Over the course of a long season, hockey teams go through a lot.
Starting with training camp in Sept. and the regular-season opener in Oct., the 2011-12 Norfolk Admirals have been together for the last nine months, taking long road trips on buses up and down the east coast and developing as hockey players together.
But for all the events along the journey’s road, the scenario is remarkably simple on Saturday: win today and become Calder Cup champions.
“We know there’s a long way to go,” said goaltender Dustin Tokarski following Thursday night’s Game 3 victory. “Game 4 we know is always the hardest one to win, just as we saw with Los Angeles and the Devils. We just have to come out and take it period by period to give ourselves a chance to win.”
Of course, should the Marlies win the series’ Game 4 at 3 pm this afternoon, the Admirals would get a second chance to wrap up the Calder Cup on Sunday afternoon in Toronto.
But for Norfolk, it sees Saturday’s Game 4 as its best opportunity to close out a Marlies team that fell into a devastating 0-3 hole in the series due to a Mike Kostka overtime goal in Game 3 that was scored when a would-be dump-in caught a stanchion in the glass, changed direction and rolled into a net that was vacated by Ben Scrivens, who was already positioned behind the cage to field Kostka’s intended dump-in.
“After something like that happens, you always think that it was just meant to be,” said Kostka. “But what happened wasn’t planned to go the way it did.”
The matter was made even more complicated when the American Hockey League released a statement on Friday afternoon stating that Kostka’s goal “shouldn’t” have counted, due to a misinterpretation of the rules by Game 3’s on-ice officials that should have blown the whistle during the play due to a delayed offside.
“We have spoken with Toronto Marlies management and confirmed that a rules interpretation error by the on-ice officials occurred on the Norfolk Admirals’ overtime goal during Game 3 of the Calder Cup Finals,” said AHL president Dave Andrew in a written statement. “On the play, a dump-in from center ice by a Norfolk player caromed off a stanchion and into the Toronto net. The correct application of AHL Rule 83.4 would have negated the Norfolk goal due to a delayed offside call. As AHL By-Laws do not allow for any change to the final result of a game based on an incorrect rule interpretation, the result of the game stands.”
But regardless of the controversy that surrounded Game 3’s finish, the Admirals have been the better team in the Calder Cup Finals, even having outscored Toronto at a rate of 7-3 before Kostka’s controversial goal to win a Game 3 that Norfolk had a 25-10 shots advantage in from the beginning of the second period through the game’s conclusion.
“I think we earned the win with how we played, but what happened at the end was a very lucky bounce,” said Admirals head coach Jon Cooper. “After we win a game of this magnitude, I don’t think there’s much else to be said.”
Thursday, June 7, 2012
With the Calder Cup Finals having shifted north of the border to Toronto, the Admirals will look to take a 3-0 win in their final-round series on Thursday night, having decisively captured 3-1 and 4-2 victories over the Marlies last weekend in Norfolk.
With the Lightning’s top minor-league affiliate now just two wins from winning a championship, while having won its last eight games and 41 of its last 44 games dating back to the regular season, Admirals head coach Jon Cooper says that at this point in the season, his team securing the series’ final two wins will just be a matter of continuing to do the same things that it has done for most of the past few months.
“Right now, it’s not Xs and Os anymore,” said Cooper. “At this point, it’s about compete level and staying focused on our gameplan. With their crowd, it’ll be an unreal atmosphere tonight right after the anthems, so we’ll just have to get through the first 5-8 minutes. But we know what to expect.”
Meanwhile, the Marlies are hoping that they find their game on home ice, which is a spot where they are 6-1 in this year’s playoffs, as part of an 11-2 overall playoff record they had through three rounds before dropping the first two games of the Finals to Norfolk.
A major reason that Toronto has began to lose some of the steam it built up during the playoffs’ first three rounds is because of the numerous injuries to many of its top players.
Although two of the team’s better forwards, former Lightning prospect Carter Ashton and Marcel Mueller, have returned from injuries in the series, the Marlies will not be getting the AHL’s leading playoff goal scorer, Matt Frattin, back in the series, while Mike Zigomanis, Nazem Kadri and Jesse Blacker have all yet to see action in the Finals.
