American Hockey League

Weekend notebook: Admirals battling through roster turnover

📝 by Patrick Williams


Different roster, same results for Milwaukee Admirals head coach Karl Taylor.

The Admirals enter the weekend with five of their top eight scorers this season on recall to the parent Nashville Predators, but they have stitched together five consecutive wins — including a sweep of last week’s trip through Toronto, Laval and Belleville. They can match their season high (accomplished twice) with a sixth straight win in Grand Rapids tonight.

Milwaukee is tied with Texas for first place in the Central Division, having played one fewer game than the Stars. After tonight, the Admirals are back home to face Laval on Saturday before visiting Chicago on Sunday afternoon (4 p.m. ET, NHL Network).

“I would say we’re in a good place,” Taylor started. “We’ve had massive roster changes, but it’s been a great opportunity for some people getting second chances.”

Eight players in Nashville’s lineup against Pittsburgh on Thursday had spent time in Milwaukee this season, including forwards Luke Evangelista, Kiefer Sherwood, Phil Tomasino, Egor Afanasyev and Tommy Novak. The Predators are in a playoff battle themselves, three points of a spot in the National Hockey League’s Western Conference.

Several new faces have arrived in Milwaukee to help in recent weeks. Anthony Angello, acquired from St. Louis on Mar. 8, has seven points in eight games with the Admirals. Isaac Ratcliffe, who came from the Philadelphia Flyers organization, has nine points in 12 games since joining Milwaukee. Another addition, Austin Rueschhoff, has contributed three goals in 12 games with the Admirals; he had two goals in 31 games with Hartford to begin the season.

“They need a fresh start. We want it to be a real fresh start,” Taylor said. “We build our relationship from the day they arrive. Do we watch some tape and try to understand what they are like? Yeah, but we still make our own evaluation of the player. We want to make sure they’re getting the fresh start that they need when they come here, so that’s number one.

“Number two is the messaging from us is always whatever the bad is, we don’t care. We don’t want to see it. Be honest with yourself, bring the good, leave the bad, and minimize the average. We’re going to build our relationship from the day they arrive and move forward.”

Joakim Kemell, all of 18 years old and taken 17th overall by Nashville in the 2022 NHL Draft, is another newcomer who came to Milwaukee after playing for JyP HT Jyvaskyla in Finland. He has two goals and an assist in his first five AHL games.

“Having those guys out of the lineup, we gave him even more opportunity than he probably would have gotten,” Taylor said of Kemell. “It’s a win for him, a win for us, and a win for the organization, because he’s getting more minutes than probably was planned originally.

“We threw him right in, and his first game, I’ll be honest… he played very well, responsible, played hard, had more compete in his game than we anticipated. He’s really all-in. He’s exceeded and excelled more than we anticipated, and that’s a real credit to himself and also the coaching he’s received overseas.”

Tye Felhaber, a sniper who once had 59 goals in an Ontario Hockey League season, came to Milwaukee on a pro tryout from the ECHL on Feb. 28 and has supplied four goals and two assists in 12 games.

“I think it’s a group that’s very desperate for the opportunity for different reasons,” Taylor said. “The roster has changed a lot with Nashville, and as coaches we accept that, and we’ve been really focused on trying to coach the group we have. The players on your roster, everyone gets elevated, gets more opportunity.

“You have to adjust. You have to maybe change how you really want to play as a coach and find a way to help them develop, but also get the wins that the coaches in the organization are trying to get.”

Captain Cole Schneider has been tasked with helping to integrate all of these new arrivals.

“I try to be an open guy,” Schneider said, “and they came in with an open mind, too, and were ready to get a fresh start, and they jumped on it.”

So how might Taylor handle the possibility of top-tier players coming back if Nashville’s run falls short?

“I’ve never had this volume potentially that we have this year,” Taylor said. “I think we’ve just been real honest about it with the group over the last three weeks. We’ve been trying to sell the message that, ‘You guys are fighting not just with the people here, but the guys that aren’t here.

“‘You’re trying to find a spot for the first day of playoffs.’”


The AHLTV Free Game of the Week tonight (7 p.m. ET) spotlights an Atlantic Division match-up between the Charlotte Checkers and Springfield Thunderbirds. It’s the second of three meetings between the teams at Bojangles’ Coliseum this week.

A 7-4 win on Wednesday put the Thunderbirds one point behind the third-place Checkers in the Atlantic, where the top six teams will qualify for the Calder Cup Playoffs.

Charlotte has lost three in a row for the first time since December, and is 1-4-0-1 in its last six at home. Springfield is on a 19-6-1-1 tear since Jan. 18.

The Thunderbirds have won 12 of 15 meetings between the teams over the last two seasons, including a three-game sweep of their division final playoff series last spring.


QUICK SHIFTS

🏒 Like Milwaukee, Texas is in position to clinch a playoff berth tonight. The Stars need a single point as they host San Jose in the opener of a two-game set.

Texas will have goaltender Scott Wedgewood on a conditioning assignment from the parent Dallas Stars. Wedgewood, who has been out of action since Feb. 18, is 7-8-3 with a 2.92 goals-against average and a .913 save percentage in 18 NHL appearances this season. The veteran netminder has a record of 94-59-17 with 14 shutouts in 190 career AHL games with Syracuse, Rochester, Ontario and Albany/Binghamton.

The Calder Cup Playoff Primer has a full breakdown of the race to the postseason as well as the qualification rules.

🏒 AHL All-Star Lukas Rousek, the 66th AHL player to make his NHL debut this season, picked up a goal and an assist in Buffalo’s 4-3 shootout loss to Montreal on Monday night.

After the game, Rousek returned to Rochester, where the 23-year-old forward has blossomed in his second AHL season with a team-leading 51 points (15 goals, 36 assists) in 63 games. Buffalo selected Rousek in the sixth round of the 2019 NHL Draft.

