Following the Norfolk Admirals’ 4-0 win over the St. John’s IceCaps in Game 4 of the AHL’s Eastern Conference Finals, deep in the bowels of Mile One Centre in St. John’s, the off-key sound of happy hockey players singing “We Are Young” could be heard bellowing from the Admirals’ locker room.
After Norfolk’s Eastern Conference championship-winning victory wasn’t the only time the song “We Are Young” has been sung around a triumphant Admirals locker room this season, as the hit song has become something of the unofficial anthem for the rookie-laden Norfolk team that faces the Toronto Marlies in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals on Friday night.
Tonight... We are young... So let’s set the world on fire... We can burn brighter than the sun. - Fun. "We Are Young"
“We were all watching 24/7 on HBO earlier in the season,” said Admirals rookie forward Tyler Johnson. “We saw Philly with the ‘Knock Knock.’ The song (‘We Are Young’) then came on when we were watching the Super Bowl together and we just kind of went with it.”
When the Admirals were watching this year’s Super Bowl, it was just hours after a disappointing 4-2 loss to the Springfield Falcons, which, ironically, was Norfolk’s last defeat before starting its professional-hockey record 28-game winning streak to finish the regular season.
“It became our song of choice because we kept winning,” said rookie Cory Conacher. “But it’s really more just a bunch of yelling than singing. Some guys get into it and some just stay pretty quiet, and then you have Pierre-Cedric Labrie with his French accent just yelling the words as loud as he can.”
Along with a usual postgame “concert” after every win, most of the members of the Norfolk Admirals’ glee club have started wearing specially-made up t-shirts under their uniforms with the number “76” on the front for the number of games in an AHL regular season, the number “113” on the back for the number of regular-season points they accumulated and the phrase “We Are Young” squeezed in just a notch above the number “113.”
“We have a shirt that says ‘that,’” said a playfully inquisitive Tyler Johnson, with a smile. “Yeah, that’s just a coincidence. I don’t know anything about that.”
Singing songs and wearing special t-shirts aren’t the only superstitions that the Admirals have adopted during their late-season run.
In fact, moments after each win, Norfolk’s locker room gets briefly closed off to all incoming media, so the team can remain uninterrupted while it completes its various traditions.
“We have a quite a few things we do after games,” said Conacher. “I really can’t say what they are, though. I’m sure some of them will come out when the season ends, but I’m not saying anything right now.”
The Admirals recently advanced to the Calder Cup Finals with a 4-0 series sweep over the St. John's IceCaps (Photo by John Wright / Norfolk Admirals)
Regardless of the outcome of the Calder Cup Finals, the Admirals’ memorable 2011-12 season will come to an end in the next two weeks.
While the outcome of their final-round series against the Toronto Marlies will dictate if the season ends on a happy note, this season will, without doubt, still go down in the books as being a very productive developmental season for many of the Lightning’s top prospects.
“Winning is a sign that your players are getting better,” said Admirals head coach Jon Cooper during the regular season’s final week this past April. “We know we’re going to get everybody’s best game in the playoffs. But if we can keep winning, it will be a great way to prepare our guys for the next stages in their careers.”
Just as Norfolk’s head coach emphasized the importance of this year’s playoffs to his players’ careers seven weeks ago, the Admirals have kept winning in the playoffs, raising their league-best regular-season winning percentage (.743) to .786 in a playoff run where they’ve gone 11-3 through three rounds.
The Admirals’ best playoff performances have come during their last six games, as they’ve outscored their opponents by a clip of 20-3 during a winning streak that has included two straight wins over the Connecticut Whale and four straight wins over the St. John’s IceCaps.
However, Norfolk will have its toughest test of the season in the Finals, as the Western Conference champion Marlies enter the Finals with one fewer playoff loss than the Admirals (11-2), having sustained one loss to each of their last two playoff opponents following a first-round sweep of the Rochester Americans.
But although the Marlies, a team that finished the regular season with a 96-point total that was third overall in the AHL, enter the Finals with a better playoff record than Norfolk, the Admirals will have home-ice advantage due to their having captured the MacGregor Kilpatrick Trophy, which is the AHL’s equivalent to the NHL’s Presidents’ Trophy.
As a result, Game 1 and Game 2 of the Finals will be held in Norfolk next Friday and Saturday nights, before the best-of-seven series shifts to play three straight games in Toronto starting a week from Thursday. If necessary, Game 6 and Game 7 of the Calder Cup Finals will both be held in Norfolk on June 13 and 15.