Trio turns Norfolk into Badgertown

by Pete Michaud || AHL On The Beat Archive

It’s more than 1,000 miles from the campus of the University of Wisconsin to Scope in Norfolk, Va. The northern land of bratwurst and cheese seems worlds away from the sandy beaches and southern hospitality of the Atlantic coast.

For Norfolk Admirals forwards Adam Burish, Jake Dowell and Jack Skille, however, it seems as if they’ve made the journey in the blink of an eye, and with almost as much ease.

As members of the Badgers’ 2006 NCAA championship team, the "Wisco Trio" are now hoping to strike AHL postseason gold with the Admirals.

For much of this AHL season, Burish was the Admirals’ lone connection to that 2006 Wisconsin title team. A ninth-round draft choice of the Chicago Blackhawks in 2002, Burish concluded his collegiate career after last year’s title game. He began his pro career this season by making the Blackhawks out of training camp before eventually joining the Admirals.

Dowell and Skille were back at Wisconsin this year and joined Norfolk in late March after the Badgers’ season came to an end.

“It’s great to have those guys around,” said Burish. “There’s a special bond among players that are lucky enough to win titles together. Of course, some of our teammates here in Norfolk are already telling us, ‘Enough with the Wisco stories!’”

The heated competition of a late-season AHL playoff push hasn’t fazed Dowell and Skille, who each made their pro debuts in late March with the Admirals.

dowell_200.jpgDowell, who led the Badgers with 19 goals this season and concluded his college career with 42 goals at Wisconsin, made his first pro appearance on the road in Wilkes-Barre.

“I had heard from the guys beforehand what a tough building Wilkes-Barre was to play in,” Dowell recalled, “but it was a great way to get started.”

The fifth-round, 2004 Chicago draft selection needed just three games to notch his first pro goal, lighting the lamp in a Mar. 28 contest in Norfolk against the Philadelphia Phantoms. The son of a former pro football player, Dowell preceded his NCAA title with a gold medal with Team USA at the 2004 World Junior Championship.

Burish describes Dowell as “an energy guy, strong on faceoffs and a great penalty killer…a guy who perfectly plays his role as a third- or fourth-line guy.”

Adapting is one of Dowell’s strong suits, according to Norfolk assistant coach Ted Dent. “He can play center or wing,” Dent notes, “and that makes him even more valuable.”

“Dowell is a strong, power forward type of player,” said Norfolk head coach Mike Haviland. “He came in here and picked up on our systems very quickly. He knows where and how to stop on pucks and finishes his checks. I’ve been very pleased with him.”

Skille, the seventh overall selection in the 2005 draft by the Blackhawks, debuted a night after Dowell against Binghamton and Senators goaltender Brian Elliot, who was Skille and Dowell’s teammate at Wisconsin just a few days before.

“It was fun seeing him down at the other end of the ice,” said Skille.

Skille collected his first two pro points in the same Mar. 28 game in which Dowell scored, then bagged his first pro goal two nights later in Philadelphia. Skille then notched two markers in his next game in Albany.

He’s regarded as a strong skater and a deft puck handler who doesn’t hesitate to unleash a big shot. “I’ve always kind of liked to use the big slapper,” he admits.

Haviland is equally impressed with Skille, calling him a “very skilled forward with good hands, quick feet and great habits, both on and off the ice.” Although he’s only 19 years old, Skille seems more than at ease in the American League.

“He may be 19, but he’s got the body of a 35-year-old, and I mean that in a positive way,” explained Burish. “He’s got that special physical gift that you just can’t teach. He’s also got the right attitude to win. He’ll make the sacrifice.”

Handling pressure has always been a strong suit for Skille, who scored a dramatic triple-overtime game-winning goal to beat Cornell and send Wisconsin to the Frozen Four last year in the second-longest game in NCAA tournament history.

skille_200.jpg“Without a doubt, that’s the most memorable single goal I’ve scored,” said Skille, who notched that dramatic tally in his freshman season. And like Dowell, Skille also has a gold medal on his mantel, helping Team USA win the Under-18 World Championship in 2005.

While Dowell is a 22-year-old with four years of college experience behind him, the younger Skille opted to leave the college ranks after just two seasons.

“It was a tough decision to leave college early, but I felt it was the right time,” Skille said.

Growing up a Blackhawks fan made the decision just a bit easier, however.

“I grew up with Blackhawks posters all over the walls of my room when I was a kid,” Skille recalled. “When it looked like I might get drafted by Chicago, I remember telling my dad how cool that would be.”

Dowell and Skille both joined the Admirals on ATOs (amateur tryouts), which means head coach Mike Haviland can insert them into his lineup at any time. Thus far, the two talented newcomers have seen plenty of ice time.

“There’s certainly some pressure, coming into a chase for a division championship and knowing that your being on the ice means another guy who may have been here all year isn’t playing,” Skille admitted.

Despite their lack of pro experience and the pressure of a playoff push, Skille and Dowell have both already proven they deserve to be in the Norfolk lineup. Tying it all together is the steady Burish, the 23-year-old rookie. Dowell and Skille both credit Burish for making the transition to the pro game an easier one.

“When I got here, he was the guy who took me around, introduced me to the guys, made it easy to fit in,” Dowell commented.

Burish brings a no-nonsense, workmanlike attitude to the rink. Having overcome a near fatal auto accident nearly six years ago, Burish says he’s “thankful to come to the rink every day.” Burish refers to himself as “an energy guy, someone whose desire to play and win probably exceeds my talent.” He’s won the respect of his teammates with a "grind-it-out" style and his willingness to drop the mitts when needed. He’s also hit the double-digit mark in goals for one of the AHL’s highest scoring clubs.

“Adam is a guy who makes sacrifices … in practice, in games, in the locker room, everywhere,” noted assistant coach Dent. “He pays the price with his body and he plays with a real edge.”

Madison, Wis., and Norfolk, Va., may seem to be worlds apart. But the respective homes of the Wisconsin Badgers and the Norfolk Admirals are closely linked. Both have established highly successful programs and produced hard-working, talented players.

Wisconsin, however, has won championships. Norfolk still dreams of a postseason trip to the Calder Cup title. With Adam Burish, Jake Dowell and Jack Skille now in the Norfolk fold, the Admirals are hoping the "Wisco Trio" can show them the championship path.