Karri Ramo: There's always a slight question of attitude when a player capable of NHL performance is sent down to the AHL. But Ramo has not only refused to sulk, he's been absolutely amazing in net. Norfolk lost a road game in a shootout to Rockford last weekend but the Finnish backstop made 12 saves in overtime, at least eight of which were outstanding.
Radek Smolenak: European players are still sometimes stereotyped as passive, even timid participants in the North American game. Not Smolenak, who's twice posted a “Gordie Howe hat trick” this season by accumulating a goal, an assist and a fight in the same game. Remember Esa Tikkanen, the skilled but abrasive forward on Edmonton Oilers teams of yore? That's Smolenak, but with a shaved head and a better command of the English language.
Paul Szczechura: He was an unknown quantity when he joined the Admirals partway through last season in a swap with Iowa for former captain Dan Jancevski. Since then, he might have been the Admirals' best player. He's tied for the lead in points (8), leads in assists (5) and is second in plus/minus rating at plus-2. The Western Michigan University product is a bit undersized but he's the complete package at the AHL level.
Brandon Segal: Again, he came in under the radar when picked up in a trade last season. And again, he's been one of Norfolk's top performers ever since. He's tied with Szczechura for the team points lead, is tied with Smolenak with a team-best eight goals and keeps mistakes to an absolute minimum. He’s a tough, heady player who's bucking for an NHL promotion.
Andy Rogers: Norfolk's blueliners have struggled mightily in the early going but Rogers has been, as the saying goes, like tomato soup. Open the can and you know exactly what will come out. He's the only Admirals regular defenseman with a plus rating and has become comfortable enough with his puck handling that he can concentrate on physical play.
Bracken Kearns: He was brought up from the ECHL last winter and was an alternate captain by season's end. He’s a top-notch penalty killer who almost never hurts his team with turnovers or by being out of position. His hustle and savvy is a great example for younger teammates.
* * * * *
Another player who's shown flashes of excellent play has been Juraj Simek, acquired from Vancouver earlier this season. The wing has shown some serious skill and has an even rating in five games but needs to avoid mental meltdowns like the one suffered Sunday in Grand Rapids.
That afternoon, Simek twice committed penalties that led to Griffins goals in a 6-3 loss at Van Andel Arena. He later scored, but with his team down 4-3 in the third period, he was stripped of the puck in his own zone and the thief scored seconds later.
“He was excellent Friday and Saturday in Rockford but he tried to do too much tonight,” said Norfolk coach Darren Rumble. “Instead of trying to skate around a guy on bad ice, he needed to move the puck. We can't have plays like that when we're struggling for a win.”
* * * * *
After losing three games in three days, some coaches would order up a punishing practice, but not Rumble. At least not in this situation. The Admirals spent Monday flying back to Norfolk and had only Tuesday to practice before Wednesday's game with the Phantoms.
“The first thing we need is to feel good physically,” Rumble said. “We'll skate Tuesday to get our bodies loose and our timing back, but we need a win. If I bag skate them Tuesday, we might as well mail in two points to Philadelphia.”
Wednesday's game will also see Norfolk forward Peter Zingoni make his first appearance against his former team. The Providence College product had 20 goals and 38 points for the Phantoms last season.
Zingoni missed Norfolk's first four games this season as he continued to recover from off season groin surgery. He has a goal and a minus-1 rating in three games since his return.
* * * * *
The Augusta Lynx, ECHL affiliate of the Tampa Bay Lightning and Norfolk Admirals, are included in a new book by longtime hockey athletic trainer Brian Patafie. “Ice It Down” is described on the book's Web site as “a realistic overview of Patafie's 30-year career... from his humble beginning in upstate New York with the Utica Mohawks in the historic North Eastern Hockey League to his rise to the NHL with the Calgary Flames.”
Patafie was Augusta's trainer when the franchise debuted in the ECHL and he will be signing copies of his publication at the Lynx home game Dec. 20. Information on the book and how to order it is available at www.iceitdown.ca