By Jason Karnosky | AHL On The Beat Archive
Milwaukee Admirals forward Adam Payerl knows what it takes to win.
During his three-plus years of professional hockey, the unsung forward had played a vital role on two of the league’s elite teams, first the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and now the Milwaukee Admirals—two franchises that have combined to miss the Calder Cup playoffs just once in the past 13 seasons.
“I think the biggest similarity between the two teams is just the culture and atmosphere, and the fact that you are expected to win there,” Payerl said. “However, it’s different here in Milwaukee because we have a much younger team than those Penguins teams I played for the past three years. We have a lot of skill and we’ve found ways to win games.”
Though not the flashiest talent, Payerl is the type of blue-collar, high character guy all hockey teams need to win games consistently. He’s a power forward with good size, thanks to his 6-3, 215 lbs. frame, and he has the ability to contribute in multiple ways.
“I played against him quite a bit last year, and he hit me pretty good a couple of times in the playoffs the year before, so I certainly remembered him when I came here,” Admirals defenseman Patrick Mullen said of his battles with Payerl while playing for the Binghamton Senators. “He just never gives up and he’s a pain to compete against. You just see how hard he works every single shift when he’s out there.”
Mullen pointed to a surprising signature moment for Payerl that demonstrated his determined personality.
“I remember our game in San Diego in February when we were down three goals,” Mullen said of his team’s 4-1 loss to the Gulls on February 6. “The game looked out of sight, but he was still giving his all, not giving up and making things happen for us. That’s a good example for the younger guys to see.”
With Milwaukee, Payerl is proving that he can also score, as 10 goals and 35 points in 67 games this season attests to.
“[Adam’s] primary role for us is to be a physical presence, finish all his checks and stand up for his teammates and himself when the situation presents itself,” Admirals coach Dean Evason said of his team’s penalty minutes leader among forwards (105). “He has no issue doing that, but he also has a willingness to get to the net and the skill level and the ability to produce when he gets there.”
The undrafted forward carries an item on his resume that organizations like Milwaukee (and Nashville) crave—National Hockey League experience. Last season Payerl dressed for a pair of NHL contests for the playoff-bound Pittsburgh Penguins.
“There are so many superstars on that team, but I had gone through training camps with them and had met most of the guys, so I already had that awe moment,” Payerl said. “It was still a surreal experience, but there are lots of good guys in that locker room.”
Payerl made his NHL debut on April 6, 2015 in a 3-2 shootout win at Colorado. He then helped Pittsburgh to another shootout victory three nights later against Detroit.
“My first NHL game in Colorado was a pretty awesome experience,” Payerl said. “I arrived a day earlier than the team, was pretty nervous and kind of had the jitters. It took me awhile to fall asleep the night before, but it ended up working out and I played well.”
During his time with Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Payerl experienced a pair of long playoff runs as the baby Penguins reached the Eastern Conference twice (in 2013 and 2014). To date Payerl has 28 games of Calder Cup playoff experience, with more to come this spring with Milwaukee, who are back in the playoffs after a one-year hiatus.
In the summer of 2015, Payerl sought a new a new opportunity but failed to have much luck. The 24-year-old got another AHL chance with the Admirals that fall after signing an ECHL contract with Cincinnati and getting a tryout at Milwaukee’s training camp.
“It was a frustrating summer and I was disappointed to not be going back to the Pittsburgh organization,” Payerl said. “I came to Milwaukee and they saw something in me they liked and gave me a chance for a fresh start. I’m very thankful for that and I’m trying to play well enough to not put myself in that position again.”
Prior to the season, Payerl was an unknown quantity for Evason. But the Kitchener, Ontario-native made himself notable to the Admirals’ bench boss from the first time he took the ice at the Kern Center.
[Adam] came here on a tryout from Cincinnati, but (before camp) I didn’t know him and we didn’t know him,” Evason said. “But we watched him in practice and in both exhibition games and he impressed us.”
After making Milwaukee on a PTO contract Payerl scored four points (two goals and two assists) in his first eight games with Milwaukee. On November 11 he signed standard AHL player contract for the rest of the season.
“It’s nice to be wanted,” Payerl said after inking the new deal. “I came here with something to prove this year and I just want to build on (what is going well).”
Since that point Payerl continued to supply offense for the Admirals. Some of the forward’s highlights this season include a three-assist effort in a 6-2 win over Rockford on December 21 and three other multi-point performances.
“[Adam’s] earned everything he’s got so far and he’s a good player for us,” said Evason of his team’s seventh leading scorer. “I’m excited for him and excited for the Nashville Predators that we have a guy in this organization that has the potential to play in the NHL.”
For his younger teammates Payerl provides a fine example of the effort needed to compete as a professional.
“I think Adam’s been a great addition to our team and is a good example of why we are having success this year,” Admirals forward Felix Girard said. “He shows up every night and does whatever needs to be done to help us win games. He’s having a very good season and he’s been a big part of our success.”
Payerl is working on his game to be ready for his next opportunity, whether that is with Milwaukee or Nashville, or another organization in 2016-17.
“I’m happy to be here and it’s been a good opportunity for me,” Payerl said. “But my ultimate goal is to get back to the NHL and be a full time NHL player one day. I just have to keep working hard and hopefully that opportunity comes along.”
In the process winning a Calder Cup with the emerging Admirals would add icing to the cake.
“We want to have good habits, be consistent and play the right way coming down the stretch to carry the right attitude going into the playoffs,” Payerl said. “Then we’ll see if we can do some damage and have a good postseason run.”