🏒 If the defending Calder Cup champion Chicago Wolves are to return to the postseason this spring, goaltender Pyotr Kochetkov may well be their best hope.

The 23-year-old netminder returned to the Wolves this week after another stint in Carolina, where he is 12-7-5 with a 2.44 GAA and a .909 save percentage in 24 appearances this season. Thanks to a three-game point streak, the Wolves have crept to within six points of Rockford for the fifth and final playoff spot in the Central Division; the teams meet Saturday night in Rosemont.

Kochetkov is 13-5-2 with a 2.39 GAA and .916 save percentage in 20 games for the Wolves this season after helping them to a Calder Cup title last year. He also scored a goal in a 4-1 win at Manitoba on March 3.

🏒 In the midst of a stretch of four losses in five games a month ago — including a 5-1 home loss to Rochester and a 7-1 defeat in Bridgeport — Providence Bruins head coach Ryan Mougenel had what he termed a “real negative meeting” with his players.

“Sometimes it’s good for a team to see it,” Mougenel said. “That’s as negative as I’ve ever been in a video session, and there wasn’t any positives so it was easy to pull the negatives out.”

Mougenel’s message reached his players, who have since gone on to stack up eight consecutive wins, the Bruins’ best run since a 12-game winning streak to close out the shortened 2019-20 season. Providence finishes up a four-game road stretch at Hartford tonight before welcoming Bridgeport to town on Saturday.

Down a goal after two periods at Wilkes-Barre/Scranton on Wednesday night, the Bruins pulled out a 4-3 shootout victory; Providence is an impressive 10-10-1-2 this season when trailing after 40 minutes.

Georgii Merkulov is on a seven-game scoring streak, and now leads all AHL rookies with 51 points (23 goals, 28 assists) this season.

🏒 Forward Cole Sillinger is giving the Cleveland Monsters what they — and the parent Columbus Blue Jackets — had hoped for in his first AHL stint.

The 12th overall pick in the 2021 NHL Draft, Sillinger had played 143 games with Columbus over his first two pro seasons. But he had just 11 points in 64 games this season, and the Blue Jackets want him to experience stretch-drive games with Cleveland. He has notched three assists in his first four AHL games, helping the Monsters to a 3-1-0-0 record.

Cleveland enters the weekend in fifth place in the North Division, one point ahead of Laval and three up on Belleville for the final division’s playoff spot. Idle tonight, the Monsters host Hershey on Saturday and Sunday.

🏒 The Hartford Wolf Pack have added a trio of Rangers forward prospects.

Forward Adam Sykora is back in North America after spending the season in his native Slovakia following training camp with the Rangers. In 38 games overseas, the 2022 second-round pick had eight goals and 21 assists.

Swedish forward Adam Edstrom has also reported to the Wolf Pack. The Rangers’ sixth-round pick in 2019 had nine goals and 19 points in 42 games for Rogle BK in the Swedish Hockey League this season.

Rounding out the group is Bryce McConnell-Barker from the Ontario Hockey League’s Sault Ste. Marie Greyhounds. The 18-year-old captained the club and had a team-leading 77 points (30 goals, 47 assists) while playing all 68 games. He was a third-round pick in the Rangers’ 2022 draft class.

🏒 Detroit Red Wings top prospect William Wallinder is on his way to Grand Rapids after the 20-year-old defenseman completed his SHL season with Rogle.

Wallinder, the 32nd overall pick in the 2020 NHL Draft, has signed a three-year entry-level contract with Detroit.

🏒 Defenseman Owen Pickering is another first-rounder on his way to the AHL. The 19-year-old is joining the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins after Pittsburgh selected him 22nd overall in the 2022 Draft.

Pickering captained Swift Current of the Western Hockey League this season and had team-highs among blueliners in goals (9), assists (36) and points (45).

🏒 Rockford IceHogs forward Brett Seney has signed a one-year extension with the Chicago Blackhawks. An AHL All-Star this season, Seney has delivered 48 points (19 goals, 29 assists) in 50 games with the IceHogs, along with one goal in seven contests with the Blackhawks.

In 241 career AHL games with Binghamton, Toronto, and Rockford, Seney has compiled 188 points (66 goals, 122 assists).

🏒 Seven points out of a Pacific Division playoff spot, San Jose faces a stiff test with games at Texas tonight and Saturday followed by a stop at Coachella Valley on Monday. Barracuda head coach John McCarthy sees his team’s standings predicament as an opportunity.

“I want to see some assertiveness,” McCarthy stressed on Wednesday. “This time of the year guys can really accelerate their careers by asserting themselves on the ice. Know what you’re doing, and go out there and do it with conviction.”

The Barracuda received captain Andrew Agozzino back from the San Jose Sharks on Thursday, but rookie forward standout Thomas Bordeleau went the other way on an NHL recall. And the Sharks announced that William Eklund underwent season-ending shoulder surgery on Thursday.

🏒 The San Diego Gulls have been eliminated from Calder Cup Playoff contention, but there could be an opportunity to look to the future.

Calle Clang, another Rogle BK product, joined the Gulls this week. The 20-year-old netminder was drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2020 and was acquired by the Anaheim Ducks in a 2022 trade.

The Ducks also moved 2022 fifth-round pick Connor Hvidston to San Diego following his season in Swift Current (WHL), where he recorded career bests in goals (21), assists (44) and points (65) this season. The 18-year-old Hvidston was voted the WHL’s top rookie in 2021-22.


QUOTEBOOK

🗣️ “We have to understand that every play matters. Playing safe is not important anymore. Every play is important.”

— Syracuse Crunch head coach Ben Groulx on readying his players for the Calder Cup Playoffs.

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