The Milwaukee Admirals have everything going their way at the moment. Everything has been a positive. The turn-around has lasted. Kevin Fiala joined the team. The Admirals set a franchise record for longest winning streak in the 37-year history of the team. And they had two representatives for the 2015 AHL All Star Classic.
Let’s begin by dissecting the historically significant news out of Admirals camp. The Admirals had two home games last week. They had the Utica Comets on Wednesday and Iowa Wild on Friday. Both were heated affairs despite the competitions being on two different ends of the AHL’s Western Conference spectrum.
Magnus Hellberg only lasted 12:30 of the first period against the Comets after his worst performance of the entire season. He allowed the very first shot that the game offered up and went 3/5 in save opportunities before getting pulled.
In stepped Marek Mazanec who was running on next to no sleep. The Czech goaltender had been reassigned to the AHL by the Nashville Predators that day, woke up at 4am for a 7am flight out of Montreal, got his gear to the locker room, took a two-hour nap, and readied himself for a night on the bench.
Mazanec was flawless from the moment he entered. He stopped all twenty-one shots he faced in regulation and gave the Admirals the foundation they needed to mount a counter attack after trailing 2-0. Viktor Stålberg scored with fifty-one seconds remaining in the first period. Miikka Salomäki scored with ten seconds remaining in the second period. And the game would be decided in a shootout where Salomäki finished things off in the fifth round for the 4-3 (SO) victory.
At that time, the Admirals winning streak was at eight straight games which tied the franchise record for longest ever winning streak set in March of 1989. The Admirals were not even an American Hockey League team when they set that record. That dates back to the International Hockey League (IHL) days of the franchise. We’re talking Peter DeBoer playing days of the team during the 1988-89 season.
With history at stake all that the Admirals needed to do was defeat the worst team in the AHL this season, the Iowa Wild. It sounds far easier than the Ads made it on themselves as the Wild entered the game having won four out of the six head-to-head games on the season. Either the Admirals bring out the best in the Wild or the Wild bring out the worst in the Admirals. It’s hard to say which. Only that each time they’ve locked up it has been a grind. That continued Friday night.
There was plenty to like about the Admirals start to their game with the Wild. Viktor Arvidsson, Colton Sissons, and Rich Clune all scored goals to give them a 3-1 advantage with 18:25 left in the third period. Then the Wild exploded with two goals in 1:16 to level the game at 3-3. The game-winner was scored with just over six-minute remaining when Austin Watson zipped a wrister past Johan Gustafsson on a two-on-one. The 4-3 win set an Admirals franchise record for longest winning streak at nine games.
If you’re missing your ol’ pal Dicky in Nashville you should be happy knowing just how popular he has become in Milwaukee. Clune was a show-stealer on a promotional night for the Admirals that had a Brett Eldredge concert after the game. With 11,562 in attendance last Friday Clune had the fans in his pocket with a fight, a goal, and -best of all- the greatest post-game interview in history. As far as characters that have come around the Admirals are concerned. He’s quickly becoming one of the most entertaining.
In the goal scoring department, the duo of Watson and Arvidsson seem to really be pushing each other for who will have the team lead when all is said and done this season. Watson leads the Admirals with 16 goals this season. Arvidsson is right there with him with 15 goals. Arvidsson tied Watson on Friday night’s contest until Watson scored the game-winner to regain his team lead. The Swede has been hugely impressive all-round during the Admirals nine game winning streak: 11 points (6 goals, 5 assists). He has also taken a whopping 43 shots on goal during that span.
The news that has folks in Nashville buzzing is that their first selection in the 2014 NHL Draft has made the move to North America. Fiala made his debut with the Admirals on Wednesday and now has two games under his belt. How did he look? Impressive, but you can certainly see the reasoning as to why it is important for him to be getting the kinks out of his game in the AHL before he tackles the NHL.
An obstacle Fiala needs to adapt to is the speed at which the game is played in North America. The rink is smaller. The players are faster. The game jumps on the puckhandler far faster in this country than that of Europe. His first game he had a few occasions of turning the puck over simply from the Comets getting to him faster than he anticipated. That meant passes that were too soft and didn’t reach their intended target or getting closed down and having his pocket picked.
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Here is the great news and a sign that should have all fans buzzing. In his second game alone he made big strides. He looked far more comfortable in the game and that will improve more and more as he comes to grip with the North American game and his Admirals teammates. His skating ability and stick skills are mind blowingly good. He is only 18-years old. The time that he’ll be spending in the AHL should do him just as much good as it did Filip Forsberg last season. Fiala showed his skill set with a shootout goal in his debut. It’s what he does around that side of his game that will make him a solid threat for the Predators down the road.
Speaking of Forsberg, the Swede played with Leksands IF of the Swedish Hockey League before making the jump to North America in 2012-13. Relevance of Leksands IF? That is the new team for former fifth round draft choice of the Predators Patrick Cehlin. Yesterday he was loaned to the Swedish outfit for the rest of the season. His contract ends at the end of the playing season, as well. It should be the end of his tenure in the organization.
Cehlin was drafted 126th overall by the Predators in the 2010 NHL Draft. He played 112 games for the Admirals in the AHL and scored 56 points (15 goals, 41 assists). He also played in 10 games for the Cincinnati Cyclones of the ECHL where he scored 5 points (4 goals, 1 assist).
2014-15 was a rough season before it even started. Following the end of the Admirals 2014 Calder Cup playoff exit he underwent hip surgery to repair three loose bone pieces that plagued him during his time with the team. On his flight back home to Sweden a blood clot developed in his leg. His recovery for the blood clot delayed his start to the season which began in Milwaukee and ended in Cincinnati.
With the current log jam of players in the AHL, there were already more than enough bodies down in the ECHL to facilitate Cehlin’s process out of the organization all-together. Joe Pendenza, Frédérick Gaudreau, and Zach Budish would have been tabbed as call-ups from the ECHL ahead of Cehlin. With the additions of Fiala and Stålberg to boot. It mean numbers for the Cyclones were even getting pretty tight as a result.
Last night was the 2015 AHL All Star Classic. The Admirals initially only had one selection with Hellberg. Thankfully, due to the shake of things entering the festivities, Brendan Leipsic was added to the fold as well. The two had their fun in the Skills Competition and both had their part in the game itself.
Hellberg entered the game in the second period and, keeping with the current tradition of goaltending in these sorts of games, stopped 12/18 shots on goal. He allowed 4 goals in the space of 4:46 of ice time. Meanwhile, Leipsic scored a goal in each period of the game to become the first Admiral to ever score a hat trick in the AHL All Star Classic. It must have been a blast for him as well because all of his goals were set up by former-teammates of his with the Portland Winterhawks. The Western Conference All Stars won 14-12. Your goalie of record? Hellberg.
The Admirals All Star break will finish up soon enough and they’ll return to action on Friday and Saturday with two games against the Grand Rapids Griffins. Friday’s game is in Milwaukee. Saturday’s game is in Grand Rapids. Bonus Item: Friday night’s home game promotion is Mike Liambas bobblehead, scratch that, bobble-fists night! Brilliant? Brilliant. And that is precisely what the last week in the life of Admirals fandom has been like. It’s all on the up-and-up.