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.
Norfolk withstands Connecticut's best shot.
Norfolk Leads the Series 2-1
Dustin Tokarski allowed 3 goals on 30 shots for the victory. The stat line is ho hum, but he gave the Admirals exactly what they needed. Under siege for much of the first half of the Second Period, Tokarski kept the game close and allowed the Admirals to get their legs underneath them and get a critical victory.
CT Wellman, (2) , 5:20 (PP)
NOR Palat, (2) , 8:01 (SH)
CT Deveaux, (2) (Hrivik, Newbury), 17:12
NOR Killorn, (3) (Kostka, Picard), 11:31 (PP)
NOR Smith, (3) (Barberio, Conacher), 12:16
NOR Angelidis, (1) (Ouellet, Gudas), 17:40
CT Wellman, (3) (Newbury, Erixon), 1:06 (PP)
Ondrej Palat and Tokarski were the game's first and third stars. Color me pleasantly surprised with Palat overall this season. He's better along the wall and defensively than advertised. Heck, he even kills penalties. Between Palat and fellow Eastern European Richard Panik, it's really no contest which of the two has played better so far in the playoffs.
Speaking of those from the Czech-or-Slovakia region, Radko Gudas played a ton in the final frame protecting the one goal lead, and played really well.
Alex Killorn is the truth.
Cory Conacher is... touched? Is that the diplomatic way to put it? Heavyweight Andre Deveaux decided to rough up Conacher after the whistle on a play in the Second Period, and Conacher actually chased after him like he wanted to fight him. Cory, brother, you're strong pound-for-pound, but Deveaux eats meals that weigh more than you do. Stick to whipping his behind on the scoreboard, where it really hurts.
Norfolk won tonight despite being outshot for the first time in these playoffs. They'll move on to Game Four tomorrow night with the chance to really put Connecticut behind the eight ball. Yes, they got "home ice" back tonight, but bear in mind Game Five is really a neutral site game in Bridgeport due to a scheduling conflict. The Whale can't afford to lose Game Four. Sweep the leg, Admirals. Sweep the leg.
In the other Eastern Conference Semifinal, St. John's swept the weekend and now hold a 3-1 series lead over Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. Another reason for Norfolk to get on the gas tomorrow is that they don't want the IceCaps to have a rest advantage heading into any potential Eastern Conference Finals series.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
All good things...
Series Tied 1-1
Jaroslav Janus allowed 4 goals on 29 shots for the loss. None of the 4 goals he allowed were particularly terrible. However, he didn't seem to react well to getting bumped around 2-3 times early and he seemed a little bit scrambled and out of control at times. Cooper stuck to his plan and stayed with Janus after the win despite the soft goal he allowed in Game One, but with the loss, one would expect Dustin Tokarski to be in as the series switches to Manchester.
MCH Vey, (1) (Hickey), 11:23
MCH Kozun, (1) (Kaunisto, Hunter), 17:12
NOR Picard, (2) (Segal, Killorn), 5:10
NOR Picard, (3) (Dimmen, Killorn), 10:02
MCH Czarnik, (1) (Vey, Hickey), 5:28
MCH Vey, (2) , 16:16
MCH Andreoff, (1) (Muzzin), 17:59
Alexandre Picard was the game's third star.
It was another uneven effort by the Admirals, made worse by the loss of Tyler Johnson who was out of the lineup with an injury suffered in the last game. Norfolk again was flat in the first period and tonight they paid for it. They fell behind 2-0 before a sweeping comeback in the Second Period where they outshot Manchester 22-10. But, they couldn't keep the pace up, and Manchester got the key go-ahead goal and then caught the Admirals pressing for the tying goal.
Now Norfolk falls squarely behind the eight-ball, needing to win 2 of 3 on the road in Manchester to survive the Quarterfinals. From what little I know of Johnson's injury, I'm not sure he'll be available, but they'll presumably get Radko Gudas back from illness. It's a hard hill to climb now, though, and a nightmare scenario I did not want to see this team face when the initial schedule of the series was announced. All hands will need to be on deck Wednesday for Game Three.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Norfolk pours it on in the second and hangs on in the third to break the seal on their 2012 AHL playoff run.
