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.
Controversially, Norfolk gets to Marc Bureau (#28) to conclude the regular season.
Jaroslav Janus allowed 2 goals on 19 shots for his 15th consecutive victory. He'll finish the season tied for 8th in the AHL in victories with 23 and tops on the Admrials with a .914 save percentage, one point better than tandem-mate Dustin Tokarski and his .913 mark. Tokarski finishes with a league leading 32 wins, for his part. It's never a bad thing when you have 2 goalies in the top-10 in the league in wins.
ADK Holmstrom, (15) (Manning, Gustafsson), 2:19 (PP)
NOR Segal, (18) (Smith, Conacher), 15:30
NOR Conacher, (37) (Segal), 17:27
ADK Akeson, (14) (Testwuide), 12:15
NOR Conacher, (38) (Segal, Smith), 18:00
NOR Conacher, (39) (Segal), 19:58 (EN)
Why controversial, you ask? With 14 seconds remaining in the final frame, Adirondack had a goal waved off for goaltender interference after defenseman Keith Aulie got beat wide by the Phantoms' Mike Testuwide, a sin he committed far too often earlier this season with the Lightning. Norfolk dodged a big bullet with the wave off to secure their 28th consecutive victory, much to the chagrin of the Phantoms and their fans. In fairness to Aulie, Adirondack would have never been that close were it not for a horrendous turnover by Tyler Johnson that allowed Adirondack to score their second goal. Heading into the playoffs, everyone's got to tighten up that much more.
There's one more bit of regular season business to wrap up now. With Cory Conacher scoring his first professional hat trick, he has moved out to a 2 goal lead over Texas' Matt Fraser for the Willie Marshall Award, the AHL's equivalent of the Rocket Richard Trophy. Conacher entered the day 1 goal behind Fraser, and was actually benched again today, momentarily, after taking a delay-of-game minor. Once he got back on the ice again, though, he and linemate Brandon Segal made sure that their efforts in the Admirals' final regular season game would leave some Exit Wounds. As of this posting, Fraser has just about 15 minutes left to try and score 2 goals to get back even with Conacher, who picked just the right time to get back on track offensively.
Richard Panik failed to score a goal in his final 7 games of the regular season, leaving him 1 shy of a 20 goal rookie campaign. It's just about the only goal, personal or team, that someone on the Admirals didn't manage to accomplish, although Conacher's hat trick did leave him 1 shy of 40, in retrospect.
Norfolk now draws the Manchester Monarchs in the first round of the playoffs, beginning next Friday with Game One. Because of a scheduling conflict with an annual military drill and band show, the Admirals won't have home ice advantage for the best-of-five series despite finishing 30 points ahead of the Monarchs in the standings. Norfolk and Manchester haven't played all season, and in the playoffs just as in boxing, styles make the fight, so we'll see how these two teams match up. Manchester is veteran laden, but is missing a couple of good younger players that are currently up with the LA Kings for their playoff series against the Vancouver Canucks. I think the lack of familiarity may play in the Admirals' favor, as Manchester is a little bit older and hasn't seen the speed that Norfolk brings to the rink both with their skating and the transition game that guys like Mark Barberio and Mike Kostka start from the blueline, but you never know until the game gets onto the ice. With so many rookies contributing to Norfolk's success that have never seen professional playoff hockey, we don't know how they'll react to the pressure, especially in a nightmare scenario if Manchester can pick off one of the first two games at Scope.
It's critically important that the Admirals set the 28 game regular season streak aside and focus on the fact they desperately need to set the tone quickly and win Game One and Game Two in Norfolk. Fortunately, the Admirals have the AHL Coach of the Year, Jon Cooper, to get them refocused for the postseason. The Admirals also got Jon Kalinski back in the lineup this weekend, and the expectation is that Mike Angelidis will be back next weekend for the club. So, other than Richard Petiot, Norfolk looks to be almost completely healthy heading into the looming war of attrition that is professional playoff hockey.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Dustin Tokarski allowed 2 goals on 21 shots for his 26th victory of the season. He's now 1 back of his career high of 27 wins. He remains locked in mortal combat with Ben Bishop of Binghamton, who also has 26 wins.
NOR Ouellet, (12) (Kostka, Devos), 12:13 (PP)
NOR Angelidis, (13) (Picard, Ouellet), 4:15
NOR Ouellet, (13) (Panik, Johnson), 12:48 (PP)
NOR Picard, (4) (Gudas, Jackson), 18:33
SPR Calvert, (12) (Joudrey), 12:26
SPR MacLeod, (6) (St. Pierre, Regner), 17:14 (PP)
NOR Devos, (5) (Neilson, Barberio), 18:52 (PP)
Mark Barberio hit 50 points for the season with a late power play assist. He holds a 9 point edge on Brian Connolly of Abbotsford for the league lead amongst blueliners. With 33 points, Mike Kostka lurks in a tie for 5th in points in that category.
