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Unfavorable circumstances make Norfolk Admirals’ record-setting win streak even more remarkable

by Peter Pupello / Tampa Bay Lightning

It’s been referred to as a fluke at times and a streak at others, but whatever the Norfolk Admirals want to call it, it is impressive.

The Lightning’s top affiliate in the American Hockey League has rolled out 18 consecutive victories to set a league record for the longest win streak in a single season. With each victory, players light-heartedly referred to the total as a fluke to keep a narrow focus and place emphasis on winning the next game.

It seemed to work, as victory number 18, which appropriately occurred on Mar. 18, was perhaps neither a fluke nor a streak, but instead part of history.

“As the streak has gone on, I think it has taken on a life of its own,” Admirals head coach Jon Cooper said. “I think we’re going to look back at this and really marvel at what we’ve done. But when you’re in the moment of it, you’re just trying to win the next game. It’s remarkable what these guys have done.”

Considering the circumstances, it certainly is.

Norfolk has not lost a game since Feb. 5. But due to a slew of injuries that has plagued the Lightning all season long, many of the mainstay Admirals were absent from the lineup throughout various points during the streak while they served in a call-up role with the big club in Tampa Bay. Furthermore, Norfolk had injuries of its own and even lost a few players via trade.

As if that wasn’t enough, adding to the challenge was the team’s travel schedule, in which its closest opponent in terms of distance other than the Charlotte Checkers is the Washington Capitals’ affiliate in Hershey, Pennsylvania, located approximately 317 miles from Norfolk. By the way, the Admirals travel to the majority of their away games by bus, and by the time the current season is over, the club will have made road trips to destinations as far as Albany, New York, Bridgeport, Connecticut and Providence, Rhode Island.

Still, the team keeps plugging along.

“We’ve done a lot of this on the road,” Cooper added. “This is professional hockey, and these guys are truly acting like professionals.”

The Admirals’ record broke that of the 2004-05 Philadelphia Phantoms, which had won 17 in a row and was chock full of future NHLers that included RJ Umberger, Patrick Sharp, Dennis Seidenberg, Joni Pitkanen and Ben Eager. Mike Richards and Jeff Carter joined the team after the streak had come to an end, but still proved to be integral pieces to the team’s 2005 Calder Cup championship.

As far as Norfolk goes, Cooper said it doesn’t matter who is in the lineup.

“One great part about it is that there’s no sour grapes in the room about anything,” the Admirals head coach added. “It’s about the team.”

When Norfolk set the new record on Mar. 18 it did so without starting goaltender Dustin Tokarski, who currently leads the AHL in wins, and forward Trevor Smith, who is second on the team in points and ranks third in goals. Both were with the Lightning at the time as call-ups.

In the meantime, backup goaltender Jaroslav Janus took over in net and went on to reel off 10 straight victories, while two rookies – Cory Conacher and Tyler Johnson – maintained the same offensive production that through 65 games this season has each individual ranked in the top seven in scoring among all AHL skaters.

The Admirals won their AHL-record 18th consecutive game this past Sunday.
“A lot of these guys are only rookies by name,” Cooper said. “These guys weren’t the types of players 65 games ago that they are now. They’ve progressed. If I were to describe some of our losses from the first 10 games of the season, I’d say we had some growing pains. We were playing a pro team and still acting like a junior team. Fifty games later, and now we’re the ones outpro’ing other teams. It’s a tribute to how far our young guys have come.”

Norfolk became the first AHL team this season to clinch a playoff berth. With 10 games remaining, the next step is grabbing hold of home-ice advantage for the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs. After that, the team has its sights set on a championship.

“There’s something to say about making a good team great,” Cooper added. “And there’s something to be said about making a great team a championship team. We’ve graduated to a good team, and now we need to try and turn into a championship team. These guys are on that course right now.”

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