by Ross Halvorson
An 80-game schedule may seem rigorous enough to most, but there’s only more treacherous waters ahead as the Milwaukee Admirals enter the Calder Cup Playoffs on a quest that many refer to as the second season.
With the 2005-06 regular season in the books, the Admirals will make their third consecutive playoff appearance under head coach Claude Noel. Noel says that the team that executes the small stuff will find themselves hoisting the Calder Cup in June, something the Admirals got to do in 2004.
“It’s the little things in the playoffs that matter,” said Noel, “It’s key penalties, key goals or key saves at key times that make the difference.”
The Admirals have an all or nothing history in the Calder Cup Playoffs, having either won the whole thing or bowed out in the early rounds.
“Playoffs are not necessarily the best team wins,” said Noel. “You have to put the game in a position where your strengths come to the forefront.”
Milwaukee has only advanced past the second round of the playoffs once, their championship season. In their first Calder Cup appearance, the Admirals got by Rochester in a preliminary round, but were swept in the next round by eventual the eventual champion Houston Aeros.
Last season ended in disappointment as the Admirals dropped the final three games of their opening round series against Cincinnati after staking themselves to a three-games-to-one lead. What made it even harder to swallow was the fact that the Ads lost game seven on the Bradley Center ice.
“You can’t let people hang around, and I think we learned that lesson last year,” said Noel. “The sooner you can dispose of [an opponent], the better off you are. Your fourth win is always going to be your toughest.”
The bitter taste from Milwaukee’s last playoff series still lingers and the players, coaches and fans are eager to get back in the playoff win column.
Admirals defenseman Sheldon Brookbank knows exactly what it takes to win a playoff series as he and his Cincinnati teammates ended Milwaukee’s championship hopes a year ago.
“In the playoffs there’s no tomorrow,” said Brookbank. “You have one chance to make that perfect play which could decide if your team moves on or not.”
As if the teams Milwaukee will face in the playoffs won’t be tough enough, there’s always the added challenge of a constant travel schedule to contend with in a playoff series.
“It’s always nice to play in your home building,” said Brookbank, “but you’ve got to win on the road if you’re going to have any success.”
For many teams, the playoff mindset has already begun as they’ve scrambled to make it into the final 16-team tournament, or jockeyed with other teams for the best possible seed.
According to Admirals left wing Scottie Upshall, who was recently recalled by the Nashville Predators, that elevation starts with concentration and the accountability he and his teammates have with each other. “In the playoffs, every shift is that much more important. Every goal means that much more.”
One thing the Admirals will look to do in the playoffs to gain an advantage is winning in quick fashion. By finishing off a series in four or five games instead of six or seven, players will ensure they have enough left in the tank for a lengthy playoff run.
“Those long series are tiring physically and mentally,” noted Brookbank. “Especially the overtime games. The ups and downs of winning and losing those games mentally wear on you.”
But you can’t count your chickens before they’re hatched, as the Admirals know from first-hand experience. “You have to take every game one at a time,” said Admirals right wing Darren Haydar, who has been with the Admirals over the last three seasons.
“Otherwise before you know it, it’s golf season.”