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Thursday, Oct. 3, 2013

Milwaukee Admirals 2013-2014 Season Preview: Looking to Build on a Solid Year

Why Milwaukee's AHL hockey team is worth paying attention to

milwaukee admirals 2013 season preview magnus hellberg
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With the Brewers failing to reach the post season, the Bucks yet to begin their unabashed rebuilding campaign, the Badgers likely already ousted from Rose Bowl contention, Marquette basketball still weeks away and the Packers only active four days a month, the Wisconsin sports landscape is fairly barren at the moment. Fortunately, the Milwaukee Admirals will soon return to the ice. This season marks the 35th season of Milwaukee’s AHL franchise, and holds the promise of near-NHL caliber hockey, frequent fights and more cheesy promotions than you can shake an OxiClean™ magnetic schedule at.

The 2012-13 Admirals posted a respectable 41-28 record, which was good enough for second place in the Western Conference’s Midwest Division (behind the eventual Calder Cup champion Grand Rapids Griffins) and a playoff spot. However, the young Admirals team was quickly dispatched from the Calder Cup Playoff proceedings after losing an opening round series against the Texas Stars 3-1.

Much of that team is returning—many of whom were in their first AHL seasons last year—with a full year of semi-professional hockey beneath their belts. While the majority of the professional experience of Milwaukee’s roster ends at the AHL level, there’s some NHL acumen among the Admirals ranks. Last season, forward Taylor Beck led Milwaukee with 30 assists, which earned him a late season promotion to the team’s Nashville Predators parent club. Once in Music City, Beck amassed seven points in 16 games. Fellow forward Kevin Henderson managed a goal in his four games in Nashville and Joonas Rask had an assist in his two-game stint with the Preds last season.

Additionally, the Predators added Antigo, Wis. native Joe Piskula in a trade with the Calgary Flames in February and have assigned him to Milwaukee. Piskula played 46 games with the Flames’ AHL affiliate (Abbotsford Heat) last season, but previously logged sparing NHL minutes with the 2006-07 Los Angeles Kings and the 2011-12 Flames. Defenceman Bryan Rodney brings the most experience—both AHL and NHL—to a club in need veteran presence. In addition to a combined 350 AHL games played with Hartford, Albany, Charlotte, Syracuse, Oklahoma City and Manchester, and a pair of AHL All-Star selections along the way, Rodney also played 35 NHL games—33 with the Carolina Hurricanes between 2008 and 2011 and two with the Edmonton Oilers during the 2011-12 season. He’s tallied a combined 13 points in the NHL (12 assists and a goal).

At its heart, the Milwaukee Admirals are a minor league team. While Calder Cup contention and entertainment are certainly on the team’s radar, the organization’s priority is molding prospects into NHL players. Two players likely destined for Nashville (or another professional hockey city) are Austin Watson and Magnus Hellberg. Last year, the former led the Admirals with 20 goals in his first taste of the AHL. But the face of the team resides between the pipes. Hellberg was selected by Nashville in the second round (38th overall) in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft. The Swedish goaltender is currently blocked by above average Predators goaltender Pekka Rinne, but he gives the franchise a cushy security blanket in Milwaukee. In 2011-12, Hellberg was a top five AHL goalie, with 916 saves on 991 shots against—well deserving of being honored with a bobblehead.

Like that of most minor league franchises, the Admirals front office isn’t immune from a flurry of petty promotional ploys to bring people through the turnstiles. In addition to the Hellberg bobble giveaway (4/12), there are three team schedule giveaways (each with a different sponsor), a “Purina Dog Day Afternoon” bring your pet day (3/30), Cowbell Night (12/26), and post-game performances from the UW-Badgers band (2/1). Pat McCurdy also performs one Dec. 27 (the promotion is knowing where he won’t be playing that night).

It could be a great season for the Milwaukee Admirals. At worst, it’s an activity to help stave off the winter doldrums. At best, it’s great hockey in our own backyard.

The Admirals open the season against the Abbotsford Heat (in British Colombia) Oct. 11 and play its home opener Oct. 19 versus the Chicago Wolves. For more information or to purchase tickets, go to
MilwaukeeAdmirals.com.