Even if I didn’t take a nice long drive back home from Rockford I think last night’s game was the sort I’d need to really wait on, think about, and process before discussing it at length. Well, I have. And I’m still left really saying: wow, that was a weird game.
The Milwaukee Admirals did earn the 4-3 overtime win on the road over the Rockford IceHogs. As a result alone: good. For everything else I’m left with this constant sentiment of -dang- do they make games like that far harder on themselves than it has any right to be.
The Admirals had a rather nice start to the game but from the very first power-play they allow, on a weird call, they concede a goal and were then pressed on their heels. It isn’t to say they were awful in the process or made seriously glaring errors – those came later – but they had such a hard time being allowed to settle down and dictate the play. It feels very much, in an MMA or Boxing sense, that the Admirals are counter punch strikers who keep waiting for an opening to present itself rather than step forward and make it themselves. That element creeps in a lot but there was one man last night on a mission to break that mold. He is Admirals captain, Trevor Smith.
In last night’s game Smith really took over in ways that forced you pay attention. His face-off work was excellent but his penalty killing exceeded killing the penalty itself and often times he was generating scoring chances that were better than most that the Admirals were getting at even strength or on their power-play. Smith’s hustle to create the Admirals shorthanded goal last night was a massive moment in that game. Vinnie Hinostroza had just scored shy of two-minutes earlier and the IceHogs were sitting on a power-play looking for a two-goal lead. Smith gets his face-off assignment dealt with. He battles with pace up ice to generate an odd-man rush with Justin Florek. And the two never stopped digging until that puck got behind Jeff Glass. That leveled the game at 2-2. And cleaned the game’s slate.
Defensively, both teams had their good and bad moments but by the end of the second period it is a 2-2 game with shots on goal sitting at 28-25 IceHogs. It was such an incredibly scrappy game with both frankly throwing junk at the net and hoping for rebounds or second and third chance opportunities. The Admirals at times were getting out-muscled around their zone and were getting pucks lost in neutral ice in a jungle of sticks. It took some rather special moments or special circumstances to get breakthroughs last night.
It was a very pleasant sight to have Matt White back in the Admirals lineup last night. The 27-year old forward missed the last two-games after suffering a loss in the family. While it always takes a quick adjustment to get back up to game speed it took White just over ten minutes to generate a primary assist on an odd-man rush with Pontus Åberg and out of the third period his snapped a slick shot off of a toe-drag to get the Admirals ahead for the first time in the contest. Some stability felt like it was back with him around again. He operates across the board for the Admirals on special teams and can often times go unnoticed for all the small details he gets spot on.
Now, about that Åberg kid. If you were to go back and watch last night’s game – start it with two minutes remaining in the third period and you will get the full showcase for what I felt summed up that game. Åberg goes the distance on an empty net bid rather than win neutral ice, get the puck deep, or get a better chance for the net without the threat of icing. He then blows his defensive assignment, Hinostroza, on the very next face-off which would turn into the game-tying goal for the IceHogs. And, for a laugh, he was on the ice in three-on-three overtime for what felt like ages before alerting Marek Mazanec that the IceHogs were in a line change and to hit him for a quick pass up ice. Åberg was supposed to change. And he didn’t. And then Mike Ribeiro lays a picture perfect drop pass for him to get a shot down the slot before following in on Glass to snag his own rebound for the game-winning goal. It all went horribly wrong for Åberg at the end -but- he made up for it by doing what he is doing so well right now: score. Åberg has produced 20 points (13 goals, 7 assists) in his last 20 games.
The test ahead for the Admirals is a big one. This coming weekend is a three-in-three featuring a travel schedule that goes Milwaukee to Iowa to Milwaukee with the last game on the slate being the Grand Rapids Griffins. The Iowa Wild have been very good this season, as well, and that only makes two games in two nights against that squad all the more physically and mentally exhausting. It is a big challenge that is standing in front of the Admirals. They could make a huge statement if they work a weekend sweep.
After last night’s game I caught up with Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason. I also had the chance to speak with Åberg, Florek, and White. Here were their post-game comments.
Comments on the comments? Are these last two games for the Milwaukee Admirals clunkers that can be thrown away or are they “just those kind of games” in retrospect? What are you expecting of this upcoming three-in-three?
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