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13 years proves lucky for Milwaukee’s Tiley

Milwaukee Admirals defenseman Brad Tiley can stop holding his breath now. And he’s feeling a whole lot lighter since he got that monkey off his back.

In his 13 years of professional hockey since originally being selected by the Boston Bruins in the fourth round of the 1991 NHL Entry Draft, Tiley has accomplished many feats. He played in the AHL All-Star Game in 1999 and 2000, received the Eddie Shore Award as the best defensemen in the AHL in 1999-2000, won the Barry Ashbee Award as the Philadelphia Phantoms’ top defenseman in 2000-01 and has notched 513 points, including 137 goals and 376 assists, while playing in almost 900 professional games.

But there was something missing from the list.

Like the PGA’s Phil Mickelson, who, until last April when he won the Masters, was deemed “the best player never to have won a major championship,” Tiley could arguably have been dubbed the “AHL’s best defenseman never to have won a championship.” That is, until June, when he helped lead the Milwaukee Admirals to their first Calder Cup.

“It felt really good, it felt unbelievable,” said Tiley. “It’s something I’ve worked at now for 13 years and I was starting to wonder if it was ever going to happen, so it was a lot of fun.”

As the 2003-04 season started, however, a championship was the furthest thing from Tiley’s mind.

“I came [to Milwaukee] on a tryout contract,” he said. “It was kind of a rough start to the year. I had no contract by anybody and I came here and I was thinking about what I was going to do, I didn’t know if they were going to sign me or whatever. But after just playing at the beginning of the year with the guys, even just in November, I knew that we had a really good team and I wanted to be a part of it.”

“He’s a guy that’s had his ups and downs,” said Admirals head coach Claude Noel. “He was defenseman of the year in 1999-2000 and then he had trouble finding a job last year. We got him and it worked out good for us.

“I’m glad to see that we were able to bring him a championship,” Noel continued. “We were very aware that he had played 13 years and hadn’t won anything. He had come close and sometimes that’s just the way it goes in your career, but we were happy to get that done for him and he was a big part of it.”

Now, as the Admirals open their 2004-05 season against the Chicago Wolves, they are looking to defend their title. On a team where there are 12 new players (and eight under 22 years old), Tiley is expected to play a veteran role, especially around young defensemen like Ryan Suter, Dan Hamhuis and Greg Zanon.

“He’s real big as a second-year guy for us,” said Noel. “There are two guys who are really well respected on our team by the young players: Tony Hrkac and Brad Tiley. They are guys that really help the players and they are very good friends with the players; they help them on the ice and off the ice.”

“I’m there to help,” said the modest Tiley. “If they have questions, they can ask. You try to lead by example on the ice by showing up everyday and working hard. But you know, the young guys are good… they don’t need to be told a lot right now.”

And now that he’s got that first championship under his belt, Tiley’s desire to win has only increased.

“After you’ve won it now, you sort of like having that short summer because it was a great celebration at the end and it was a great time the whole year. Hockey is so much fun and I’d like to have a go again this year.

“It’s a tough goal, but that’s what we’ve set our sights on.”