The summer of 2012 was one of great change for the AHL’s Norfolk Admirals. Having been affiliated with Tampa Bay and winning the Calder Cup in 2011/2012 in one of the most dominant seasons in the history of the AHL, the team was dropped by the Lightning in June in favor of the Syracuse Crunch. Less than two weeks later, the Admirals signed a 5 year agreement with Anaheim, establishing themselves as the Ducks AHL affiliate.
To get some inside perspective on the changes made during the summer, as well as the progress of some of the Duck’s exciting young prospects, I caught up with veteran play-by-play voice of the Admirals, Pete Michaud.
THW: What sort of preparation did you need to do coming into this season knowing you were going to have to call games for an entirely new team?
PM: The prep is pretty much the same, researching backgrounds on players and such. There is just much more of it, since I have to do it for EVERY player, and not just the new guys. The big change is slowly getting to know the guys. Once they start to trust you, a broadcaster can get stories and opinions that would not normally be available. That takes a lot of time.
THW: How have the fans in Norfolk reacted to the change?
PM: The reaction has been mixed. While there is no bad feelings about the Ducks or their players, there is some frustration among fans with the Tampa organization for leaving and not allowing the guys who won the Cup last year and the fans that supported them to truly enjoy a season as defending champions. We saw some of that frustration last week as the old players, now playing for Syracuse, received a very strong welcome from the Norfolk fans.
THW: Last season, the Admirals were a dominant team. They set a professional hockey record with a 28 winning streak and then tore through the AHL playoffs, cruising to a Calder Cup while losing just 3 games along the way. Can you pin point what was so special about that team?
PM: First, there was a abundance of talent…scoring, speed, toughness. They had great depth, with contributions from all 4 lines and all the defensive pairs. The goaltending was great. And they had an undefined ability to win in comeback fashion and they just had a way to pull out most of the close games. Their only weakness was being a bit on the small size. They had great contributions from rookies and vets alike, especially Cory Conacher, who was undrafted and ends up the league MVP and rookie of the year. They also had a fun environment and a closeness, as a team.
THW: This year, the Admirals are currently sitting in the last position in the Eastern Conference. To what do you attribute the struggles this team has had so far this season?
PM: Goals have been tough to come by. Maroon, Holland & Palmieri have been the only consistent scorers. Etem has had stretches where he has been good. The rest of the club has struggled offensively, which means only 1 line most nights has been a strong threat to score. Goaltending has been ok, with Andersen grabbing the reigns as #1, but it’s tough to compete against clubs with veteran netminders with 2 rookies.
THW: With the lack of NHL hockey up to this point, Ducks fans are eager for progress reports on some of their young prospects in Norfolk. Having been a prolific producer in the WHL, Etem entered his first pro season with high expectations but has struggled early on to translate his scoring ability to the AHL. What aspects of his game do you like and what do you feel he needs to change in order to start putting himself on the score sheet with more regularity?
PM: Etem is very noticeable for his strong skating and speed. He struggled early but seems to be adjusting to the league. I just think he needs time, but I think he has a great future. I also love the way he handles himself off the ice..very professional. I just think he needs game experience.
THW: Had the NHL began on time, there is little doubt that Kyle Palmieri would have cracked the Ducks roster full time this year. What is it about his game that has allowed him to be so dominant at the AHL level so far in his career?
PM: He has a great hockey sense, just knowing where to go, anticipating openings and chances. He also has a strange shooting style. It’s difficult to read as the puck comes off his stick. He is very accurate and gets his shot off quickly. He’s the kind of guy who sometimes looks like he is having an off night but somehow manages to get a point or two even when he’s not totally on his game.
THW: The Ducks raised a few eyebrows at the draft this year by selecting Swede Hampus Lindholm 6th overall. So far in Norfolk, the 18-year-old seems to be adjusting well and is a +2 on a team with mostly minus players. Do you see him as a quiet, stable defensive presence or is there some offensive potential to be tapped there?
PM: I haven’t seen enough of Hampus to be completely sure, but he seems to play with a smooth confidence. He is pretty smart and doesn’t seem intimidated even though he is an 18yr old playing with much older guys. I just think he needs to used in the right situations so he can grow his game in the next few years.
THW: Sami Vatanen is a player that Ducks fans are very high on. He started the year hot with 7 points in his first 6 games and now has 21 in 32. Do you think he will be able to translate his offensive game to the next level?
PM: Sami is a strong skater with offensive skills. His only downside is his size. He will have to adjust to bigger guys trying to rough him up, but he seems to handle that well. Having been one of the fastest guys and best puckhandlers where he has played, he also will have to adjust to playing at a level where more guys have speed closer to him. He can’t get away with some flashy plays that may have worked elsewhere, so he just needs time to learn the league and what works and doesn’t work at the AHL and NHL levels.
THW: Finally, the Admirals leading scorer, Peter Holland has been a model of consistency so far this year. Can you summarize Holland’s game and explain why you think he’s been so successful?
PM: Peter is our most consistent guy. He seems to do most everything pretty well, which means he may not stand out some nights, but doesn’t have too many bad nights. He plays a smart game. He works hard in the d-zone and faceoffs and doesn’t just look at offensive numbers.
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