Of Toronto’s various remaining injured players, Mike Zigomanis, the team’s veteran regular-season leading scorer, appears closest to returning to action.
“Whether they have one or two guys come in and out of their lineup or not, it doesn’t affect how we prepare for what we have to do,” added Cooper. “In their case, it might change who will be on their power play at times, so we do have to be aware and focus on that. But in terms of our entire gameplan, we’re just worried about what we do and not at all about what the other team does.”
While the statuses of the Marlies’ injured players remain shrouded in mystery, the Admirals had defenseman Scott Jackson participating in the team’s morning skate on Thursday. Although it can’t be confirmed yet if Jackson will be in the lineup tonight, he’s obviously making great strides towards recovery, since he was sidelined midway through Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals after being hit just inside the ear while sliding to block a slap shot.
ABOUT THE VENUE:
The Marlies’ home arena, where the series’ next three games will be played, is Ricoh Coliseum, which opened in 1921 and is the oldest arena in North America to house a professional hockey team. At the time Ricoh Coliseum was built directly along the shores of Lake Ontario in Toronto, prior to the existence of both the NHL’s Maple Leafs and Maple Leaf Gardens, it was billed as the largest structure of its kind in the world, having been primarily used in its earlier years as the display ring for the Royal Agricultural Winter Fair and to house recruits for the Royal Canadian Air Force during World War II. Ricoh Coliseum has been the Marlies’ home since they entered the American Hockey League at the start of the 2005-06 season.
Saturday, June 2, 2012
On the surface, the Norfolk Admirals’ 3-1 win over the Toronto Marlies in Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals on Friday night might just seem to be everything going according to plan, given that the Admirals have won seven straight playoff games and 40 of their last 43 contests overall, dating back to early Feb.
However, Norfolk has to be concerned with the outbreak of penalties it has taken lately.
Although killing 10 straight power plays like they did in Game 1 masks some of the ugliness of the problem, the Admirals are fully aware that they can’t continue to flirt with danger by taking unnecessary penalties.
“We play an aggressive style of hockey,” said Admirals head coach Jon Cooper. “When you’re aggressive and hard on the puck, you’re probably going to take some penalties. It’s the ones where we take a hooking penalty 175 feet from our own net that are bad penalties. We have to eliminate those. “
Conversely, the Marlies aren’t happy about their 10 power-play opportunities in Game 1 either, since they were held scoreless while playing nearly 1/3 of Game 1 with one more player than their opponent, when a single power-play goal would have forced overtime in a game that Brandon Segal capped off by scoring a late empty-net goal.
While one Toronto-area columnist attributed the Marlies’ power-play woes to the ice quality at Norfolk Scope Arena by labeling it “the worst in pro hockey;” the fact of the matter is that the Admirals’ power-unit connected for a power-play goal that proved to be the game-winner on the same ice surface, where every Norfolk player on the ice touched the puck during the sequence.
Following Game 1, Marlies head coach Dallas Eakins also expressed his displeasure with the ice surface, however, Toronto will be hard pressed to find any power-play success in the series if it doesn’t simplify its game, given that most of the Admirals’ penalty-killing success in Game 1 came from intercepting low-percentage passing attempts made by a team that occasionally seemed reluctant to just turn to shoot the puck at Dustin Tokarski.
Another thing that could have caused the Marlies’ power play to struggle was a lack of line chemistry, since Toronto’s injuries have been so numerous that it has been hard for it to keep many of the same lines intact for consecutive games even.
The Marlies’ injury situation did get better on Friday, though, as former Lightning first-round draft pick Carter Ashton returned from a concussion and scored his new team’s only goal, while high-scoring German forward Marcel Mueller also returned from injury.
However, Toronto is still expected to be without the services of Mike Zigomanis, Nazem Kadri, Jesse Blacker and Matt Frattin--players who would be top-line or top defensive-pair players on nearly any team in the American Hockey League.
Meanwhile, the Admirals are still relatively healthy, with their only main injury being that of heavily-bearded defenseman Scott Jackson, who still hasn’t practiced since getting struck in the face with a slap shot during the Eastern Conference Finals.
Friday, June 1, 2012
Friday was finally a morning where the Norfolk Admirals could wake up with a game to play.
