Gamache ready to face old friends

Five months ago, Simon Gamache was well into his second full AHL season, after having finished third in the entire league with 35 goals and fifth with 77 points during the 2002-03 campaign.

The native of Thetford Mines, Que., had 11 points in 16 games with Chicago this year, when on Dec. 2 he was part of a four-player trade between the Atlanta Thrashers and the Nashville Predators.

Gamache, then just shy of his 23rd birthday, was sent with 1999 first-round draft pick Kirill Safronov to the Predators for Ben Simon and Tomas Kloucek.

Assigned to Milwaukee after the trade, Gamache’s first game with the Admirals would be on Dec. 3 at the Bradley Center against Chicago.

It would take Gamache a couple of games to get acquainted with his new teammates on the ice, but he broke through on Dec. 14, with a goal and two assists in a 6-4 loss to Cincinnati.

In his next game, Gamache did even better, recording a hat trick to lead the Admirals to a 7-2 thrashing of the Wolves. He would wind up with seven points in the 10-game season series against his former mates, and 18 goals and 27 assists in 52 contests with Milwaukee during the regular season.

Teamed on a line with Darren Haydar and Vern Fiddler, Gamache tallied six points in two games to help Milwaukee rally from a 3-2 series deficit to get past the Mighty Ducks in the last round.

Now heading into the West Division final showdown with Chicago, Gamache and the Admirals know that they’re in for a battle. The Wolves have won three league championships in the previous six seasons, including a Calder Cup in 2002, and finished just six points behind league-leading Milwaukee in the AHL’s overall standings this year.

“They’ve got a good team,” Admirals head coach Claude Noel told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “We also talked to our team about establishing tradition here and getting this Milwaukee franchise (recognition). Obviously, getting out of the division would be a huge step toward doing that.”

The lakeshore rivals kick off their best-of-seven series at the Bradley Center on Wednesday night.