Milwaukee Admirals Spoiled For Choice Between The Pipes


There was only one game played this past week for the Milwaukee Admirals. They went four-days without playing a game until getting the Grand Rapids Griffins this past Friday night. And, now, don’t play another game until Wednesday night against the Iowa Wild. Considering all the rest you find yourself asking the question, rested or rusty? The response against the Griffins proved to answer heavily in favor of rested, energetic, and relentless.

It was the first meeting of the season between these divisional rivals. Grand Rapids, the AHL affiliate to the Detroit Red Wings, were coming off of a four-game homestand that saw them lose each and every contest. The most they were able to pull out of that four-game stretch was a 6-5 (OT) loss against the Chicago Wolves. Expectations for the Griffins were to get gritty and physical against the quicker Admirals in the hopes to wear them down. The Griffins lacked Petr Mrázek (called up the day prior to the game in lieu of Jonas Gustavsson‘s recent shoulder injury) and still have yet to see top prospect Anthony Mantha (still recovering from a fractured tibia suffered in September) on the ice.

The Admirals were able to leap on the struggling Griffins early in the game. Joe Pendenza made a great defensive read to intercept a breakout pass – leading to a hard worked goal for himself as he whacked away a loose puck from Tom McCollum to score his third goal of the season. Then came Colton Sissons‘ third goal of the season. Viktor Stålberg slid a backhanded pass to the goal mouth and Sissons managed to push it five-hole to give the Admirals a 2-0 first period lead.

In truth, that was more than what the Admirals needed. They added a bad angle goal for Mark Van Guilder and Sissons dropped in an empty netter for his second of the night to make it a 4-0 final – giving the Griffins their fifth straight loss.

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If there was any true lowlight from Friday night’s game with the Griffins it was the unfortunate injury that occurred in the second period to Stålberg. He was in the final day of his conditioning assignment and was getting sharper with each game he played with the Admirals. Griffins defeneman Brennan Evans, who had earlier hit Félix Girard with an elbow to the head – leading to an instigated fight by Rich Clune, delivered a hip check to Stålberg and caught him very low. The man that should have been re-joining the NHL lineup the next night was down on the ice in a heap. And, after the game, Admirals head coach Dean Evason delivered the news.

“Not good,” said Evason of Stålberg’s injury following the game. “I don’t know exactly what they’re saying it is but it’s his knee and it’s not good. It’s unfortunate. He was leaving us tomorrow. Clearly he’s still going to leave us and go back to Nashville and have it evaluated and they’ll go from there. But, it’s disappointing because tonight was probably his best game. He was flying. Playing hard. He’s doing all the right things to get himself back in the NHL lineup in Nashville. It’s a shame because that’s what he came here for. That’s what we were trying to do for him. As an organization we’re trying to get him back into game shape to play in the NHL. He was progressing and right there. It’s disappointing for sure.”

There is still no update in regards to Stålberg’s condition as of yet. During his conditioning assignment with the Admirals he produced 3 points (1 goal, 2 assists) in four games.

Let’s now shift from the lowlight to the highlight of the weekend, Magnus Hellberg. The big Swede recorded his eighth career AHL shutout with his 22-save performance against the Griffins. It was only his third start of the 2014-15 season but, with how he has been playing, was given the net for a second-consecutive game over Marek Mazanec. This was the first time since 11/27/1311/30/13 that Hellberg started in consecutive games.

Hellberg this season has won all three games that he has started. That includes a shootout performance that saw him stop both skaters that attempted shots. On the season he now has a 0.64 goals against average with a 0.973 save percentage – both of which are an AHL best.

This all comes after a season to forget for him. His 2013-14 season saw him start with an injury in pre-season rookie development camp, start slowly, get an NHL cameo, sent back to the AHL, getting out-performed by Scott Darling, suffer a high ankle sprain just as he was going to take over the lion’s share of the Milwaukee net, go to the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL, and remain there for the entirety of their season on the bench as Rob Madore stole the show during the 2014 Kelly Cup Finals.

“I think I’m more relaxed,” said Hellberg of his improvements over last season. “I try to take it one day at a time. Be as humble as I can. And I know it can go either way pretty fast. Just try to be relaxed and play my game.”

After Mazanec started the Admirals season off with five-straight wins from five-straight starts – the question was, how would Hellberg get in net and how would he work in limited playing capacity? My question now is, what will Mazanec have to do to earn Hellberg’s net after back-to-back superb starts?

Two things are very clear here. One, the Admirals are looking at a goalie tandem that is seen as 1-A, 1-B rather than a first choice and second choice option. Two, Hellberg’s popularity with the fans of Milwaukee. Friday night’s game saw the Admirals rock camouflage uniforms for the team’s annual Military Appreciation Night. Fans were able take part in a game-worn jersey auction during the game. The man with the highest-bidded jersey? Hellberg’s, which went somewhere in the $7,000 stratosphere.

“I don’t know what to say,” smiled Hellberg of the jersey auction results. “I’m really happy. That’s unbelievable. I always try to be a role model and be good to the fans because I always try to give back because I know how much they do for us. Without them there is no hockey. They make the game a lot of fun. I don’t know what to say. It’s crazy.”

Smiles certainly continuing here in Milwaukee. The Admirals win against the Griffins improves them to an 8-2-0-0 record (16 points) through their first 10-games of the season. The lone team in their division that is bettering them right now are the red hot Rockford IceHogs – currently on a seven-game winning streak. The Admirals will face them twice this weekend in what’s sure to be just another Midwest Division series of car crashes. I, for one, can’t wait.