Norfolk Leads the Series 1-0
Jaroslav Janus allowed 2 goals on 29 shots for the victory. He got the surprise start after Dustin Tokarski missed a couple of practices with illness this week. Janus played well up until allowing a very soft goal in the third that gave Manchester life. I would not be completely surprised to see Tic in Game Two.
NOR Barberio, (1) (Picard), 6:39
NOR Picard, (1) (Smith, Conacher), 1:42 (PP)
NOR Smith, (1) (Oberg, Kostka), 3:39 (PP)
MCH Legein, (1) (Azevedo), 9:53 (SH)
MCH Cliche, (1) (Hickey, Mullen), 13:57
Really a scary finish for the Admirals, having to fend off a 6-on-4 situation to preserve the win. Hopefully they learned a couple of lessons tonight. They took their foot off the gas at times in the third and paid a price for it. Also, they need to respect their opponent going into a critical Game Two tomorrow. Manchester's not going to lay down.
For those wondering, Radko Gudas also missed practice time this week with illness and was also scratched.
Mike Angelidis returned to the lineup after missing several weeks with a broken finger.
Also, if you were wondering, although the streak is technically shelved, we could call this win number Alex Selivanov.
Tomorrow night's game is really, really big. I'd go so far as to say Norfolk should approach it as a must-win. Knowing the next 3 games are in Manchester, it was very important for them to hold serve tonight, which they did. The other half of the equation is to get it done tomorrow night. And, they can't play like they did tonight. They were flat in the First Period and were only leading thanks to a pretty soft goal allowed by Zatkoff to Barberio. They need to play with the pace they had in the Second Period for a full 60 minutes. They dominated the middle frame and chased Zatkoff, bringing in Martin Jones for Manchester, who played very well. The stakes have been raised, even despite the victory, and I don't think Jon Cooper's going to be terribly pleased with all the tape from tonight's contest.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Norfolk has a date with history this weekend.
Jaroslav Janus allowed 1 goal on 13 shots (no, not a typo) for the win. Janus is now 16-8-2 on the season, which puts him at the door step of the top-20 in the league in wins. Dustin Tokarski still rules the roost with 27 wins despite being out of the league for the last week. Two good young goaltenders = good problem to have.
WBS Lerg, (23) (O'Reilly, Strait), 8:47
NOR Panik, (16) (Barberio, Johnson), 11:28 (PP)
NOR Gudas, (7) (Jackson, Hutchings), 11:59
NOR Johnson, (25) (Panik, Picard), 0:10 (PP)
NOR Oberg, (6) (Palat, Johnson), 2:37
Halfway through the month of March, Johnson's got to be the runaway favorite to win the league's Player of the Month award. He has 7 goals and 14 points in 6 games, which already matches what he put up in February. That's pretty amazing considering last month was no slouch for TJ, who put up 14 points in 13 games. He's now tied with Gustav Nyqvist at 55 points for 2nd among league rookies in points, and he's moved into a tie for 9th in the AHL in points, overall.
Johnson's linemate, Richard Panik, continues to quietly ramp up his play after a quiet first half of the year. He's within 1 point now of breaking into the top-20 in the league in rookie scoring himself, and the Panik attack shows no signs of letting up.
Mark Barberio is 5th in the AHL in assists. Discuss.
What I take away from tonight's game, given the Admirals outshot their nearest division rivals 33-13, is that they're going for it. And, I'm not talking about winning the division (now a 10 point lead over the Pens), or the conference (6 point lead over the IceCaps). This team wants the record, and they can tie the single-season win streak record of 17 on Friday in Charlotte. The Checkers are no slouches, mind you. They lead the Midwest Division and Norfolk will have to beat them on Friday and Sunday to set the record. And, despite the challenge, Norfolk's going for it. When a team holds another to 13 shots on goal, that's complete team buy-in at playoff level intensity. They just threw the keys to the tractor and the deed to the farm in the middle of the table. They're going for it, and it's going to take a team playing a playoff-level game to stop them.
Box score from TheAHL.com.