With the Admirals having turned the page from their first-round series against the Manchester Monarchs, the theme in Wednesday’s morning skate prior to Norfolk’s first second-round playoff game against the Connecticut Whale was that of a “fresh start.”
No Admiral is in more need of a fresh start in the Eastern Conference Semifinals than Tyler Johnson, the 2012 AHL All-Rookie center who missed the final 3 ½ games against the Monarchs, after leaving the ice with an upper-body injury during Norfolk’s first playoff game 12 days ago.
However, Johnson was a full participant in Wednesday’s morning skate and Admirals head coach Jon Cooper has declared that he will be back in the lineup for Game 1 against Connecticut on Wednesday night.
Meanwhile, the Whale also seemed to be embracing the idea of a “fresh start” during their morning skate, given that they dropped all four of their regular-season matchups against the Admirals this year.
Connecticut’s “fresh start” is expressed in the form of its newest players, as several of the New York Rangers’ top prospects finished their junior careers and joined the Whale late in the season, since Connecticut suffered its most recent loss to Norfolk on March 10.
Dustin Tokarski and Jaroslav Janus continue to split time between the pipes for the Admirals.
“We have guys like (2011 first-round draft pick) JT Miller and (2010 second-round draft pick) Christian Thomas who have joined us,” said Whale assistant coach JJ Daigneault. “These guys are young kids who are still getting used to the AHL game, but they’re all highly-skilled guys that have a lot of speed. For our team, I think the best has yet to come.”
Along with Miller and Thomas, the Whale also added veteran Casey Wellman and forward Marek Hrivik, who led Connecticut with four goals during its first-round sweep of the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. Another recent Whale addition was the Rangers’ 2010 first-round draft pick, punishing defenseman Dylan McIlrath, who joined Connecticut on Monday and has yet to play a game.
Even though the Whale’s new-look roster has sixth-seeded Connecticut believing it can upset the top-seeded Admirals, Jon Cooper thinks the key for his newly-healthy team is just re-establishing its line combinations and playing its own system, no matter what the Whale bring to the table.
“I thought we got hot in the latter stages of Game 4 in Manchester,” said Cooper “The Whale have some guys we haven’t seen yet, but I think we can throw some different looks at them, too. We don’t just have a plan ‘A’ of how we play and that’s it. We’ll see what groups we can get into a groove tonight and move forward from there.”