Admirals look for quick start in 2013-14
Dean Evason expects a little turmoil in his day-to-day life as head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals. It's the nature of the beast, captaining a ship of moving parts. Some are moved out in trades or deemed expendable by the Admirals' parent club, the Nashville Predators. Some are needed further south, and are called up to the National Hockey League because of their quality of play or to fill in for an injury.
That said, the start of the 2013-14 American Hockey League season already has more stability than last year.
In 2012, Evason was new to Milwaukee and the Admirals. He not only had to install his systems, but he had to do so with players who were going to be gone the second the NHL owners lifted the lockout.
Rocky seas are expected in minor league hockey, but the start of last season was more uneven than most could have expected.
"It's normal in almost all aspects," Evason admitted. "We've got our full hockey club. There's nothing that's up in the air whereas last year, with the lockout, we didn't' know if they were going to play in the NHL or what. The guys know they're here. They're here to compete, they're here to battle, to win hockey games and to get to where they all want to go, which is the NHL."
With no lockout to worry about this year, or a drastic shift in the roster looming around the corner, Evason hopes the Admirals can build off of a 15-4-1 closing stretch that propelled the team into the playoffs for the 11th straight season.
"I don't know if the momentum can carry over from there, but what we did at the end, how we played those hockey games and because we have the majority of our group that was here, our mindset and the knowledge of how we need to play the game to be successful should be there," Evason said. "It's instilled and ingrained in them."
The team will be led by goaltender Magnus Hellberg, who – like the rest of the team – struggled early but found his footing late. The 6-foot, 5-inch Swede capped the regular season with back-to-back shutouts to get the Admirals into the playoffs.
"I'm going to try to get back to the game I had at the end of last year," Hellberg said. "Last year was new for me and I didn't have any expectations. I set the bar with how I played, and I want to play better than I did last year."
He ended the year, his first in the United States, with a 2.14 goals against average and .924 save percentage. He was better than that down the stretch though, going 18-7 with a 1.72 GAA and .936 save percentage.
"He was really good," said defenseman Joe Piskula, an Antigo native who played at the University of Wisconsin and came to Milwaukee late last year in a trade between the Predators and Calgary Flames. "It helps when the whole team is playing well in front of him and that gives him confidence. The biggest thing for a goaltender is being confident and hopefully we can get a good start here, just like he wants to, and help him build that confidence and he'll be unstoppable."
The rest of the team, led by veterans like Mark Van Guilder and Scott Ford, includes 17 players who skated for the Admirals at some point last year. They hope that familiarity – along with a more traditional run-up to the regular season – results in as much success early this season as it did late last year.
"I think it's a good lesson for guys who are maybe in and out of the lineup at the beginning of the season, or maybe don't play as much, those were the guys we really leaned on last year towards the end of the season when we lost a lot of guys to Nashville," Van Guilder said. "I think we learned our lesson for that – guys are always ready. You never know when your role will increase."
Not all of the Admirals are on Twitter, but we'll connect you with the ones who are. Follow and interact with them here:
Anthony Bitetto, defenseman: @Abitetto7
Scott Ford, defenseman: @sfordy4
Joe Piskula, defenseman: @skoolz43
Patrick Cehlin, right wing: @pattyc29
Kevin Henderson, left wing: @khendo86
Mike Liambas, left wing: @mliambas
Colton Sissons, center: @colton_es15
Scott Valentine, defenseman: @valentine_s22
Zach Budish, right wing: @burdish24
Josh Shalla, left wing: @shalls91
Taylor Beck, right wing: @taybeckone9
Charles-Olivier Roussel, defenseman: @charles_roussel
Magnus Hellberg, goaltender: @mulle45
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