in the following season and leave Norfolk in the dust to head out Californee-way. The last season of AHL hockey for the Norfolk Admirals ended with a 27-39-6-4 (64 points) record which was tied for the worst in the Eastern Conference.
~Here and Now~
This season appears to be much improved for the Gulls. They’ve played 15 games this season and are already one-third of the way to their win total from all of last season. Their record is 9-5-0-1 (19 points). Their 0.633 points percentage has them in third place of the Pacific Division and seventh in the Western Conference.
While the wins are up there in relation to last season they’re last win came five games ago. Not only that but look at the scoreline of their last win and their game held last night: 11/11/15, San Diego wins 6-1 at home to the Bakersfield Condors… 11/20/15, San Diego loses 7-4 on the road against the Grand Rapids Griffins. Their currently in a slight bit of a skid. This should mean a team looking to play aggressive and desperate. I think last night’s Milwaukee Admirals performance on defense should meet that challenge head-on and lead to a grind it out contest.
~Big Joe From Antigo~
It would be great to see Wisconsin native and last season’s Admirals captain Joe Piskula back on the ice at the BMO Harris Bradley Center. Lone problem is that he has missed the last three-games for the Gulls. That’s a shame because he was officially named team captain of the Gulls just days prior to him exiting the lineup.
I don’t see specific news in regards to Piskula’s absence from the lineup but, knowing him, it takes a lot to put him out of game action. It would also be odd for the veteran minimum to be the cause of the team sitting their newly christened captain. My guess is injury and, if that’s the case, it could be that he didn’t even travel with the Gulls during this three-game road trip and two-game swing around Lake Michigan. Saying without fully knowing: I don’t think we’ll see Mr. Antigo tonight so just keep your expectations in check.
~Other Familiar Names In Attendance~
There will be two former Admirals that should take part in tonight’s game: Chris Mueller and Brian McGrattan. Heck, even for Nashville readers you might recognize the name Shane O’Brien on this Gulls roster. Ditto to fans of Badgers fans when seeing the name Nicolas Kerdiles.
The standout of those aforementioned names is easily Mueller who continues to perform well offensively at the AHL level. This season he has scored 13 points (3 goals, 10 assists) in 15 games. He’ll be returning to Milwaukee tonight looking to set a milestone for himself as he is one-point away from reaching 300 career points in the AHL: 299 points (134 goals, 165 assists) in 462 AHL games.
~The Rest of the Flock~
As evidenced by the roster you start tacking up how many veteran names there are. The average age of the San Diego Gulls is 25.08. Compare that to the Milwaukee Admirals average age of 22.86. The Gulls are the fourth oldest team in the AHL behind the Hartford Wolf Pack (25.20), Lehigh Valley Phantoms (25.19), and Iowa Wild (25.09). The Admirals rank as the second youngest team in the AHL behind the St. John’s IceCaps (22.69).
While he isn’t old he certainly should be another familiar name: Kenny Ryan. You might remember this winger as a member of the Lake Erie Monsters last season where he played 10 games against the Admirals scoring a shorthanded goal and an assist. This season with the Gulls he has only registered 2 assists in 10 games while also getting ECHL time with the Utah Grizzlies.
~Between the Pipes~
The main man for the Gulls in net is John Gibson. You might remember hearing that name back during the 2012-13 season as he looked to be a bright star for the Ducks late in the season. He earned an 18-save shutout in his NHL Debut and would end up playing a part in the Ducks playoff run that season. The follow-up last season saw him splitting time between the NHL and AHL. Now he’s planted firmly in the AHL having already surpassed the amount of games he played at this level a season ago last night. Gibson has played 12 games, sports a record of 7-3-1-1, 2.68 goals against average, 0.914 save percentage, and has a shutout for the Gulls this season.
Gibson did play in the Gulls lost in Grand Rapids last night. He allowed 7 goals from 40 shots. So, should the Gulls feel a goaltending swap is needed for the night, Matt Hackett is their second choice in net. He has only played 4 games this season and split the deck by winning and losing 2 games. Of note, one of those wins came in a relief appearance of Gibson at the start of this month. Hackett sports a 3.00 goals against average and 0.897 save percentage for the Gulls.
Expectations for tonight’s game? Can the Admirals winning-streak hit nine games? What do you do in regards to the Admirals choice for goaltender at this point: does Saros get back in or do you reward Mazanec for his efforts last night?