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Admirals Plan To Work Their Way Out Of Early-Season Slump

by Tris Wykes / Tampa Bay Lightning

The course has been plotted and the Norfolk Admirals have been handed their oars. Whether they cover the distance needed depends mostly on their work ethic, say the men in charge of the ship.

That would be General Manager Mike Butters and Coach Darren Rumble, who spent the second half of Tuesday's lengthy practice seated in a corner of Scope's lower bowl, sharing serious expressions and what Rumble would later describe only as “a hockey conversation”.

It would have been a safe guess that the pair weren't discussing gardening tips. Not with the Admirals' slow start, a pair of upcoming games against red-hot Rockford and a two-week, seven-game road trip to follow. No, the men in charge no doubt got down to brass tacks while the players were put through their paces by Assistant Coach Alan May.

“We're playing a game we love and that's great, but this is also a business,” Rumble said a few minutes later. “This is what puts food on a lot of people's tables and we need to come to the rink with a sense of urgency and not just go through the motions.”

Norfolk played hard and well in its most recent game, last Saturday against visiting Portland, despite dropping its seventh consecutive decision. The Admirals (1-6-1-2) are tied for last in the AHL's 14-team Eastern Conference and much of that is because of their defense, which is what May addressed in drills Tuesday.

Playing in one's own end is all about hard work and determination. Rumble said that thinking needs to carry over to the neutral and offensive zones for his team, which he described as “not super fast”.

“We have to play with higher energy and at a higher tempo,” Rumble said. “We have to fight for every inch of ice and we can't drop off at the end of games. So it's going to be short shifts and being in better shape than anybody else.

“We're going to hard work our way out of this.”

That philosophy has shown itself in tough practices this week, including a rare Sunday afternoon workout only 15 hours after the conclusion of that hard-fought loss to Portland. When May was finished teaching defense Tuesday, his troops skated repeated loops around the ice, digging deep groves in the snowy surface. They broke for lunch and returned afterward for video study.

“If your legs are strong, then your mind is strong,” Rumble said. “Not being tired prevents mistakes.”

“We dominated at times Saturday but we ran out of steam,” Butters said. “We're not working the players hard to punish them, but to change the culture to consistent competitiveness, in practices as well as games.”

The general manager pointed out that while his team hasn't played to its potential, it's also been “snake-bit” at times. Brandon Bochenski, who's being counted on to lead the offense, took a whopping 15 shots in two games last weekend but didn't score. And Norfolk held an 18-8 shot advantage in the first period Saturday against Portland but entered the initial intermission down 1-0 on a goal in the stanza's final seconds.

“I'm a prideful guy and the coaches and players are the same way,” Butters said. “But I have to remind myself every day that it's going to take time.”

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