NORFOLK, VA - Norfolk Admirals defenseman Andy Rogers, Tampa Bay's first pick in the 2005 NHL Entry Draft, has once again been struck by the injury bug.
Rogers hasn't played since Feb. 2, sidelined this time by a fractured vertebrae in his lower back. Groin and ankle injuries had previously limited his ice time since his final junior season in 2005-06. Sent down to the ECHL and the Mississippi Sea Wolves in December, Rogers returned in good physical and mental shape and had been one of Norfolk's best defenders before his latest injury.
The Admirals, who this week embarked on a 17-day, nine-game road trip, didn't take Rogers with them and his home locker stall was been assigned to another player in the final days before the trek. The 21-year-old said part of his recent rehabilitation has been running in a swimming pool in an effort to maintain leg strength and conditioning while not stressing his back.
The Calgary product missed the Admirals' last seven games before the road trip began. Prior to that, he had played in 19 games with one assist and 16 penalty minutes since rejoining Norfolk from Mississippi on December 19.
Norfolk and Worcester staged a line brawl and numerous smaller fights during a two-game series at Scope on Feb. 15-16. The real fun started after Admirals forward Karl Stewart hit T.J. Fox from behind and knocked him into the corner boards. No Sharks retaliated immediately, but Worcester's Mike Iggulden made a rush at Stewart off the next period's face-off and soon all 12 players on the ice were locked in combat.
Said Stewart: “I guess they have to make excuses to feel better about themselves. Anytime you finish your checks, some guy's going to have an ego and think he's untouchable.”
Included in the line brawl was a goalie fight between Norfolk's Jonathan Boutin and Worcester's Thomas Greiss. Boutin won the bout hands-down and he and Greiss exchanged genuine pleasantries after going toe-to-toe.
“I asked him if he wanted to do it again and he said it was over so I said good job and that was it,” said Boutin, who left the arena with an aching right hand. “We're not the toughest team in the league but we can stick together. They jumped us and we didn't get scared and we jumped back.”
Norfolk coach Steve Stirling isn't a proponent of brawls but said one or two a season can bring a team together. He wasn't surprised to see the fisticuffs develop after Stewart's hit and given a lopsided score in Norfolk's favor.
“You always know in that situation people will do stupid things,” Stirling said. “If the referee had called a penalty on Stewie it wouldn't have gotten to that. They wanted to get him and so all hell broke loose. They figured ‘We're down and out, why not do something stupid and maybe it'll get us charged.’“
In all, three players from each team were ejected and the teams combined for 166 penalty minutes. The Admirals won both contests with Worcester by 4-2 scores.
Although most fans in attendance got a kick out of the widespread fighting against Worcester, a somber moment came when Admirals athletic trainer Tommy Alva fell face-first into the ice while trying to assist a player just after the line brawl.
The former Dallas Stars assistant was helped off after several minutes by obviously concerned players and spent the night at a nearby hospital with a concussion. Thankfully, Alva was able to recover in time to join the team when it departed on its current road trip, although former Admirals trainer Kevin “Stu” Bender filled in for him during the Feb. 16 home game.
Postgame quotes from Norfolk's Kyle Wanvig, who fought Worcester's Brennan Evans the night following the line brawl after first getting a roughing penalty for scuffling with him:
“He must have asked me to fight five times yesterday,'” Wanvig said. “I'm not a guy to turn down many fights so I finally told him in the penalty box tonight that we'll go as soon as we get out but that's it; shut up and play the game and leave me alone and play hockey.
“He's told to go after me and it's kind of flattering, but in the end I was getting sick of a guy going after me and chirping in my ear every shift.”
The Admirals shed two players immediately before they left for their road trip, releasing Shawn Collymore and assigning Zbynek Hrdel to Mississippi.Collymore, a 6-foot, 193-pound forward from LaSalle, Québec, had appeared in 10n games with the Admirals, scoring one goal and one assist with four penalty minutes and an even plus/minus rating. He earned the tryout contract out of Admirals training camp. Collymore has missed significant time this season due to injuries.Hrdel, a 6-1, 199-pound right wing, had two goals and six penalty minutes in 16 games with Norfolk this season. During his most recent stint with the club, he had one goal and six penalty minutes in 10 games after being reassigned from Mississippi on December 10. In 66 career AHL games between Norfolk and the Springfield Falcons, Hrdel has seven goals and 10 assists with 32 penalty minutes.
This will be Hrdel's second stint with the Sea Wolves this season. In 10 prior games with Mississippi, Hrdel has two goals and two assists with six penalty minutes. In 90 career ECHL games between Mississippi and the Johnstown Chiefs, the third-year pro out of Pisek, Czech Republic, has 21 goals and 30 assists with 83 penalty minutes.
Mark Bernard, Norfolk's vice president, said it's probable Western Conference foes Syracuse and Lake Erie (Cleveland) will be on the Admirals' schedule next season. The team hasn't played outside the Eastern Conference the last couple of years.
Bernard said he wanted to add Rochester, but the Americans didn't want to travel so far South. Being a 5-hour bus ride from its nearest AHL rival, Philadelphia, means far-away teams considering playing at Norfolk often want to work in games at Philadelphia or Hershey on the same trip. That adds another layer of complication to getting those teams into Scope Arena.
Bernard said he'd like to add Hamilton and perhaps Toronto if he can work those teams into the 2008-09 schedule. But he doesn't foresee adding the likes of Manitoba, Iowa, Milwaukee, Quad Cities, Chicago or Grand Rapids. Those clubs don't want to fly and take the financial hit that comes with it, Bernard said.
The Admirals' annual travel budget is roughly $260,000 and $60,000 of that is being incurred on the current, nine-game, 17-day road trip.