When the chips were down and the Milwaukee Admirals needed to luck out on three consecutive calls of all-in at the Central Division poker table – they were in trouble. The Admirals would get eliminated on Tuesday night but followed up with successive defeats to the Iowa Wild to end the 2017-18 season. The 4-2 loss yesterday meant that the Wild would leap the Admirals for fifth place in the division across the finish line. That only added one final low to a season of countless ups-and-downs.
Let’s just jump into the heart of last night’s game. It was a 1-0 Admirals lead past the midway point in the game. Anthony Richard was skating in on goal and then locked up with Matt Caito. As the puck broke away from Richard, and the two separated, Caito’s stick became lodged on Richard’s helmet and near the chin strap. There was no call for a high stick and as the puck jumped forward for the Wild Gustav Bouramman managed to score his first career AHL goal and make it a 1-1 game.
I believe you’ll hear the explanation best in the post-game interviews -but- that not getting called was beyond disbelief and straight to rage. I’m not sure how, in any way, that was not a high sticking call. It’s not a judgement call. There wasn’t a follow through on a shot. Caito was reckless on release of a forceful drive to the net by Richard and clocked him in the head with his stick to the point the stick was caught up in the helmet itself. It would be like having your stick slashed out of your hands and the officiating crew suggesting you just so happened to drop it at the time and it wasn’t a penalty. It’s absurd and officiating such as that needs to be held accountable.
That was pretty well the turning point on the game. The Admirals were in their own heads and the Wild were given a new life into the game. They charged more and more and started to get rewarded for it – ironically taking the lead on a double-minor power-play against the Admirals for high sticking.
It seemed the Admirals could make one late dash for the win. They had made it a 3-2 game but a hook against Jack Dougherty put the Wild on a power-play late in the third period. I must admit, that might have been one of the most entertaining penalty kills of the season from the Admirals. Troy Grosenick, as he was so often throughout last night’s game (he really deserved better on the night), was astonishing. On top of that the commitment by the Admirals to block shots and clear was terrific. The perhaps only issue was not getting a deep clear. And, right as Dougherty had exited the box, Alex Grant delivered his second goal of the game. It just doesn’t get more deflating than that. And the game wrapped from there.
It might be awful to say this but in a lot of ways the Admirals season ending the way it does just feels fitting. This season was rough. It was only until it was too late that the organization tried to save the Admirals from their anguish and dysfunction on-ice. It was too late. Too many mistakes in too many games cost the Admirals. Sometimes it was on the Admirals. Sometimes it was out of their control. But the Admirals up-and-down nature in 2017-18 was about the most consistent element this side of Anders Lindbäck playing solid in net.
The Admirals didn’t really deserve anything more than to be where they ended by the conclusion of the season. My hope is that more than just the young players take note of the mistakes that piled up throughout this season. The organization must be smarter and must invest more in the AHL make-up of this team. The Admirals were designed to fail from the start. They did. It might have pushed the prospects feet to the fire but did so in a sour and losing culture. There can be lessons learned from the adversity faced but that could just as easily be done if higher quality pieces are put in place to bring out the best inside the locker room. There really wasn’t internal competition this season. It was just this team. The Admirals need better and the Nashville Predators depth needs serious help if this is as good as it is right now. It should be a major warning sign. It needs to be addressed as such.
There are so many angles one could go off on when speaking about this season’s Milwaukee Admirals. I don’t think anyone of them would be unfair. It’s been good. It’s been bad. We simply saw far too much bad early in the season and it cost Milwaukee a shot at playoff hockey. The upcoming off-season is going to be a busy one. Before any shuffling can be done we have the Nashville Predators to watch. Their current success is built upon all these previous years of development. I hope to see them take those final extra steps than last year in order to fulfill what the team set out to accomplish this season. I think it can be done.
After last night’s game I spoke with a very candid Milwaukee Admirals head coach Dean Evason. I then heard from both Anthony Richard and Justin Kirkland to get their thoughts on the game and to reflect on the season itself. These were last night’s post-game comments from the UW-Milwaukee Panther Arena.
What were your thoughts on the regular season finale? What was the 2017-18 season to you? Where do the Milwaukee Admirals go from here?
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