Norfolk carrying tradition into new era

nor-bench_200.jpgby Neal Stava || AHL On The Beat Archive

In an off-season full of change for the Norfolk Admirals, the only constant has been tradition.

This concept may sound far-fetched to some. But with the Norfolk Admirals, tradition seems to be the glue that holds the brand new squad together.

This past off-season, the Admirals underwent a massive overhaul. Following an affiliation change from the Chicago Blackhawks to the Tampa Bay Lightning, the Admirals revamped the program from the ground up with a new roster and coaching staff, general manager, trainers, equipment manager and even state-of-the-art Rbk Edge uniforms with a fresh color scheme.

The changes have been so drastic that perhaps the only recognizable Admirals representatives left are the team’s mascots, Salty and Hat Trick.

Regardless of the changes, there is one intangible that has stayed with the storied program: tradition. While the new Admirals have all the markings of a brand new and fresh-out-of-the-box hockey club, the history of the old Admirals has stayed put and can be found where it has always been — Norfolk Scope Arena.

The Admirals are notorious amongst their AHL peers for their spirited and often-intimidating fans. This reputation was validated in Norfolk’s 2007-08 home opener on Oct. 19, as the Admirals went on to defeat the Binghamton Senators, 5-1, behind a rowdy home crowd of over 5,600 faithful fans. Wing Norm Milley was quoted as saying, “The home opener was unbelievable. You couldn’t ask for anything more.”

Coming from a well-traveled player such as Milley (29 games played in the NHL and approaching his 500th AHL game), those are strong words.

New head coach Steve Stirling said he was not surprised; he had been on the other side of the puck in the past as a player in the 1970s and a coach in the past decade. As he reminisced on his past, Stirling remembered that coming to Scope “was no easy task; the fans really support their team and are like a sixth man on the ice.”

According to Stirling, the Admirals of the past always found a way to bear down on visiting teams on the second night of a weekend series. This staunch tradition made Norfolk an incredibly hard team to sweep at home. Stirling feels that this is a tradition that must live on within the Admirals organization and he preaches this strategy in his game plan.

Among all the traditions established in Norfolk, making the playoffs has always been a mainstay. If you combine their tenure in the ECHL and AHL, the Admirals have made it to the postseason an astonishing 18 consecutive years. With all the new personnel coming in, the coaches looked for a symbol that would “honor the past, but look to the future,” according to Stirling.

With that blueprint, the coaching staff ordered plain grey shirts with two items printed on the front. First, the crest from uniforms of the last few seasons to symbolize the past, and the number 19 printed below that to represent the teams’ goal for this year: extend the playoff streak to 19 straight seasons.

Along with the announcement of a new affiliation, the Admirals decided to move away from the familiar red, gold and black uniforms. The team decided to remember its roots and stay with the same logo (an image of the USS Wisconsin shooting pucks out of her cannons) and make changes to the color scheme and layout of the uniforms.

The finished product is a sharp white home jersey and a blue away sweater with colors that bear a striking resemblance to the old-school threads.

Regardless of what personnel come and go within the organization, the loyal fans always fill the seats of the fabled Scope Arena. Being one of the older arenas in the AHL, the Scope offers an intense atmosphere that the newer, “cookie-cutter” venues across the league cannot duplicate.
Assistant coach Darren Rumble notes that, “since it is an older building, the Scope has great acoustics which make it extremely loud.” Compared to the new NHL arenas with luxury boxes and a more spaced out seating design, the ruckus produced on game nights adds to the tradition that is Norfolk Admirals hockey.
The Hampton Roads area has also made a contribution to the Admirals tradition throughout the years. Norfolk has had a long-standing reputation among hockey insiders as a premier region to call home. Veterans Dan Jancevski and Norm Milley (captain and alternate captain, respectively) both agree that the area is bountiful with “great living conditions, fans, and golfing weather year-round.” Perhaps this superior lifestyle compared to the colder northern regions of the AHL has been partly responsible for their 18 consecutive playoff berths.

With the traditions of the old Admirals in mind, the new Admirals have taken the ice for the 2007-08 season. This years’ edition of the Admirals hope to shake the ghosts of seasons past by raising a new championship banner to the rafters of legendary Norfolk Scope.