The last time that the Milwaukee Admirals and Grand Rapids Griffins played I called my shot and said that the Griffins would win 6-2. I wasn’t going to go that far this time around but I had a gut feeling for awhile, looking at the schedule, that the Admirals were set up for disaster with the Griffins at the end of a three-in-three weekend. Never before has my gut instinct been so immensely wrong. And I couldn’t be more thrilled.
While the scoreline itself is great what stands out the most to me in the Admirals 6-3 win over the Griffins was their all-around performance. The opening minutes to that contest were very Griffins heavy with attacking pressure and an early goal but it didn’t take the Admirals too long to find a foothold and start driving right back.
It may have been a weird goal to watch happen but when Pontus Åberg flipped a puck up from his zone to catch Matt White as he skated across the attacking blueline – that’s when the Admirals started to really clamp down. White scores off the breakaway and makes it a 1-1 game. And that set the stage for a second period that was, for the lack of a better term, bonkers.
Martin Frk did score a really weird goal just over a minute into the second period. His shot just managed to find a gap in Marek Mazanec‘s left arm as he was holding to the near post and it trickled in. That was then followed by the gaffe of all gaffes by Mazanec’s counterpart last night Eddie Pasquale. He skated behind the net, appeared to suddenly not know where he wanted to play the puck, realized he had no more time to make a decision on which side to play it, backhanded it, and he banked it off the boards right to Vladislav Kamenev for what would be effectively an empty netter for the Russian.
It’s around this point, only at a 2-2 game, when you start seeing a team as high quality as the Griffins being the one who looked out of their depth and lost in their own head. That mistake by Pasquale was a microcosm of the Griffins in a lot of ways. He didn’t have the time and space he thought he did when he got there, lost it, and paid the consequence.
What followed next was something that legitimately had me in shock as I sat back and watched the game unfold. Were the Admirals capable of winning last night’s game? Sure, everyone always has a chance. The Griffins are a beatable team and the Admirals have beaten them in the past. Yet, what the Admirals did to a team as good as the Griffins in that second period was memorizing to watch. Yes, Frk scored 1:10 into the second period but that was just a single shot and one of only four shots on goal that the Griffins would have in the period. The Admirals outshot the Griffins 16-4 in the second period. The Admirals scored four goals in the second period against a goaltender in Pasquale who had recorded consecutive shutouts against them entering the start. It was as authoritative and dominant as the Admirals have played all season – structured, balanced, smart, aggressive, and also without the need for a single penalty kill.
I would have said that the Admirals went through two periods of hockey without taking a penalty -but- they did. But damn was it worth it when they did.
Watching from afar I can safely say that the Griffins are a team that love to talk. There are several players on that team that embrace the agitator game and just aren’t willing to back it up with a fight. The Admirals are now sixth in the AHL with 34 fighting majors. The Griffins are dead last in the AHL with 13 fighting majors. The Griffins talk the talk but are never willing to walk the walk.
I have to imagine that when Matt Lorito challenged Anthony Richard he did so mostly because he is the little guy, the kid, and the youngest player on the ice. I can’t imagine he ever in his wildest dreams saw Richard doing what he did next with those three viscous right hands that landed flush to drop him. I certainly didn’t! The reaction from the Admirals bench was incredible – it erupted. If the Admirals needed the extra energy for the rest of the night that fight, followed by the late second period power-play goal from Åberg, did just that.
What comes next is the important thing for the Admirals: sustaining an effort such as that. It’s been awhile since the Admirals have been on a proper run of form. This season for the longest time has felt like it has been on a “win one, lose one, repeat” cycle. The importance of the growing pains lately for the Admirals was to mature into a “defense-first” style and to make home ice at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena a place of dominance and to make visiting teams feel uneasy having to walk into the building. There have been some hiccups over the past two months in getting that all smoothed out but last night, and Friday night against the Iowa Wild for the matter, are among the finest examples of that working successfully. If it becomes the norm it is coming at the perfect time of the season for the Admirals to find an identity and get hot. It’s playoff season. And playoff style hockey is starting to come out in the way the Admirals play.
After last night’s game I had the chance to speak with Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason. I then caught up with Mr. Gordie Howe Hat Trick himself, Richard, as well as Jack Dougherty and Adam Payerl. These were last night’s post-game comments.
Comments on the comments? Was a performance such as last night a sign of things to come from the Milwaukee Admirals or a flash in the pan? Will they be able to sustain that sort of effort on the road on Thursday and Friday against the Manitoba Moose? How does that game set the stage for the rematch against the Grand Rapids Griffins on Sunday?
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