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Mark Van Guilder and the Milwaukee Admirals are at an interesting point in the season. (PHOTO: Scott Paulus/Milwaukee Adrmirals)

Admirals face important part of the season

The American Hockey League is built on certain instability. Just like minor league baseball, it's part of the fabric of the league. Parent organizations in the National Hockey League call up and send down players here and there, trade others away. It's what being a minor league team is about.

This season started a bit differently for the Milwaukee Admirals and the rest of the AHL. The NHL was involved in a nasty labor dispute, and the owners had locked out its players. As a result, many NHL organizations sent down some of their best young talent to stay sharp. That increased the talent and level of play right at the beginning of the season.

And, with no foreseeable opportunity of moving up to Nashville there was going to be some semblance of continuity.

Then, suddenly, that all changed. The owners and players reached a deal on a collective bargaining agreement on Jan. 12 and immediately opened training camp. A compressed 48-game schedule begins Saturday.

"It was actually really strange the first half of the year with no one getting called up, being sent down, no one worrying about who was up, who was down, what was going to happen," Admirals center Mark Van Guilder said. "So it was different."

Every team in the AHL has been affected, including the Admirals. Ryan Ellis, Jon Blum, Chris Mueller and Victor Bartley were in camp with Nashville. Perhaps one or more will be back, maybe one or more other Admirals will be called up instead.

New faces replaced that quartet the last week, leading to an almost preseason feel even though the team is turns into the second half of the season.

"It's great seeing guy's roles increase on the team and obviously every team is going through it and it's definitely an interesting feel," Van Guilder said. "I feel like last week's practice felt like training camp with all the new faces. It's definitely been a different year. I think the last three games we've seen our team get better each game with so many new guys. It's been fun."

The Admirals, who are just points outside of the top eight spots that make the playoffs in the Western Conference, feel this new instability can help spark a run up the standings. That, and the fact the players feel they're better off from not only playing deeper and more talented rosters for 37 games.

"It made you rise to the challenge and make your game better," Admirals center Austin Watson said. "For me personally and I know for a lot of other guys it helped elevate the game. You could feel yourself starting to get better playing with and against those guys."

The Admirals head up to Abbotsford, British Columbia, Canada, this weekend for a two-game series with the Heat, who currently sit in fifth place in the Western Conference. It will be a good test to see how this "new" team is coming together, and what they learned over the first half of the season.

"It was a good challenge for a lot of us to know that all eyes were on this league and for us on our team," Watson said.

"It gave guys a chance to feel a little bit of the pressure and the challenges that playing in the NHL is going to come with. I think everybody benefited from it. Everybody raised the level of their play and you can see now everybody's play is consistently staying at that level."


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