Norfolk Admirals coach Darren Rumble guides a young team in one of the AHL's toughest divisions, so it's easy to forget the bench boss is a rookie himself. After nearly four months of game action, the former defenseman and Norfolk assistant admits he's faced a learning curve every bit as steep as any of the Admirals.
“I thought it would be an easier transition from good cop to bad cop,” said Rumble, who worked alongside 2007-08 Norfolk coach Steve Stirling and acted as the former during that time.
This season's Admirals started slowly and are paying for it now, fighting to remain in realistic playoff contention although the campaign's second half has just begun. Rumble put his foot down by putting the players through postgame skating drills one night last month, and wishes he'd sent that message earlier.
“I felt I owed it to the older guys to give them more leeway,” Rumble said. “I didn't hold them accountable as I should have and therefore our production was a bit less than what we all expected. Now they know what I'm about and that whatever I do, there's a purpose and a consequence if it's not done.”
Norfolk is 8-6 since the postgame skate after being swept at home by Worcester last weekend.
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Admirals general manager Mike Butters loves to tease his players and he wasn't going to let an opportunity slip away earlier this season when he called Radek Smolenak and Paul Szczechura into his office.
The team hadn't played well in its previous two games and Butters told the Virginian-Pilot that his first words to the duo were “What do you know about Augusta?”, referring to the Admirals then-ECHL affiliate, which would later disband.
Instead of being sent down a league, however, Smolenak and Szczechura were being promoted to the Lighting. Szczechura has been there ever since and Smolenak is back and pushing for another recall.
“People always want to talk about how you get more money in the NHL,” Smolenak told the Pilot. “But it's really not about the money. When you're in the NHL, even the water tastes better. Everything about it is better. So my goal now is do anything I can to get back to Tampa Bay.”
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Despite posting a 6-2 victory at Scope on Wednesday, the Hershey Bears probably don't want to return to Norfolk any time soon. That's because the AHL's best team experienced one of those only-in-the-minors incidents on its way out of town.
The club's traveling party put in orders for a postgame meal but upon delivery, it was found to be lacking. Some meals weren't delivered at all, others were wrong and there were no utensils with which to eat. So the Bears hopped on their bus and went looking for a bite to eat elsewhere.
After discovering that most restaurants were closed, the Bears came upon a Burger King and descended en masse, ready to order a whole lotta Whoppers. However, as Hershey broadcaster John Walton wrote in his blog, “The dining room is closed. You have to go through the drive thru or they won't serve you. Which brings us to our next problem. We can't drive our bus through said drive thru, and the BK crew won't serve anyone in the drive thru line who isn't actually in a vehicle.”
Keith Aucoin, the AHL's leading scorer, couldn't take it any more and bolted across the street to gorge himself on whatever was available at a gas station's mini-mart. The bus rolled a little farther down the road and came upon a Wendy's, where the staff was talked into serving the Bears through the drive-thru window even though they weren't driving.
“Our bus driver, Jay, has a picture on his camera of our crew huddled outside the drive-thru, looking the part of zoo animal waiting to be thrown some red meat,” Walton wrote. “Sometimes travel in the minors is not as glamorous as you think... but it's a long way to the top if you want to rock and roll.”
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Most Lightning fans only know of Norfolk's hockey team as an AHL franchise. But the Admirals nickname came about when an ECHL franchise brought pro hockey back to Scope arena and the Hampton Roads region beginning in 1989.
Blake Cullen, a former Major League Baseball executive, bought that franchise for $25,000 and sold it in 1996. The ECHL Admirals franchise was sold to make way for the Norfolk Admirals AHL team in 2000 and Cullen was among the first inductees in the Admirals Hall of Fame last winter.
John Brophy, Al MacIsaac and Rod Taylor joined Cullen in that class. Brophy led the ECHL Admirals to three league titles with Taylor as one of his top players, and MacIsaac was a player, assistant coach and general manager during those days.
The Admirals recently announced their second Hall of Fame induction class and it's comprised of former player Victor Gervais and onetime goaltender and front office man Mark Bernard.
Gervais spent parts of seven seasons as an ECHL Admiral and finished second on the team's career points list. He helped the Admirals to the Riley Cup Championship in 1992 and the Kelly Cup Championship in 1998. His 118 points during the 1992-93 season remain the most ever in an Admirals season.
Bernard was an ECHL Admirals goaltender for parts of four seasons, backstopping the team to its first two titles and earning the 1992 playoff MVP award for going 12-2 in the postseason. He finished second in career victories and while serving as the AHL Admirals' vice president from 2006-08, helped the club increase its attendance.