Oberg, Evan

Looking Back on 8 Seasons That Built Greatness

It's been a day since the Norfolk Admirals hoisted the Calder Cup for the first time. The amazing thing about championships is that they're a shared milestone in the lives of, really, thousands, between the players, coaches, staff, and fans. Those journeys often contain compelling stories that make the triumph worth that journey. For Jon Cooper, it was about closing down his law practice to coach his way from Michigan high school hockey, to the USHL to working with Hockey USA, to a 2 season sprint to glory in the AHL. For Cory Conacher, it was about not being drafted and playing hockey at off-the-beaten path Canisius, dealing with diabetes, and earning an NHL contract in March of an MVP season before posting 4 assists in the championship clinching Calder Cup Finals game.

The stories of the players and the coaches are the ones we'll read about in the coming months and years, and they should be. When the Lightning made their Stanley Cup run in 2003-2004 and were playing the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals, John Tortorella refused to fire back at Ken Hithcock's remarks about "Italians from Boston," because Torts rightfully understood, "It's about the athletes." Ultimately, they're the ones who score the goals and make the saves. They sacrifice their bodies and take the stitches and they take the slings and arrows if they lose. Ultimately, it's their moment, and to a lesser extent the moments of their families who supported them in the journey up to those moments. The hockey moms and dads who woke up at 6:00 am to drive their kids to games. Scratching together money for skates and ridiculously expensive composite sticks. The wives and significant others who live with the players and coaches through the disappointments and the frustrations, and live in fear of moments when things can go wrong, like when slap shots can hit a man in the ear at 90 miles an hour, similar to what happened to Scott Jackson.

Less compelling, perhaps, is the story of an organization, but, these are stories can be worth telling, too... especially in this case. We started beta testing Bolt Prospects in 2004-2005, one year after the Lightning's Cup win, in the heart of the NHL lockout. That year was also the first year since the Detroit Vipers of the IHL folded after the 2000-2001 season that the Lightning had a full-time minor league affiliate: the Springfield Falcons. Absent a full-time affiliate, it became clear the Lightning would struggle to maintain their spot on top of the hockey mountain, because split affiliates would not give prime ice time and coaching help to another organization's players. That problem prompted the start of an 8 year process for the Lightning that ended in building what must be considered the sport's preeminent developmental apparatus with the Norfolk Admirals' Calder Cup championship and the Florida Everblades' Kelly Cup Championship.

NHL Game Night: 2-28-12 Canadiens at Lightning

Opportunistic Lightning beat Habs, flu virus.

MTL-1
TB-2

Mathieu Garon was stellar in stopping 23 of 24 for the victory.

First Period
TB Stamkos (44), (Purcell, St. Louis), 8:42
MTL Desharnais (13), (unassisted), 16:02

Second Period
TB Hall (2), (Malone, Wyman), 0:28

Third Period
NO SCORING

Garon, Adam Hall, and Eric Brewer were the game's three stars.

Granted, Montreal's abysmal right now, but with all the new pieces and the wholesale call-ups because half the team had the flu, this game could've very easily gotten out of hand the other way. Games are played on ice, not on paper, though, and the Lightning continue to tease us enough to hold our interest. The team moved to within 5 points of 8th place, which is now held by Washington as the Caps hopped Winnipeg with a win tonight. There's still a lot of head-to-head games against teams directly in front of the Lightning. Hope springs.

Trevor Smith had 1 blocked shot in 14:41.

J.T. Wyman had an assist and was +1 with 1 shot and 2 blocked shots in 16:19.

Evan Oberg had 3 shots and 1 hit in 16:44.

Mike Angelidis had 1 shot in 5:19.

Pierre-Cedric Labrie had a fight and 2 hits in 4:37.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

NHL Game Day: 2-26-12 Lightning at Devils

Still the pound for pound champ...

TB-4
NJ-3

Mathieu Garon allowed 3 goals on 22 shots in the victory. He made a few good stops at key times in the game to make sure the Lightning stayed in the game.

First Period
NJ Ponikarovsky (12), (unassisted), 12:07

Second Period
TB St. Louis (20), (Stamkos, Garon), 6:39
TB St. Louis (21), (Purcell, Stamkos)(PP), 14:55

Third Period
NJ Sykora (15), (Bernier, Zubrus), 2:28
TB Gilroy (2), (St. Louis, Purcell), 3:09
TB St. Louis (22), (Purcell, Brewer), 10:18
NJ Parise (23), (Kovalchuk, Elias)(PP), 17:25

Martin St. Louis and Ted Purcell were the game's first and second stars. For Marty, that's 9 straight 20+ goal seasons. While it's not as long a streak as Vincent Lecavalier's, a lot of the same praise applies to Marty. He played the bulk of his career in an era where mugging players was legal, and the amount of training and preparation work he had to put in to stay healthy enough to have 9 straight seasons of 20 goals is why he's arguably the most respected player in the NHL. It's especially true when you consider his size. Think of how hard he's had to work to maintain durability when he's the smallest player on the rink most nights. Truly impressive.

