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by Robin Brinkley / Tampa Bay Lightning
NORFOLK - Goaltender Karri Ramo’s first visit to Norfolk last season left quite an impression, but not for the usual reasons. Norfolk was the AHL affiliate for Chicago then and Ramo was the starting goalie for Springfield. When a fight broke out on the ice, Ramo skated out of his end and challenged the Admirals netminder.

Hockey fans have a way of remembering those things and Ramo wondered Tuesday how he’ll be accepted now that Norfolk is a Tampa Bay farm team and he’s the starting goalie for the Admirals.

“They’re good hockey fans, right? And hockey fans like fighting,” he said.

Ramo, only 21, doesn’t plan to become known for his fisticuffs. But the incident last season still resonates with his teammates.

“He’ll battle for you,” said Norm Milley, last year’s captain in Springfield and a candidate to wear the ‘C’ again this season.

Ramo, a native of Finland, was 15-24-1 with a 3.13 goals-against average and .906 save percentage last year for Springfield. He played in two games last season for Tampa Bay and was the backup goalie in the playoffs.

He appeared in one pre-season game this year, a 4-3 win over Detroit, and accepted his assignment to Norfolk in the spirit in which it was meant.

“I played for a spot in Tampa and the way I see it I’m still playing for a spot there,” Ramo said. “Situations change every day. I was happy with my camp but there are still areas I can improve on. “I need to work on my positioning and just getting games under my belt.”

Admirals coach Steve Stirling is happy to have Ramo.

“He’s a great kid, far more mature than his age,” Stirling said. “He’s still got a lot to learn and he’ll play two out of three, three out of four games here to get the experience necessary to go back.”

Milley, 27, is the senior member of the Admirals in terms of pro experience. That doesn’t exactly make him a father figure to his teammates, but he is a father. Katie Milley gave birth to Noah Norman Milley on April 11. That livened up the 17-hour drive from their home in Sudbury, Ontario to Norfolk for the start of camp, he said. Milley, a left wing, is excited over the move from Springfield to Norfolk, and think it augers a better record.

“This was my first practice today,” he said, “and the tempo was as good as, if not better than, last year. We’ve got a good group of young guys mixed with some experience.

“Our goal is to make the playoffs.”

That journey starts Friday night in Philadelphia. Stirling was still carrying 26 players - the limit is 19 - on Tuesday and admitted that making final cuts will be hard. The team’s strengths figure to be goaltending and defense.
“We’ll have to win 3-2, 2-1, 1-0,” he said. “If we get four scoring chances, we’ll have to bury two.”

The Admirals open with four straight road games. That’s tough on the team, but good for business, according to management. Norfolk opened with three consecutive weekends at home last year, a period when attendance is usually stagnant. They play only four home games in October this season and 32 of their 40 home dates are weekends.

The Admirals split their two pre-season games, losing to Hershey and beating Philadelphia in a shootout. Norfolk has never missed the playoffs in 18 seasons, starting in the East Coast League and continuing in the AHL, and the players were issued shirts upon entering camp with the Admirals’ logo and the number 19 on it.
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