Sitting third in the Midwest Division, the Milwaukee Admirals find themselves three points back of the Rockford IceHogs (who hold the American Hockey League’s second-best record). With at least 20 points for Rockford, the Chicago Wolves and the Ads, the trio holds the highest combined point total for three clubs atop any of the AHL’s divisions and Milwaukee is tied for the fewest games played (13) in the league. The Admirals have played their top two divisional rivals twice already this month (a combined 3-1-0 record) and are set to play the Wolves at home on Friday before taking on the IceHogs in Rockford on Saturday.
Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason said the similarity in playing styles between the three squads have only intensified the matchups, something he expects to continue.
“We’ve talked about our division and those two teams in particular with them being very similar hockey teams to us,” Evason said. “They’ve got a lot skill, grit and a great mix of veterans and young guys too; and all three of us have good goaltending. We’re basically mirror images of each other. So that sets up for a real good game each time we play each other. Down the road, we’re all just hoping we still have a fight left in us for the playoffs.”
Saturday, Admirals Captain Joe Piskula tallied the game-winning goal late in a contest against Rockford to propel Milwaukee to a home-and-home sweep of the Midwest’s top team. Piskula said Wednesday many of the contests against Rockford and Chicago have already had a playoff atmosphere to them.
“It’s going to be a battle all the way to the end,” said Piskula. “The last couple games have felt like playoff games, and I think it’s going to take us staying consistent and bringing our game every time to win. One of the biggest challenges in the AHL is to not have a lull in your season. We know we’re going to fight them all year long, and they’re evenly balanced teams too. We’ve got to come and compete and give ourselves a chance.”
Leipsic tied for team lead in points amid his first season:
First-year forward Brendan Leipsic has adjusted quickly to the AHL, collecting 11 points in 13 games. The 20-year-old has dished out 11 assists on the year while playing alongside two of the club’s more experienced skaters.
“It’s been a pretty quick transition,” Leipsic said. “I’m playing with Austin Watson and Mark Van Guilder who are two of our more veteran guys. They’re strong and know how to play in this league and hold on to the puck down low which makes my job a little easier. I’m getting a good opportunity to play a regular shift and power play, so I’m getting put in situations to succeed, too.”
Leipsic’s head coach was also quick to compliment the winger’s vision on the ice; noting he’s needed little time to adjust from playing junior hockey with the Portland Winterhawks last season to the AHL with the Ads.
“What’s really shown in his skill level is his ability to pass the puck,” Evason said. “His vision has been the biggest things for him on the ice. He’s been on the power play on the half wall in our main passing position, and that’s really allowed him to have success and create confidence early. Probably the other thing that’s really helped him is playing predominantly with Van Guilder and Watson, two veteran guys that do a lot of the work down low.”
One item still missing from the forward’s transition to the AHL, however, is a big one: his first goal.
“I’ve been a goal scorer in juniors, but I’m in a bit more of a playmaker role here,” Leipsic said. “I’ve been working as a setup guy with how [Van Guilder] and Watson go to the net and that’s been working for us... [But] I’m always happy to light the lamp when I can.”
Regardless of a marker currently missing from Leipsic’s goal column, Piskula says the best is only to come for the talented winger.
“He’s just a really skilled, young forward,” Piskula said of his teammate Leipsic. “He knows what to do with the puck and where to be and at the right time. I can only imagine that he’s going to get even better too, being such a young guy. The more experience he gets the more dangerous he’ll become.”
Another 5-0-0 Start:
Evason said his team has joked about the impressive starts to begin this season for both of the Admirals goaltenders. Marek Mazanec rattled off five-straight victories (and the team overall) to begin the 2014-15 with fellow netminder Magnus Hellberg waiting in the wings. Three weeks after the season opener, Hellberg got his first start between the pipes, a 25-save shootout win that also started the goalie on a streak of five-consecutive wins.
“I was eager to get into the net and get in my first game of the season, but Mazanec got off to a great start and the team played really well and we kept winning,” Hellberg said. “I think my mindset going into this year has been a little bit more relaxed than it has been before and that’s helped me to [this start]. The guys have been really great in front of me and helping out with rebounds and letting me see the puck. We’ve had good communication in the D-zone too. It takes a lot of details to be good, but we’re on a good run here.”
While Mazanec saw his run of wins end on Oct. 29, Hellberg has maintained a zero in his loss column over the past month with the two goaltenders seeing more of a balanced schedule in net. Having two netminders competing at a high level is a luxury not many teams have and developing strong play from Mazanec and Hellberg is one of the coaching staff’s goals, according to Evason.
“We were just joking about it today how both goaltenders started off 5-0,” Evason said. “Maz was so good that it was tough to get Hellberg in, and now Magnus has played so well that it’s tough to get Maz in. We want to get them both going, but it’s certainly a nice problem to have for coaches when both goaltenders are going. We feel pretty confident that whichever guy we go to will give us a good game and a chance to win.”
Hellberg should get the chance to extend his win streak to six on Friday, while Mazanec will aim to start a new run of victories himself this weekend. The Ads have a sequence of three games in three days starting on Nov. 21.