The Milwaukee Admirals have been here before. The key, is keep on keepin’ on.
The Admirals begin the second half of their season tonight at the BMO Harris Bradley Center against Grand Rapids, and are looking to add to their franchise record nine-game winning streak.
Okay, the Ads may not have won that many games in a row before, but they did open the season with six straight victories and got out to an 11-3 start that lasted into late November.
The thing is, beginning with a 3-2 loss at Rockford on Nov. 22, the Admirals went 1-9 through Dec. 16, a stretch that included a seven game losing streak.
They got hot again when the calendar flipped, and enter tonight’s game 9-1 in January and are now in second place in the American Hockey League’s Midwest Division and fourth in the Eastern Conference, just three points of the second seed.
"You need to learn from both the positives and the negatives," head coach Dean Evason said. "We’ve had a lot of negative reinforcements this year with our losing streak of seven games there. Our winning streak at the start, then this one. We can draw, hopefully, off of all of those and learn to play the right way consistently.
"I think it shows a lot of the youth on our hockey club but I think you can teach and you can learn from both kind of streaks we’ve been through."
At the start of the year, Evason knew he had a talented team, the question was how fast a group of players were who were new to professional hockey and the United States would not only adjust and coalesce on the ice, but off it.
With the six game winning streak at the outset, it seemed to happen more quickly than anyone expected, but the dip afterward was perhaps more of a reality check for the group of young players adjusting to the game than a true market correction.
"Obviously there are going to be some hiccups throughout the season," rookie left winger Brendan Leipsic said. "It’s not going to be smooth sailing for some guys, including myself. There’s been some growing pains, too."
Such as the fact that Leipsic was told to take a seat for two games.
"I wasn’t playing the right way, like Dean mentions a lot, and sometimes wakeup calls like that (work)," Leipsic said. "As a young guy, you’re still learning on the go. But right now guys are really playing together and the team’s playing really well. We’re really coming together."
Evason said he’s seen "great growth" from the young players individually since the start of the year, but "they have to do it as a team, and we’ve seen our team come together as a group as much as we’ve seen some individual develop as players."
The highs have been high for the Admirals, which sent Leipsic (a team leading 27 assists) and goaltender Magnus Hellberg to the AHL All-Star game last weekend.
Hellberg is the league’s top goalie with a league-best 1.84 goals against average and is second in save percentage at 93.1. Fellow goaltender Marek Mazanec, who is currently in Nashville, has bene on fire as well, with a 2.41 GAA.
As is often the case with the Admirals, the offense has been spread out, with four players collecting double-digit goals, led by center Austin Watson with 16 and followed by rookie right winger Viktor Arvidsson with 14.
Now, the team hopes the second half can lead to a turn where the lows aren’t as low as they were during their 1-9 stretch.
"Consistency is probably the biggest thing pro hockey if you’re gonna make the jump (to the NHL)," Leipsic added. "You’ve got to be consistent. You can’t take a night off. But, the good thing is, if you do have a bad game you’re playing the next night or the night after that. It’s a quick turnaround. But, learning on the go like that and learning from your mistakes is all about the process."
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 OnMilwaukee.com.
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.