And the sentiment of Game 1 of the Calder Cup Finals “finally” having arrived was definitely apparent in the Admirals’ morning skate, given the 10 days it has been since Norfolk completed its four-game sweep of the St. John’s IceCaps in the Eastern Conference Finals.
“The theme in our locker room today was ‘Thank God practice is over,’” said Admirals head coach Jon Cooper. “We had 10 days off and were at such a high emotional state for two months in the playoffs, that it’s almost like the days off were a step back before the final challenge. A lot of guys have been itching to play again and we should be more than ready to go for this one.”
For the Admirals, being ready to shrug off the cobwebs that come with 10 days off and continuing to play the way they did against the IceCaps will be the primary objective in Game 1, given that Norfolk’s final win over St. John’s was its sixth straight overall win in a year where Admirals defenseman Keith Aulie insists that Norfolk’s play has only gotten better as the playoffs have progressed.
“We have gotten better,” Aulie said. “We didn’t always play the way we wanted to earlier in the playoffs and were undisciplined at times, and lost a few games. I think we really buckled down in the last round and focused on the task, were more disciplined and the results showed.”
Marlies Injury Report:
For the Marlies, their seven days off since clinching the Western Conference title has hardly been enough, as Toronto enters Game 1 tonight with injuries aplenty and many questions as to who will dress in tonight’s game.
As of Friday morning, the following is the Marlies’ current injured list and each player’s status for the series.
Carter Ashton: The Lightning’s first-round draft pick from 2009 that was sent to Toronto at this year’s trade deadline for Keith Aulie hasn’t played since the first round of the playoffs (concussion), but skated this morning.
Matt Frattin: The forward who leads the AHL with 10 playoff goals through three rounds will not play in the Finals, due to a knee injury he suffered in the Western Conference Finals.
Mike Zigomanis: The Marlies’ regular-season leading scorer didn’t practice on Friday morning and has missed his team’s last two playoff games. His status for the rest of the series remains unknown.
Nazem Kadri: The highly-touted center who was the Toronto Maple Leafs’ first-round draft pick in 2009 didn’t practice on Friday and has missed each of the Marlies’ last two playoff games.
Marcel Mueller: The Marlies’ third leading scorer from the regular season skated on Friday morning, but has missed each of Toronto’s last three games.
Jesse Blacker: Blacker, considered by many to be the Maple Leafs’ second-ranked defensive prospect—behind Marlies defenseman Jake Gardiner--didn’t skate on Friday and hasn’t played a game since the second round of the playoffs.
Korbinian Holzer: A member of the Marlies’ top shutdown defensive pair who was sparingly seen in Friday’s practice. Although the German-born Holzer hasn’t missed any games yet, reports out of Toronto have been that he’s been playing hurt. Status for tonight’s game is unknown.
ADMIRALS INJURY REPORT
In stark contrast to their opponents, the Admirals’ only major injury is that of Scott Jackson, the 6-foot-4, 215-pound defenseman who hasn’t played a game or practiced since leaving Game 3 of the Eastern Conference Finals against St. John’s, after getting knocked unconscious by getting hit just inside the ear while sliding to block a slap shot.
In Jackson’s apparent absence, it looks as if Keith Aulie will step up to join Radko Gudas on Norfolk’s top shutdown defensive pair, which should be a seamless transition given the similarities that Aulie and Jackson have in both physical size and style of play.
WHAT EXACTLY IS A "MARLIE?"
Since the 2005-06 season, the Toronto Maple Leafs’ top minor-league affiliate has been the Toronto Marlies, who are named in honor of former amateur and junior teams named the Toronto Marlboroughs—the original Marlboroughs were named for the ninth Duke of Marlborough of England, to where Canada still maintains its allegiance. The junior Marlboroughs—or Marlies for short—were one of Canada’s top junior teams from 1904-1989, which is a span where they won several Memorial Cups. Additionally, the amateur-level Marlboroughs that preceded the junior Marlboroughs actually once played for the Stanley Cup in the pre-NHL era, dropping consecutive games in a total-goal Stanley Cup Finals series against the Ottawa Silver Seven in Feb. 1904.
Despite the teams they’re named for, the current incarnation of the team scraps direct connection to the “Marlboroughs” name and is officially called just the “Marlies,” as to avoid any connection to the Marlboro cigarette company.