After a successful Opening Weekend in Iowa the Milwaukee Admirals returned to formal practice this morning at the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena. Last night, Admirals season ticket holders had the chance to catch a 4-v-4 and 3-v-3 scrimmage between Team Drulia and Team Ford. That ended at a 7-3 final for Drulia’s group in the quite light and entertaining team scrimmage.
You will immediately notice two absentees: Cody Bass and Trevor Smith. The Admirals captain Smith was withheld from the second game of the season due to an upper-body injury. It isn’t believed to be serious. And I want to believe, purely speculation on my part, that the same can be said of Bass regarding today’s practice. Bass is showing the battle scars of his scrap with Ryan Malone over the weekend – notably his right eye – but was rinkside today and in good spirits. …that guy is a warrior.
The lines were therefore a lot like the Admirals second game in Iowa. The lone tweak being that Stephen Perfetto joined Yakov Trenin and Pierre-Cédric Labrie on the fourth line. That could all still change depending upon Bass and Smith getting match fit come Sunday in Rockford – which is still a ways away.
To reflect back on the opening weekend games for the Admirals: it was a positive start. There were contributions from a wide range of players. It speaks to the depth and quality within this year’s group that they can roll out anyone and be impactful.
What did stand out from both games was the penalty kill. Yes, it’s sort of a dubious honor to highlight having a great overworked penalty kill. They had to work shorthanded 12 times. But they were a perfect 12/12 on the weekend. Not only that but they managed to score a shorthanded goal in the process – and what a goal it was. The confidence in that department is good and it should be. The goaltending at the core of it with Anders Lindbäck was very composed. He wasn’t scrambling or doing anything rash around the net. It all came together and the penalty killing helped keep the Admirals ahead of the Iowa Wild.
Individually, there were some real nice sights to see. I mentioned the shorthanded goal. And the great run for both Emil Pettersson and Tyler Kelleher continued into the regular season. Pettersson doesn’t seem to be thrown by the switch from the European pro game to how the game is played in North America. He’s quick, smart, makes intelligent passes, and has the skills to score on his own. The shorthanded goal of his, using Harry Zolnierczyk to drive down the slot – read the defensive posture of Ryan Murphy – toe drag him – and snap a shot past Niklas Svedberg, was genius. The same could well be said of Kelleher who scored the first goal of his professional career on Sunday. He made the defensive play, blocking a point shot by Brennan Menell, and then was off to the races for a breakaway. Kelleher has had such a strong run from Rookie Development Camp, Rookie Camp, and the Pre-Season – you couldn’t help but want that to instantly trickle into the start of the 2017-18 season. That was a flash. I’m hoping he keeps shining.
Someone else I had hopes would have a quick start was Anthony Richard. When Zolnierczyk went up for good last season it seemed like Richard became the team’s spark plug with the high energy he was bringing to the ice. That said, that output all came in the second half of the Admirals season. It took Richard 17 games with the Admirals last season before recording his first AHL goal and that was in the 2017 portion of the 2016-17 season. Needless to say, it was good seeing him score in both games in Iowa. The first goal required some quick thinking to throw the puck back at Svedberg from behind the net. The second goal required being hit by a Trevor Murphy slap shot… but he did put himself in front of the net to make that opportunity work.
Lastly, the Admirals defense is a young one but quickly has proven to be fast and skilled to work out of their own half. The anchor of that group, who was sadly missed in last season’s playoffs, is back: Jimmy Oligny. When he went down due to a significant knee injury in late-March it was a pretty good punch to the gut. He may not quite offer up the offense to the tune of his defensive partner Alex Carrier but he is such a reliable and soothing defensive presence for his speed and strength. Having Oligny back and fully fit greatly helps a young defensive group and penalty kill.
After today’s practice I caught up with Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason. I then chatted with Richard, Pettersson, Kelleher, and Oligny to hear what they thought of the opening games and much more.
It’s still early days on the season but how are we all feeling about the Milwaukee Admirals for 2017-18? Where are your expectations for the season set at this stage?
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