Still reflecting on a dramatic opening night of their own, the Nashville Predators will watch Friday as their top minor league affiliate, the Milwaukee Admirals, drop the puck on their own regular season.
Facing off against the Charlotte Checkers, the Admirals begin their 2014-15 campaign with a slew of players that have spent time in Preds Gold as recently as last week for Nashville’s exhibition schedule and training camp. Some of those familiar faces from the preseason, forwards Colton Sissons, Austin Watson and goaltenders Marek Mazanec and Magnus Hellberg are just a few of Nashville’s prospects that will attempt to lead a particularly young Milwaukee squad to its 13th-straight postseason appearance.
Sissons said the extended time spent in Nashville over the past month for the club’s Rookie Tournament and training camp has him anxious to finally begin a new season in Milwaukee.
“I’ve been counting down the days to get the regular season started, so I’m glad it’s finally here,” Sissons said. “It’s always a grind getting through training camp, especially since we had the Rookie Tournament as well. It feels like a long time coming, but I think everyone down here feels ready to get started.”
The opening of a new American Hockey League season is often a series of unpredictable events due to the nature of how the team is rapidly assembled shortly before the start of a new campaign. The majority of Ads players took at least some part in Nashville’s training camp during the past few weeks and now the group of players assigned to the AHL find themselves officially together as a unit, some of them on the team for the first time.
“It’s always interesting to see the first month of the season because you think you have something on paper, but you have no idea about the competition and how it all fits together,” Milwaukee Admirals Head Coach Dean Evason said. “It’s not like the NHL going into a season, so you don’t know exactly who is on which line or even who will be on which team for the first month. So we’ll see in a few weeks, but initially we’re happy with how our group has been put together. We feel like we’ve got a nice mix of everything.
“From the goaltenders, through our defense and our forwards, we feel we’ll be able to score and defend as well. So we’re really optimistic and really looking forward to the season.”
Evason said the extended period in Predators Camp for a good portion of his players and himself was extremely helpful in order to learn from Nashville Head Coach Peter Laviolette firsthand. The Admirals are hoping to add elements of the NHL club’s new system to their own play this season. One of Milwaukee’s top goals is developing NHL-ready players each year and training under an offensive or defensive scheme that’s derived from the big club works to ease the transition after a call-up.
“We like the way our group has reacted to Peter [Laviolette’s] new system. I think we’re starting to grasp how to blend what we want to do and what they want us to do down here,” Evason said. “Offensively the last few years, we’ve been a team that’s been very aggressive up front. Looking to forecheck and looking to hound the opposition to create turnovers has been our focus, so Peter’s system will only enhance that. Some of the structure that Nashville employs [...] will be nice additions that we’ll work on here too.”
“We’re definitely not re-writing the book, but we’re putting some tweaks in here and there in the system,” Sissons said. “I think it took everyone a few days when it was brand new in Nashville camp so it helped to get that perspective. I think that will aid everyone that gets called up. We’re seeing some similarities from the [Preds] system down here so that will help.”
A new system in Nashville isn’t the only thing that’s filtered down to their AHL squad; the sense of a fresh beginning has also remained with several of the Admirals players, now a week or more removed from Predators training camp. Hellberg and Sissons both said that a new bench boss in Nashville has helped to boost their excitement level for their own impending AHL campaign.
“I think it’s going to be a very exciting year for the fans. Some of the excitement from Nashville’s new start has trickled down here, but at the same time, we’re focused on our business down here,” Sissons said. “We’ve been successful in the past and we’re ready to do it again.”
“We’ve been together for a while now at both training camps and even though we got some new players I feel like everybody is ready and understands what we’re trying to achieve here,” said Hellberg. “As a team it feels like we’re ready. I think the time in Nashville helped to pump us up for this year. I’m ready to get the season going.”
Update: The Admirals skated to a 6-3 win over the Checkers. Check out Pontus Aberg's spectular goal here.