The Milwaukee Admirals enter their eighth season as the top affiliate for the Nashville Predators. This season marks the 35th anniversary of the franchise which began as an independent team in 1970-71. Claude Noel enters his third season as head coach compiling a regular season record of 93-58-7.
Milwaukee entered last season as the defending Calder Cup Champions. In 2004-05 the Admirals finished with 103 points (47-24-5-4), one point more than their league-high 102 points in 2003-04. They finished two points behind the Chicago Wolves in the AHL West Division for second place, but their season ended in the first round of the playoffs when they blew a 3-1 series lead to the now-suspended Cincinnati Mighty Ducks.
With the departure of five players to Nashville, Milwaukee’s chances are less bright this season. They return 11 players from last season’s team, seven of whom played on their Calder Cup Championship team two seasons ago.
Last season the Admirals scored 247 goals, good for first in the Western Conference, and third in the entire league behind only Binghamton and Manchester. Scoring leader Simon Gamache’s 86 points (29 goals, 57 assists) will need to be replaced. Vernon Fiddler and Jordin Tootoo have been promoted to the Predators along with Gamache.
Darren Haydar returns for his fourth season in Milwaukee after recording 50 points including 24 goals which were second best on the team. Also returning is Scottie Upshall whose 46 points (19 goals, 27 assists) should help fill the net. Also returning is 6’1 213-pounder, Timofei Shishkanov for his third season in Milwaukee. This is his year to step up and become the goal scorer Nashville wanted when they selected him 33rd overall in the 2001 NHL Entry draft. Shishkanov has recorded 78 points in 133 games, all with the Admirals, since turning pro.
Brandon Segal will try to prove he belongs after being demoted to Rockford of the UHL at the end of last season. He put up good numbers during the UHL playoffs. The 6’2 210-pound right wing will need to play tougher to secure a spot in Milwaukee this season.
Other returning prospects include Paul Brown who battled his way to 90 penalty minutes in only 20 games in the AHL last season as well as helping the Trenton Titans capture the Kelly Cup in the ECHL. Penalty-killing specialist Libor Pivko returns for his third season with the Admirals. Pivko, who played 56 games last season while fighting a knee injury is on the verge of cracking the Nashville line-up, but most likely will play most of the season in Milwaukee.
Returning veterans include Greg Classen who has bounced between Nashville and Milwaukee over the past three seasons, but played for Assat Pori of the Finnish SM-Liiga last season. Jerred Smithson returns with his gritty style. Jeremy Yablonski, who fought his way to 116 penalty minutes in 32 games, should be the enforcer for the Admirals.
New arrivals include Kris Beech from Wilkes/Barre Scranton who has 99 NHL games under his belt as well as 23-year-old Marco Rosa who recorded 65 points in 72 games for Long Beach of the ECHL in his first pro season.
Milwaukee boasted the tenth best defense in 2004-05 giving up 207 goals. With veteran Brad Tiley now in Springfield and the promotion of top prospect Ryan Suter and second leading scorer Dan Hamhuis to Nashville, the Admirals defense takes a major blow.
However, the pipelines on defense run strong for Nashville. Second-year standout Kevin Klein will see more ice time along with defensive partner Greg Zanon. Newly acquired Sheldon Brookbank from the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim looks to fill the void left by the departure of Andrew Hutchinson to the Carolina Hurricanes. Brookbank totaled 181 penalty minutes for Cincinnati last season.
The most promising new Admiral, Shea Weber, will look to add some punch both literally and figuratively as he makes his pro hockey debut this season. A highly-touted prospect that completed a four-year WHL career with the Kelowna Rockets should see a lot of minutes. Also vying for spots on the Admirals blue line will be Ryan Bonni who has played in six pro leagues including three games in the NHL with Vancouver in 1999-00. Bonni appeared in five games for Milwaukee last season.
Ryan Glenn who spent 61 games with Charlotte of the ECHL last season, will be looking to stick with the team.
Returning this season as the starter is Nashville’s top pick from the 1999 NHL Entry Draft Brian Finley. Finley rejuvenated his career last season finishing with a record of 36-22-4 in 64 games. Finley had a career best 2.29 GAA and .921 save percentage.
Finley will have more competition this season as Finn Pekka Rinne joins the Admirals for his first season in North America. Rinne should be a serious contender. After playing the last three seasons for Karpat of the SM-Liiga, he looks like a solid backup who should be able to compete from the outset in the AHL. Finley should see some time in Nashville as a fill-in.
Milwaukee is very strong in goal and their defense should be good enough to help them win. The question mark is their offense. Only three players reached 50 points last season, two of whom are now in Nashville. For Milwaukee to be successful, Finley must repeat his performance of a year ago. Kevin Klein and Shea Weber need to take on big roles for the defense and Darren Haydar needs to pace this team in scoring if they have a shot to further their recent success.
The Admirals open up against the Grand Rapids Griffins on October 8 before returning to Milwaukee for their home opener against the Manitoba Moose on October 14.
Copyright 2005 Hockey’s Future. Do not reprint or otherwise duplicate without permission of the editorial staff.