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Calder Cup playoff veterans lead Admirals by example

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning
When the Tampa Bay Lightning acquired forward Brandon Segal from the Chicago Blackhawks on Feb. 21, the Bolts’ top AHL affiliate in Norfolk was busy stringing together a series of consecutive victories that would eventually turn into a professional hockey record-setting win streak.

The timing of the transaction, while impeccable, was no coincidence.

With the parent club in Tampa Bay sitting on the outside looking in at a playoff spot, the acquisition of Segal seemingly appeared as nothing more than a move that added organizational depth for the long term, but one that also provided a young Admirals team surging towards the playoffs with postseason experience, character and leadership.

Now, two games into the AHL’s 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs, Segal and several of his teammates are bringing just that.

“It’s important for myself and for some of the more experienced guys in the room to step up,” Segal said. “On the ice, I think we just need to play our game and try not to change too much, and off the ice, try to be vocal in the locker room and help out wherever we can.”

Segal, 28, is just one of six Admirals with over 20 games of Calder Cup playoff experience, having appeared in 43 such games himself. He won the Calder Cup back in 2004 as a member of the Milwaukee Admirals, and got back to the final again in 2006 before losing in six games to the Hershey Bears.

By comparison, forward Michel Ouellet has also played in 35 AHL postseason contests, Pierre-Cedric Labrie 25, Mike Angelidis and JP Cote 24, and Alex Picard 21.

Adding to the appeal of the collective group is that each member also has played at one time or another in the NHL.

“They’ve been great leaders for us all year,” rookie Cory Conacher said. “All of those guys have been around and know what it takes to compete at this level, so anytime they have something to say, everyone is usually pretty quick to jump up and listen.”

For young players such as Conacher and fellow rookie Tyler Johnson, there is a lot to be gathered merely through observation.

Take for example on Saturday night, during the second period of Game 2 of the Eastern Conference Quarterfinals series against the Manchester Monarchs.

Brandon Segal gains experience with the Lightning during a March 2012 callup. (Photo by Len Redkoles/NHLI via Getty Images)
Down 2-0 after the first 20 minutes, and with Johnson out of the lineup due to injury, Picard notched a pair of goals just 4:52 apart to send a tied game into the final period.

Naturally, in Johnson’s absence, Segal stepped up to fill in on the top line and even recorded an assist on the first of Picard’s goals.

“I’m just trying to play my game and help us make a run here,” Segal added. “If at the same time I can elevate my play and maybe use that to set an example, that would be great.”

It seems as if Segal and the rest of the Admirals’ Calder Cup playoff veterans are well on their way.

In 2007, Cote helped his Hamilton Bulldogs squad capture a Calder Cup championship after it defeated three higher seeds on its way to the title. Angelidis, the Norfolk captain, is coming off a career year last season in which he had 20 goals and 38 points to help lead the Admirals to their first-ever playoff appearance as a Lightning affiliate.

The list goes on.

Ouellet, the oldest member on the Admirals’ postseason roster, played in five NHL Stanley Cup Playoff games with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2007, while Labrie is a fifth-year professional and a seasoned veteran of 311 career AHL regular season games.

“There’s no shortage of veteran experience on our team, that’s for sure,” Admirals head coach Jon Cooper said. “We have a strong core that’s played a lot of different places and in a lot of different situations, so for having somewhat of a younger team, that’s a huge asset to have.

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