Norfolk began the week having allowed a league-worst 108 goals and starting netminder Karri Ramo had dropped seven of the past eight starts in which he'd earned a decision. But such statistics have to be mentally pushed aside, said Coach Darren Rumble.
“We're still right there, seven points out of a playoff spot with 15 of our next 19 games at home,” he said. “We've had a tough schedule to this point and if anyone thinks we're done, they might as well stay home because they're sadly mistaken.”
Captain Zenon Konopka pointed out his 2007-08 Syracuse Crunch team was one of the AHL's worst around this time last year but rallied to finish second in its division. He acknowledged, however, that producing the turnaround was draining.
“We're going in the right direction but saying that isn't good enough,” Konopka said. “We're getting to the point where we can't be too far back of the other teams.
“If we struggle and struggle and make the playoffs on the last day of the season, having pushed that hard for three months, it will be tough to make a push in the playoffs. We need to make a push now so that we have a comfortable road to the playoffs.”
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Asked why his team has struggled defensively, Rumble had an answer predicated on the admission that the Admirals are not one of the AHL's best skating teams.
“When we're a half step behind, we get a lot of reaching and holding penalties, which equals power play time for the other team, which equals goals against,” Rumble explained. “We're young on the back end and we have ended up in our own zone quite a bit, but I think with clogging up the neutral zone more, plus better team defensive play and from our goaltenders, we should get it done.”
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With the NHL's Winter Classic outdoor game in Chicago fast approaching, Norfolk defenseman Jamie Heward reminisced recently about his outdoor playing days growing up in suburban Regina, Saskatchewan.
City workers would flood rinks, one for plain skating and one for hockey, on the fields alongside nearly ever Regina school, Heward said. Youngsters would bring a stick, a puck and their skates to school and play pickup games during lunch and after classes. With no glass or wire fencing above the boards, errant shots sometimes meant the puck wasn't rediscovered until spring's thaws.
“Hockey was our life,” Heward said. “I know it's a cliché, but we literally played until we couldn't feel our feet. It could be minus-30 outside and we'd just throw on an extra layer of clothing and one of those robber mask winter hats, the ones with two holes for your eyes and another for your mouth.”
If the rinks were too crowded, Heward and his mates would play street hockey in their boots, whacking about a frozen tennis ball. The best time for those contests was right after an icy rain, when packed snow on the road would become almost as slippery as fresh ice.
Growing up in a household of Montreal Canadiens fans, Heward said he often pretended to be the likes of Guy LaFleur, Larry Robinson or Steve Shutt. And he rarely if ever missed a Hockey Night in Canada telecast.
“Every Saturday night, it was either Montreal or Toronto on TV,” Heward said. “And I was parked in front of the television, soaking it all in.”
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The Augusta Lynx, ECHL affiliate of the Lighting and Admirals, folded because of financial difficulties during the first week of December. Tampa Bay prospects Riku Helenius
, Kevin Quick and Chris Lawrence rejoined the Admirals, although Helenius was subsequently reassigned to ECHL Mississippi.
Quick said there was talk of future uncertainty around the Lynx for a couple of weeks before the team went under, but that there was no specific warning before the franchise officially shut down.
“We were getting ready to go on a road trip and a couple hours before we were going to leave they called us in and told us it was over,” the defenseman said.
Lynx team official Robert Burch told the Augusta Chronicle newspaper that attendance was the main issue in the team's demise.
“We did very well with corporate sponsorship,” Burch said. “We did very poorly with getting people to come out and see the game.”
Augusta is the only team in the ECHL's 21-year history to fold in midseason.