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The road to Nashville runs through Milwaukee

by Staff Writer / Nashville Predators
Another successful season has the Admirals preparing for their eighth consecutive playoff appearance
By Andy Grebe

Eight consecutive playoff appearances, seven seasons of at least 90 points, three West Division titles, two finals appearances and a Calder Cup championship. This is the resume of the Milwaukee Admirals over the last eight seasons.

The Admirals success might not come as much of a surprise when you consider stars like Martin Erat, Shea Weber, Ryan Suter, Patric Hornqvist and Pekka Rinne have emerged from the American Hockey League team. These former Ads players have progressed to the next level giving the Predators a formidable roster that has helped them reach the Stanley Cup Playoffs in five out of the last six seasons.

“The road to Nashville runs through Milwaukee,” is a phrase that you’ll often hear Predators President of Hockey Operations/General Manager David Poile say and it has been that way since the Predators began play in 1998, with the Admirals as their primary farm team. In that time Nashville and Milwaukee have both established winning traditions along with an effective system for developing players.

If the Admirals notch one more point this season they will become the first team in American Hockey League history to have 40-or-more wins and 90-or-more points in seven consecutive seasons. This record stands out due to the turnover that exists in minor league sports, and especially the AHL, where a player rarely plays in the same city for more than a couple of seasons.

“It’s absolutely a sense of pride,” Admirals President Jon Greenberg said. “When players come here we know they are being developed to be the next stars of the NHL.”

The consistent on-ice success provides an opportunity for the Ads to sell a winning hockey culture to go along with the quirky off-ice events that the Milwaukee Admirals are known for.

“Having successful teams really makes it easy to sell the fact that we have a good product on the ice which helps sell our good off-ice product.” Greenberg said.

For coaches and management in the AHL, the goal is not just to win, but to develop players to be successful at the next level as well. However, Admirals Head Coach Lane Lambert notes that these two goals are not mutually exclusive.

“I firmly believe winning is a part of development. If you can send a player to the NHL who has been part of a winning culture, they know what the expectations are before they get there.”

Not only does the opportunity to play in a level below the NHL give the Predators time to realize what their younger players have to offer, it gives an opportunity for growth and support as well. With many of the Ads players going on to the NHL with teammates they have already battled with, it provides the opportunity to grow a bond between players that is beneficial down the road.

For example, players like Weber, Rinne, Jordin Tootoo, and Kevin Klein all played key roles for the Admirals when they went to the Calder Cup Finals in 2006 and there’s no doubt that experience paid dividends down the road.

Besides drafting and developing players, the Nashville organization has also excelled at rearing coaches for the next level.

Every coach, including assistants, who has left the Admirals in the past eight years is currently coaching in the NHL, including current Nashville assistant coach Peter Horacheck. Horachek was at the helm of the Admirals ship when the team began their playoff run in the 2002-03 season, and following that campaign he was hired as the Preds assistant coach, a position that he still holds.

In addition, two of those coaches are currently head coaches in the NHL.

Claude Noel was the Admirals bench boss in 2004 when the Ads captured the Calder Cup, and he won the 2004 Louis A. Pieri Memorial Award as Coach of the Year in the AHL. Noel spent four seasons as the Admirals head coach before being hired as an assistant for Columbus in 2007, and this season was promoted to interim head coach of the Blue Jackets.

One of Noel’s assistants with the Admirals, Todd Richards, is finishing up his first year as the head coach of the Minnesota Wild after spending a year as an assistant coach in San Jose in 2008-09. Finally, Brad Lauer is preparing for his first trip to the Stanley Cup Playoffs as an assistant with the Ottawa Senators after serving under Lambert from 2007-09.

Still, it’s ultimately the players who determine the success of a team on the ice, and according to Lambert, part of that success is derived from the ability of the Predators to draft quality people, in addition to quality players.

“One thing that Nashville has done is draft quality character players and they have done that for a long period of time,” Greenberg said. “That is definitely a key to our success.”

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