By Jim Owczarski Sports Editor Published Oct 09, 2014 at 1:03 PM

Dean Evason couldn’t help but laugh a little at the question.

He is entering his third season as the head coach of the Milwaukee Admirals, and while every year is indeed different than the last, it is sort of like Groundhog Day at the BMO Harris Bradley Center for Evason.

So what’s new, aside from trying to win a Calder Cup and develop talent for Nashville?

"I guess personally, it’s more comfortable – we know the area, we know the league, we know the dimensions of everything surrounding it," he chuckled. "Different in that you don’t know the team that you have. Certainly we know the team that we have on paper, but how that translates, how they gel, how they come together as a team, is always interesting and always a little bit anticipated I guess."

Mark Van Guilder is in the same boat, too, as he has become a face of the franchise.
"It’s funny, this is my sixth year here and so much is the same," he said. "But, every year is just so different. Every season there’s so many new guys and every guy has their own personality, so that’s the biggest difference – the locker room is completely different, a completely new experience from the year before."

This is a different Admirals team, of course – beginning with the fact that its parent club, the Nashville Predators, have a new head coach.

The Predators hired Stanley Cup-winning coach Peter Laviolette to lead the team, so Evason and his staff will be aligning their program with his Laviolette’s style.

The Admirals also will welcome in the usual batch of new faces, including notable rookies Pontus Aberg, Viktor Arvidson, Garrett Noonan and Brendan Leipsic.

But it’s the group of players with NHL experience – in Nashville or elsewhere – that may truly make the difference for the Admirals.

The primary mission of an American Hockey League franchise is to develop players for the parent NHL team, while also fulfilling the goals of organization – such as winning as much as possible.

The Admirals have done both, sending players to the Predators but also have the longest active streak of consecutive playoff appearances (12) in the AHL.

But, they’ve also been bounced in the first round of the Calder Cup playoffs each of the last three years.

So, Evason hopes that the NHL resumes of goaltenders Marek Mazanec (25 games) and Magnus Hellberg (1), center Colton Sissons (17), defenseman Joe Piskula (12), winger Triston Grant (11), wing Austin Watson (6) and center Mark Van Guilder (1) can add an intangible to what Evason considers a highly skilled group.

"That’s exactly what we told a lot of them – you guys have been there, you guys know what it takes to get there – now you have to develop to stay there," Evason said. "They can teach the Arvidson’s, the Aberg’s, the Noonan’s how to play the game the right way. Now they can teach as well as continue their own games. If they thing only individually about themselves, how do I get back to Nashville, you likely don’t have success."

Grant, who first played in Milwaukee from 2008-10, also brings AHL championship experience to the locker room as he was part of the Calder Cup-winning Grand Rapids Griffins in 2013.

"We really lean on those guys a lot, no question," Evason said. "They’re all an extension of us as coaches."

As for what that experience means to the players, Van Guilder said it’s a hunger to get back – but also a realization that they need to step their game up for the Admirals.

"It just kind of shows you that, OK, maybe I can play at this level, but I’ve got to be (good) on every single shot, every single pass needs to be on the tape," he said. "Everything is magnified at that level because one mistake here or there can be the difference. That’s the biggest thing I (learned)."

Looking down the road is difficult for the Admirals, however.

Each player, ideally, doesn’t want to be involved in one – they want to be in the NHL. The coaches may think their lines are the deepest and strongest they’ve had in October – but it could be completely erased and rewritten several times over by the time the playoffs come around in the spring.

"It’s a very unique situation coaching in the minors," Evason said. "I will always believe in is that if you win, you’re going to have individual success. That’s what we have to continue preaching to the guys, whether they’re in their first year here or their 10th year here, is that if you come together as a group and you play together and become a team and have success – and the ultimate success is winning the Calder Cup – believe, me, we’ll all have success.

"Coaches will have success, players will have success, trainers will have success because people want winners. If you win, you’re going to set yourself apart."

Jim Owczarski is an award-winning sports journalist and comes to Milwaukee by way of the Chicago Sun-Times Media Network.

A three-year Wisconsin resident who has considered Milwaukee a second home for the better part of seven years, he brings to the market experience covering nearly all major and college sports.

To this point in his career, he has been awarded six national Associated Press Sports Editors awards for investigative reporting, feature writing, breaking news and projects. He is also a four-time nominee for the prestigious Peter J. Lisagor Awards for Exemplary Journalism, presented by the Chicago Headline Club, and is a two-time winner for Best Sports Story. He has also won numerous other Illinois Press Association, Illinois Associated Press and Northern Illinois Newspaper Association awards.

Jim's career started in earnest as a North Central College (Naperville, Ill.) senior in 2002 when he received a Richter Fellowship to cover the Chicago White Sox in spring training. He was hired by the Naperville Sun in 2003 and moved on to the Aurora Beacon News in 2007 before joining

In that time, he has covered the events, news and personalities that make up the PGA Tour, LPGA Tour, Major League Baseball, the National Football League, the National Hockey League, NCAA football, baseball and men's and women's basketball as well as boxing, mixed martial arts and various U.S. Olympic teams.

Golf aficionados who venture into Illinois have also read Jim in GOLF Chicago Magazine as well as the Chicago District Golfer and Illinois Golfer magazines.