NORFOLK – Take the player of the week off a last-place team and what do you get? A juggernaut.
The Admirals tied a franchise record with five goals in the first period Wednesday night and cruised to a 7-3 win against the first-place Philadelphia Phantoms at Scope.
The hometown fans never got to see left wing Mathieu Darche, who scored 10 points in four games – all on the road. He was recalled to Tampa Bay on Nov. 20, one day after being named RBK/AHL Player of the Week.
Darche’s departure broke up the budding WMD line of Kyle Wanvig, Craig MacDonald and Darche – and created a golden opportunity for someone else. “I’d want to play on that line; wouldn’t you?” Admirals coach Steve Stirling said. “You’ve got a big-time pro in the middle (MacDonald) and a guy on the other wing who’s hot and can go up and down the ice.”
MacDonald had a goal and two assists against Philadelphia, while Wanvig extended his goal-scoring streak to six games with a first-period penalty shot.
Stirling thought about replacing Darche by committee. Norm Milley got the first crack and scored a second-period goal on an assist from MacDonald. Karl Stewart also skated some shifts with MacDonald and Wanvig and added a power-play goal in the third period. Wanvig is tied for the league lead in goals with 11 and is second in points with 24.
“It’s eerie,” he said. “Hockey is a lot about momentum and luck.” Wanvig, who turns 27 in January, has played in 68 NHL games, including four last year with Tampa Bay. He’s watched a progression of players go back-and-forth between Tampa and Norfolk this season, but said that’s not his focus.
“I’m ready, and my phone’s always on,” he joked about a possible call-up. “But I’m playing for the Norfolk Admirals, and hopefully we can keep it going here.”
The first line wasn’t the only line that played well against Philadelphia. Blair Jones, who centered the second line with Justin Keller and Stewart, was named the No. 1 star after scoring two goals and handing out an assist. The goals were his first in 10 games.
“It’s been a little bit of a struggle,” Jones said. “Sometimes you get the right mix and it really pans out. Hopefully, I can keep it going.”
Stirling served special praise for the third line of left wing Rob Klinkhammer, center Jeff Campbell and right wing Chris Lawrence. “That might have been the best third-line play we’ve had all year,” he said. “They brought energy.”
Campbell, a natural right wing who can play center, scored his first goal for the Admirals against Philadelphia. He was tied for the ECHL lead in assists when the Admirals signed him to a professional tryout contract on Nov. 8.
Stirling called Klinkhammer a “plugger” and added “we’re trying to get Lawrence to play the same way.”
Goalie Karri Ramo, who had been out since early October with a high ankle sprain, made it through a full practice on Tuesday. Stirling hopes to have him back next weekend. Jonathan Boutin, who has received most of the starts in Ramo’s absence, improved to 4-2-2 with a 2.63 GAA.
The Admirals host the Springfield Falcons (Edmonton) Friday and Saturday nights.
ECHL - The Mississippi Seawolves received reinforcements last week when goalie Ryan Munce and forward Mark Rooneem were sent down from Norfolk. Munce was 2-6 with a 2.99 GAA and Rooneem scored one goal in four games with the Admirals. Rooneem was Mississippi’s leading scorer with three goals and two assists at the time of his recall. Mississippi continues to struggle in the ECHL’s South Division. The Seawolves fell to 1-9 in November with a 4-0 loss to Augusta on Thanksgiving. Four of the losses are by one goal. The Seawolves host the Lynx again tonight and Saturday.