Norfolk Admirals season preview

By Chris Cooper

Norfolk Admirals 2004-05 Season Preview


Having gone
35-36-4 last season, the Norfolk Admirals enter their fifth anniversary season
in the American Hockey League, with one of the best defense corps in the
league. The forward group has 10 players returning hoping to improve on last
year’s playoffs in which they were knocked out by the Philadelphia Phantoms.
Goaltending will also be very strong thanks to the NHL lockout. Returning veterans Shawn Thornton, Jim
Vandermeer and Marty Wilford will aid coach Trent Yawney in molding this young
and very talented team into a winner.




Admirals are set in goal, in fact they have a bit of a logjam to solve. Michael
Craig Anderson, both 22, rotated last season backing up
Chicago starter Jocelyn Thibault. They each had six victories with the Hawks
after Thibault’s season ended in November due to hip surgery. In Norfolk,
Leighton had a 10-7-1 record over 18 games, and Anderson posted a 17-20-0
record with three shutouts in 37 games.
While it’s possible they could split time, one of the two could also end
up on another AHL team in need of some experience between the pipes.


Adam Munro,
a former draft pick turned free agent signee who spent a large part of last
season in Norfolk, is also in the mix for time there again this season. Newly signed Mike Brodeur out of the WHL
will likely be sent to new ECHL affiliate Greenville Grrrowl.




Admirals to have a strong defensive corps this year, with all the tools in the
mix — toughness, veteran leadership and offensive ability. Marty Wilford, a
seven-year minor league pro, had five goals and 35 assists in 2003-04 to fall
just short of the team point lead. He will stabilize the defense and push for
the team lead in points once again. Recently signed former Philadelphia
prospect Jim Vandermeer possesses the calming stability the Admirals need.
Signed for his veteran presence, he is big, tough, and has a touch of offensive
flair. He played in 46 NHL games in 2003-04 scoring 17 points and racking up 83
penalty minutes.


Anton Babchuk is a star in waiting. The big (6’5
202 lbs.) rearguard has a booming shot and superb offensive potential. He was a
PlanetUSA AHL All-Star in 2003-04 and posted 8 goals and 14 assists with 89
penalty minutes in 73 games as a rookie. Babchuk loves to play with a nasty
edge and is projected to anchor the Blackhawks blueline for years to come.

2003 fifth
round choice
is a big,
strong, physical defenseman who was part of the Czech World Junior team in
2004. He has a lot of natural ability and can be used in all situations. The
6’4 20-year-old had six points in 40 games at Norfolk and even saw action in
nine Blackhawk games.


Manitoba native
is coming off
his first pro season with the Admirals. He is strong and put up good numbers
for a smallish defenseman. Known for his excellent work ethic and great skating
ability, the 5’11 2002 draft pick ended up with 7 goals and 18 assists in 75
games in 2003-04. Two-way defenseman
James Wisniewski, a fifth round pick in 2002, won the OHL and CHL defenseman of the year
award while scoring 70 points with Plymouth in 2003-04. He is a strong skater
with a keen ability to move the puck.


out the competition for roster spots are a trio of young defensemen.
Scott Balan, a fourth round choice in 2000, is a strong stay-at-home
defenseman. The 22-year-old is a big, tough crease-clearing rearguard who
started in the ECHL and finished the year playing 22 games in the AHL.
Vladimir Gusev, a 6’3 21-year-old Russian, played 10 games for the
Admirals in 2003-04. He is a two-way defenseman needing to work on the use of
his size and strength. U-Mass graduate
Nic Kuiper
is aggressive and possesses a great work ethic and smart decision making. He is
also a stay at home defenseman.




Almost all
of the forwards in camp are returnees. With the signings of Shawn Thornton,
Jason Morgan, and Erik Nickulas, the Admirals have added solid veteran
leadership to their stable of top notch prospects. Twenty-one-year-old right winger
Matt Ellison
returns to Norfolk to build on his impressive rookie season. The offensive
sparkplug is very solid with the puck and versatile enough to play all three
forward positions. In two seasons, Ellison has climbed from the BCJHL to the
NHL, playing in ten games for the Hawks in 2003-04, quite a feat for any player
to accomplish. He also scored 14 goals and 35 points in 71 games for the
Admirals. He never backs down from anyone, racking up 115 PIMs as well.


Matt Keith, a 21-year-old right winger, is an
extremely hard worker with good hands. The 6’2, 194-pound Albertan scored 13
goals and 26 points for Norfolk in 2003-04 and was also called up to Chicago
for 20 games. Speedy Russian
is a
left winger looking to make an impression at camp this year. The 20-year-old
rookie is not big, but he uses his smarts to create offence for himself and his


Big winger Quintin Laing returns for his fifth season with Norfolk. In 78 games in
2003-04, the former Detroit Red Wing draft choice (102nd overall in
1997) posted 12 goals and 10 assists with 74 PIMs. Scouts love his size, even
though he needs to use it more to be truly effective.

Igor Radulov would be given every opportunity to
make the Hawks if there were an NHL season. In the meantime, the 6’1 Russian
will try to improve on his defense with Norfolk. Last year he split his time
between the parent club where he posted 11 points in 36 games, and Norfolk,
with 23 points in 38 games.


First round
draft pick (10th overall in 2000)
Mikhail Yakubov shows huge potential and has solid two-way skills. The 6’3, 200-pound
center scored 27 points in 51 games with the Admirals in 2003-04 resulting in
two separate call-ups to Chicago where he got into 30 games for the Hawks, tallying
8 points.
Brandin Cote, a 5’9, 194 pound center, played 54
games for Norfolk in 2003-04 and got into all eight playoff games. He scored
nine goals and three assists in regular season play. The penalty-killing and
faceoff specialist injured his knee in December which kept him on the shelf for
two months.


captain and scoring leader Ajay Baines returns for his fifth season with
Norfolk. The 26-year-old center paced the Admirals with 15 goals and 27 assists
in 80 games in 2003-04. Twenty-seven-year-old free agent signee Jason Morgan
was well traveled in 2003-04 producing 19 points in 21 games for Lowell and 14
points in 19 games for Norfolk. The AHL veteran also got into 19 NHL games for
Nashville and Calgary. He was signed in mid September for his leadership


winger Erik Nickulas, 29, signed a contract with Norfolk after spending two
seasons in the NHL. The former Boston Bruin and St. Louis Blue played 65 games
in 2003-04 for the Blues and Hawks, scoring 20 points. He is another leader for
the young forwards to look up to.

Thornton is entering his eighth AHL campaign and can drop the gloves with
anyone, racking up a solid 259 PIMs in 64 games with Norfolk in 2003-04. He has
a great attitude and never stops when he is on the ice.


Hawks top prospect Tuomu Ruutu, 21, had been slated
to join the Norfolk Admirals for the start of the 2004-05 season, but a
separated shoulder suffered in the World Cup of Hockey will keep him out three
to four months. The ninth overall pick in the 2001 NHL Entry Draft, Ruutu
tallied 23 goals and 21 assists in all 82 games for the Blackhawks last season
as a rookie.




With the
development of some of the main prospects, solid goaltending and excellent
leadership, coach Trent Yawney’s crew should improve upon 2003-04’s results.
This is a young and talented group who will be better in all areas of the team
game. Norfolk will look to improve its .500 record to challenge further into
the postseason.


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