Jon Cooper just broke TheAHL.com. Evidently, they only show 10 game winning streaks on the website, as the standings are currently not properly registering the Admirals unbelievable 11 game streak. They've opened up an 8 point lead in the division on the idle Penguins and a 12 point lead on the idle Bears. Resetting their sights higher, they've also opened up a 6 point lead on St. John's for the conference's top spot, although St. John's has 5 games in hand. Nonetheless, they need to give Cooper the hardware.
P.S. Panik attack, y'all!
Norfolk finishes their week against Springfield tomorrow night. The normal warning about beating the same team on back-to-back nights when you paste them pretty good on the first night applies.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Laying the smacketh down.
Dustin Tokarski allowed 3 goals on 25 shots but got a wee bit more goal support than last night to carry him to his 21st win of the year. That matches Tic's win total from all of last season and he now will zero in on his career mark of 27 wins set in his rookie campaign as his next milestone to beat.
NOR Panik, (11) (Palat, Johnson), 2:48
NOR Kostka, (7) (Barberio, Palat), 4:36 (PP)
NOR Conacher, (26) (Barberio, Panik), 5:07 (PP)
NOR Conacher, (27) (Smith, Johnson), 8:20 (PP)
ADK Brown, (6) (Klotz, Kessel), 4:23
NOR Angelidis, (11) (Picard, Cote), 3:31
ADK Kalinski, (9) (Manning, Akeson), 4:02
NOR Smith, (19) (Labrie, Ashton), 13:23
ADK Manning, (3) (Kessel, Holmstrom), 14:38 (PP)
NOR Johnson, (16) (Fornataro, Devos), 17:36
Phantoms d-man Cullen Eddy messed with the bull and got the horns, earning a game misconduct for elbowing rookie phenom Conacher. The Ads proceeded to score 3 power play goals on the subsequent 5 minute major, including 2 by Conacher himself.
Conacher did not manage a hat trick, but, by virtue of an assist added on Conacher's first goal, Richard Panik posted a first period Gordie Howe hat trick for the opening goal, a power play assist, and then a fight with ex-Admiral Dan Jancevski. When Panik attacks, Adirondack trembles.
Barberio crossed the 40 point threshold with his 2 power play helpers tonight. He's now at 41 points in 48 games, pushing him 2 points ahead of Brian Connelly of Abbotsford for the lead amongst d-men. For his part, Mike Kostka has quietly pushed up into a tie for 11th amongst d-men in scoring with 27 points in 45 games.
Norfolk picks up 1 point on Hershey, which fell in a shootout tonight, and keeps pace with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton. So, the Ads are 1 point back of the Bears and 4 points back of the Pens in the division. Both the Bears and Pens hold a game in hand on Norfolk. Norfolk heads to Charlotte tomorrow to face the Midwest Division (don't ask) leading Checkers.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
Norfolk's d-corps continues to surpass all expectations.
Dustin Tokarski allowed 4 goals on 28 shots for the win. He moved to 17-9-0 on the season for the win.
ALB Veilleux, (6) (Urbom, Berube), 5:49
NOR Fornataro, (6) (Conacher, Barberio), 14:16 (PP)
ALB Veilleux, (7) (Sestito, Whitney), 16:13
ALB Veilleux, (8) (Whitney), 18:28
NOR Oberg, (2) (Palat, Devos), 5:21
NOR Barberio, (5) (Johnson, Gudas), 6:09
ALB Wiseman, (3) (Palmieri, Zharkov), 13:28
NOR Ouellet, (9) (Kostka, Cote), 16:12
NOR Angelidis, (8) (Kostka, Cote), 16:38
Mark Barberio and Mike Kostka were the game's second and third stars. Barberio now holds a 5 point edge in the race to be the AHL's top scoring defenseman. He has 5 goals and 37 points in 38 games. With his multi-point game tonight, Kostka has moved into the top-20 among AHL defensemen in scoring with 6 goals and 20 points in 35 games. The bulk of that scoring has come since he joined Norfolk in the James Wright trade. He had just 2 goals and 6 points with San Antonio prior to the deal, but he's had 4 goals and 14 points since coming to Norfolk. Bear in mind Kostka had 16 goals and 54 points in 80 games with Rochester a year ago, which was tied for third in the league. So, the Admirals legitimately boast two of the absolute best offensive d-men in the league, which is part of the reason they're one of the most deadly offensive powers in the AHL this side of the Hershey Bears.
Tonight's victory was a bit of sweet revenge for a Norfolk team that had a temporary slump started by a third period collapse at home against the Devils just a few weeks ago. For the Admirals to overcome a 3-1 first period deficit that featured a Stephane Veilleux hat trick represented a nice bit of payback for the team.
Norfolk moves within 4 points of the Bears in the East Division standings with the victory. They continue their road trip in Syracuse on Friday.
Box score from TheAHL.com.