MILWAUKEE -- The Milwaukee Admirals hosted "Media Day" Wednesday, October 11th in advance of the upcoming season. The Admirals kick off their 35th season on October 19th.
The Admirals welcome a new coach this season -- 47-year-old Dean Evason. Last year's head coach Ian Herbers exited to become the head coach at his Alma Mater -- the University of Alberta in Canada.
The Admirals made it into the Calder Cup playoffs for the 10th straight season last season -- and their season ended with a sweep from the Abbotsford Heat in late April.
Here are some highlights leading into this season:
Leader of the Pack…Dean Evason takes the reigns of the Admirals ship this season, becoming the 20th coach in team history and their third in the past year. Evason spent the past seven seasons as an assistant coach with the Washington Capitals, and prior to that he was a head coach in the Western Hockey League for six years. The Flin Flon, Manitoba native worked for three different head coaches during his time with the Caps and helped the team to a combined 294-206-74 record. Expect the Admirals to be a gritty, hard-nosed team under Evason, much the way he played during an 800-game NHL career which saw him accumulate 372 points and 1002 penalty minutes. Stan Drulia, who finished last season as the Admirals assistant coach, will serve as Evason’s primary assistant.
No Locks Here…While arenas all over the NHL sit dormant because of the on-going lock-out, the AHL will see an influx of young talent as teams look to continue the development of their top prospects, and the Admirals are no exception. Gabriel Bourque, Ryan Ellis, and Jon Blum all spent significant time with the Nashville Predators last season and all three will play in Milwaukee until the lockout is done. Bourque played over 100 games with the Ads before getting promoted and by the end of the season he was a key cog for Nashville in their playoff run, as he tied for the team lead in goals during the post-season and was tied for third on the team in playoff points. Ellis, who is currently injured, played 32 games in Milwaukee and 29 with the Predators in his rookie campaign last year and with the departure of Ryan Suter, Ellis is a big part of Nashville’s plans on the blueline. Fellow defenseman Jon Blum has seen action in 55 games, plus 12 playoff contests, with the Preds over the last two seasons. The first California native to be selected in the first round of the NHL draft, Blum has spent parts of each of the last three seasons with the Admirals, playing in 182 games, while posting 22 goals and 79 assists.
European Invasion…The Admirals start this season with five players who will be skating in their first professional season in North America. Forwards Daniel Bang and Patrick Cehlin, defensemen Mattias Ekholm and Joonas Jarvinen, and goalie Magnus Helberg all played in Europe last season. However, there is definitely an adjustment period, both on and off the season that takes place. In Europe the ice sheet is 100 feet wide, compared to just 85 feet in North America. Thus, the European game tends to be more east-west, as opposed to north-south here, and there is generally more room to maneuver. These players will certainly lean on forwards Jani Lajunen and Juuso Puustinen, both Fins who played in Milwaukee last season, to help easy and shorten their adjustment period.
It’s Mueller Time…Admirals forward Chris Mueller is the poster boy for the development that Nashville regards so highly. Undrafted out of Michigan State, Mueller has gone from being cut from the Admirals his first pro season to one of the top goal scorers the team has seen in the past decade. Last season Mueller became just the third Admiral since the team joined the AHL in 2001 to top the 30-goal plateau. His 32 markers topped the team and were tied for fifth in the league. The Buffalo, NY native has played in 19 games with Nashville over the past two seasons and had a strong shot to make the Predators team this season before the lock-out assured he would at least start the season in Milwaukee.
Young Guns…The Admirals roster has always been on the young side, but this year the team will likely be its youngest yet. Out of the 24 players currently on the roster 17 of them will be in their first or second AHL or NHL season. No one on the team is 30, as the oldest player on the Admirals roster is forward Mark Van Guilder who is 28. In addition, only Van Guilder, Chris Mueller, Jon Blum and defenseman Mike Moore have played in over 200 professional games.
Where’s My Captain…Because of the youth of the team, the role of captain will take on even greater importance. With Scott Ford’s departure to St. Louis, the Admirals will have a new captain this season for the fourth straight year. Early candidates to fill the role include Moore, who has played the most professional games on the roster, Blum, Van Guilder, and Mueller, all three of whom have spent more than two seasons with the Ads. While he might not be named captain, look for third year pro Gabriel Bourque to be counted on as a leader in the locker room in addition to Daniel Bang, who at 26 is the oldest of the crop of European players on the team, and played the past two seasons in the Swedish Elite League, considered by many to be the best league outside of North America.
Bad Break…Finnish forward Juuso Puustinen had his season cut short last March 10th when his knee cap was split in two after he blocked a shot. The injury, which forced him to keep his leg at greater than 180-degrees for two straight weeks to allow the bone to heal properly, came with a six month rehab time. Despite missing the final month of the season, Puustinen still finished tied for fourth on the team with 16 goals and was second on the club with nine power-play goals. Considering the number of one-goal games played, the Admirals are certainly counting on Puustinen to regain the goal scoring form that he displayed before he went down.