For Purcell, who had a slow first half, that's 18 points in his last 13 games. Will next year be the year he puts it together for a full 82 games and becomes a superstar? He was awesome in the playoffs last season and he's been awesome in the stretch run of this season, so far. If he dedicates to play a full 82 like this, he'll be an All-Star.

Today's game was indicative of the kind of style of game the Lightning have to embrace to win now that the bench has been shortened up by trades and injuries. They've got to play opportunistic, which means the goaltender's got to make saves to keep the team in the game, and the team's got to bury the chances they get when they come along, especially on the power play. That's the formula, and it's really the New Jersey formula, ironically. They're not going to run anyone over with talent. They've got to manufacture wins the hard way.

Tampa Bay crawls back to within 6 points of 8th place Winnipeg with 2 games in hand on the Jets. The Lightning really have to still be a little sick about that 4-3 loss in Winnipeg. A W there and the team would be sitting 3 points out of 8th and 4 points out of the division lead (pending the outcome of the Panthers' game). Finding ways to win those 4-point games is going to make or break the season. They can't afford to lose anymore of them.

Tim Wallace had 3 hits in 6:33.

Trevor Smith was +1 with 2 penalty minutes in 10:37.

J.T. Wyman had 1 hit in 11:49.

Evan Oberg was +1 with 1 hit in 11:25. The ramblin' man, making it happen.

Mike Angelidis had 1 shot and 2 hits in 7:29.

Pray for the rest of the AHL if the Lightning ever get healthy enough to send some of these guys back to Norfolk.

Box score and extended statistics from NHL.com.

AHL Game Night: 2-25-12 Admirals at Bears

The Admirals tie a winning streak record from the heady days of Head Coach Jim Johnson. 8 straight wins for Norfolk, even as the Lightning call up several of their players.

NOR-4
HER-3

Jaroslav Janus stopped 25 of 28 shots he faced for the victory. From the, "no way that can be right," file: Janus (pictured) is 3-0-1 against Hershey this season. Bear in mind Hershey is the second highest scoring team in the AHL behind just Norfolk. And, yet, they tremble before the might and power of Jaroslav Janus between the pipes.

First Period
NOR Barberio, (8) (Dimmen, Conacher), 2:21
NOR Ouellet, (11) (Picard, Kostka), 15:58 (PP)
HER Pope, (5) (Mink, Carman), 17:07

Second Period
HER Bourque, (25) (Eakin, Mink), 0:16 (PP)
NOR Segal, (15) (Ouellet, Picard), 1:29
HER Greentree, (4) (Potulny, Bourque), 13:19 (PP)
NOR Segal, (16) (Barberio, Panik), 16:35 (PP)

Third Period
NO SCORING

Brandon Segal and Mark Barberio were the game's first and second stars. Hershey did a good job tying the game at 2-2 and 3-3, but in the end, Segal made sure they were Marked for Death.

After assisting on Segal's game winning goal, prospect Richard Panik took a rather nasty slash to the leg by Kyle Greentree that sent him to the dressing room. Panik attacked, y'all? Expect that issue to be cleaned up Wednesday when the Ads play the Bears for the last time this season.

Defenseman Evan Oberg was a healthy scratch and may be on his way to join the Lightning after Victor Hedman's injury earlier this afternoon. One thing we know, this is a man who will not pull a Nikita Alexeev and miss his flight, if that's the case.

Tonight went as well as possible for the Admirals, as they not only opened up a 6 point lead on the Bears, but with the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins losing to Syracuse tonight, they also have moved 2 points ahead of the Penguins to claim uncontested hold of the top spot in the division. They've also tied St. John's for the most points in the Eastern Conference, although the Ice Caps hold 3 games in hand on the Admirals.

Norfolk draws the Pens at the Mohegan Sun Slot Machine Gamble-plex tomorrow, with the opportunity to open up a 4 point lead on the Pens and an 8 point lead on the idle Bears. With a name like the Mohegan Sun Slot Machine Gamble-plex, you know the Admirals will be looking for the pay window.

Box score at TheAHL.com.

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