Did I just wake up from a coma? Have I followed in Rip Van Winkle’s fabled footsteps and unknowingly slept for 20 years? My heart is beating. My eyes are open. I can hear the pop of pucks on sticks, and I can feel the cold of the ice; however, I barely recognize any of the faces. Maybe we found a wormhole in space that took us to a parallel universe. Maybe the Mayans were right and the world has ended and this is all just a dream…
Fox’s Fringe would have you believe all of the latter (I had to mention it since that series ends tonight—so, set your DVRs because you all will be at the game tonight, right?), but hockey fans know better. They know that the AHL has been a revolving door lately because the NHL lockout ended and the “big league” opens its abbreviated season this Saturday at 3:00pm, and maybe that means there is a light at the end of the tunnel. According to the American Hockey League, there have been 38 transactions from 01/10/2013 until today at 12:00pm. My quick count shows that 12 of those transactions were for players we had not seen in Norfolk all season, and a number of them were not even part of the Admirals camp prior to the start of the 2012-2013 campaign (Kent Huskins, Kyle Bushee, Marc-Olivier Vallerand, Ryan Hegarty, Pierre-Luc Letourneau-Leblond, Viktor Fasth, Dan Sexton, Andrew Rowe, Eric Lampe, and Jeff Deslauriers).
Some familiar faces have returned; however. Jay Rosehill was signed to an NHL contract and looks to remain with Norfolk for the season. Emerson Etem, Patrick Maroon, and Norfolk’s captain, Nate Guenin have all returned after their invite to the Anaheim Ducks training camp last week. There are some rumors floating around (mainly from parents on Twitter) that some of the guys out with injury will be back in the lineup; however, I’ve not received any official word on that.
Below is a pretty good video produced by the Ducks organization during training camp. What I find most telling, as it relates to Norfolk, are Devante Smith-Pelley’s and Bruce Boudreau’s comments toward the end as they discuss “consistency.” Watch the video and read on:
From this video, it sounds like there is quite an emphasis on the lockout affecting the players in Norfolk. Consistency, 60 minute efforts, and passion for the game have been the most common issues on the ice in Norfolk this season. It is difficult to report, but after a strong December, January has shown more of the same. “The pattern is very similar to November,” agreed Admirals Head Coach, Trent Yawney. “We’re giving up goals that are mental or individual mistakes. If you look at the last 15 games or so, we’re only scoring a little over one goal per game. It’s hard to win like that. You can, but it is hard, and tonight we weren’t playing that way,” he continued, post-game last Tuesday night.
Earlier in the season, Admirals forward Patrick Maroon said that he wanted to see the team come together with “a passion for the game.” From all reports I’ve received, the team’s collective stomach is not growling. “Wilkes-Barre was hungrier than us,” said Yawney. “I don’t think [Tuesday night’s game] had anything to do with systems. It had to do with ‘elbow grease’,” he continued.
With Nate Guenin (Captain) and Patrick Maroon (Alternate Captain) being out of town at training camp, a lot of the leadership responsibility, along with the “A”, has rested on the shoulders of Troy Bodie, Admirals forward and Alternate Captain since early in the season. I asked his thoughts on his role. He said, “I think that there is a lot more leading to do now.” But, he doesn’t think his role has changed much since the lockout ended. He’s not making excuses either. The mental stamina of the team continues to falter and it isn’t going unnoticed. “Losing can’t be an excuse. We’re all hockey players. We have to realize what it takes to win,” said Bodie. “I think we thought it would be easier, and I am not sure why we thought it would be,” he continued.
It can’t be easy to see all the recent roster changes and feel like your momentum is easily sustainable. That’s my excuse, not theirs. After last Monday’s practice, Trent Yawney joked that, “it is like training camp all over again.” Spirits were up on Monday at practice in preparation for their game against Wilkes-Barre the following evening. Without making any more excuses, Troy Bodie did admit that “we have a lot of new guys and we’ve had one practice together. We could definitely use some time on the ice to get used to each other.”
Opportunism typically carries a negative connotation. But, the team seems to have taken this notion on as a motivational tool for promoting on-ice success. “As much as there are new guys, we weren’t expecting them to carry the team. But it is actually pretty good. Now there is a lot of opportunity for guys to play in positions and situations that maybe they wouldn’t get the chance to before,” said Yawney. The new faces, though, aren’t scapegoats either. “I think they gave us what they can give us. There’s been just as much opportunity for the guys that have been here all season,” said Yawney. Whether or not the implication was clear, I certainly inferred that to mean that he was dissatisfied with the performance of some of the guys he did expect to step up and fill gaps.
“Terrible,” said Bodie as he recalled Norfolk’s 6 shot total in the final two periods last Tuesday night. “Players shuffle in and shuffle out. It happens like this to some extent every year. We have to adapt. It is not a new season and we’ve got to get back to a winning track,” he continued. Like a child reacting to the consequences of failing to control his impulses, Bodie made it clear that their recent loss is a lesson learned. Josh Brittain, Admirals forward, tied the game late in the 3rd period; however, Wilkes-Barre regained the lead less than two minutes and thirty seconds later. With just under 3 minutes remaining in the 3rd period, the train left the station (or should I say “ship left the dock”??). Tires didn’t just deflate; they moved like square blocks of concrete. In fact, the Admirals only mustered a single shot on goal after that point. “It is disappointing,” said Bodie. “It was there for us and we missed our opportunity.”
I don’t think moving forward and regaining December’s momentum will be easy. Nor do I think that anyone on the Admirals roster, coaches included, believe otherwise. In any sport, athletes and coaches must carefully choose their words. That means that it can be difficult to get the full range of thoughts and motivations through a media outlet. That said, I don’t think we can truly understand the extent to which the NHL lockout affected this season.
Hope and opportunity are best buds. They hold hands and carry on like “two peas in a pod”. Their good-natured hearts welcome change, but they’re innately under-prepared for the human mind. An athlete’s mentality can be a stubborn, two-faced villain, but it can also be the angel on your shoulder. Trent Yawney may have a tough road ahead of him because no matter how much you teach and lead by example, the only way to increase your mental fortitude is by making the willful choice to do so and, you certainly can’t coach someone out of second-guessing themselves. In December, the Admirals drew a line in the sand and had enough. Unfortunately, it looks like they may have traveled back to the edge of the desert. The Admirals need Moses; they need someone to lead them out of Egypt. However, as it often is with the great unknown, only time will tell.
Norfolk has a home set this weekend against St. Johns and look to move back into the promised land (i.e. Winning!). Tonight is the first game and starts at 7:30pm. Saturday night is the annual “Pink in the Rink” event where the ice is pink and the organization partners with the Susan G. Komen Foundation in support of breast cancer research.
Now that the lockout is over and the Admiral’s roster (and the rest of the AHL teams’) are somewhat more stable, who do you think is the most exciting Admiral to watch? Let us know and comment below!