Norfolk sweeps opening series with Hershey

By Ailyn Diaz





We need to compete in the AHL

Almost one year ago, goaltender Chicago
Blackhawk prospect
Michael Leighton was asked by a hockey playing fan to give him a tip on saving a
sniper’s shot coming at the top shelf.
His answer was simple. “Try to
stay big and cut off the angle, react to the puck.”

It
seems that Leighton took his own advice as he shut out Colorado Avalanche
prospects during the Hershey Bears home opener making 25 saves. Second-year Hershey Bears head coach Paul
Fixter felt the young goaltender’s pressure and he openly complimented his
skill. “Leighton was outstanding.”

Last
season, Michael Leighton appeared in 34 games with the Blackhawks and had a
6-18-8 record with two shutouts and a 2.99 goals against average. He went 10-7-1 with 1.83 goals against
average for the Norfolk Admirals.
Leighton, who admires ex-Colorado Avalanche goaltender Patrick Roy,
showed much consistency in play as he alternated swiftly between butterfly and
gloved angle shot saves.

Norfolk
Admiral coach Trent Yawney knows the importance of developing goaltending in a
more defensive role early in the season. “You’re going to have to have
your goaltending get you off to some kind of start, otherwise you’re going to
be behind the 8-ball pretty quickly. But all in all, I thought it was a total
team effort.”

Team
effort is part of Paul Fixter’s struggle in creating line chemistry to score
goals now with the absence of top right winger and NHL prospect Marek Svatos. Twenty-two-year-old Svatos was suspended for three games after
shooting a puck at an official during the first game of the season.

“We
weren’t anywhere near the level we need to be at to compete on a nightly basis
in this league,” remarked the coach after the series to Hockey’s Future behind
locked dressing room doors. It was
Hershey’s first home opener shutout loss since Oct. 4, 1997.

Last
season, Tom Lawson posted an impressive 1.01 goals against average in four
games against the Norfolk Admirals and 22-year old Peter Budaj was unbeaten in four decisions with a 3-0-1 mark. In just one game against the Admirals, both
gave up three goals.

“We’ve
all talked about the league being better this year than it has in many years
past,” continued Fixter.

The
secret to the Norfolk Admirals success lies in what Fixter terms “commitment to
score in a defensive game.” The
Admirals have a more distinctive offensive punch with prospects such as left
winger, 20-year-old Matt Ellison who
started the season in great form posting two goals against the Bears, notable
23-year old center Brandin Cote and
23-year-old notable left winger Rene
Bourque.

Ellison’s
offensive talent lies in his ability to grab the puck and take the goaltender
by surprise. This AHL sophomore is
known to control the playing tempo as he proved when scoring in the third
period of the home opener against Peter Budaj.
Last season, Ellison played 10 games in the NHL for the Blackhawks
earning one assist. He was the Norfolk
Admiral’s highest scoring rookie.

Bourque,
a native of Alberta, was a University of Wisconsin Badger before becoming a Norfolk
Admiral. The left winger is known for
gritty plays and scoring despite defensemen crowding as he proved during the
first goal of the home opener against Peter Budaj. Budaj initially believed that the puck was kicked in the
net. Bourque knows how to badger the
opposition with his 6’3 frame and succeeds in a team with strong defensive
play. When playing for the University
of Wisconsin, he scored 16 goals, 20 assists and 36 points in 42 games.

Cote,
an ex-Spokane Chief and Blackhawk prospect at 5’9 is perhaps the quickest
player on the Norfolk Admirals. The
player who carries the moniker, “Cotester”, is known for pesky plays as he
proved against Peter Budaj who was oblivious to Cote’s powerful shot.

Despite
Fixter viewing the league as more competitive, Norfolk Admiral coach Trent
Yawney believes that for his team “it’s the same as last year.” Yawney is still winning games without an
assistant coach.

Copyright
2004 Hockey’s Future. Do not duplicate
without permission of the editorial staff.