Good way to start the new year…
October is the time for haunting.
Warm-ups are usually glossed over by fans; a time for players to skate in drills that are not part of the general public’s schema. Players take shots at their team’s goalie, try to get in a rhythm, try to get loose. Usually, nothing noteworthy happens. I tend not to pay attention to the opponent’s line rushes–tonight was different.
Zack Stortini approached the visitor’s locker room but couldn’t quite bring himself in. He took an extra few seconds-not many-to envelop himself one last time in the atmosphere of Norfolk Scope Arena. Stortini knew what was at stake, the last visit ever to one of his many stops in professional hockey. In one moment, I sort of forgot about my criticism of him and thought about the humanity of the scene. The night would be filled with these moments.
Norfolk played one of their best games all year, and they picked a great time to do it. After an early goal by the Nick Cousins, the Admirals answered back. Amateur Try-Out Ty Loney was the one to do it, picking up his 2nd goal in 4 games, and putting him at a point per game. Loney’s been very impressive so far for the Ads. After tomorrow, he will be a free agent to every hockey team in the universe. I wouldn’t mind seeing him in a Norfolk sweater again.
Starting the second period, the Ads would be on an extended power play and strike! For a unit that’s been disappointing all year, it came alive tonight. Louis Leblanc fed captain David Steckel, who has all of a sudden looked like a scoring-chance generating machine. The eventual first star of the game would give the Ads the lead.
Apparently the Admirals weren’t done. Highly-touted prospect Shea Theodore started a power play that found trade deadline acquisition Mike Sgarbossa…who found Stefan Noesen and his solid shot for a goal. Ultimately, it would be the last game-winning goal in AHL Admirals history. The three of those players are the future for Anaheim, and they didn’t really start playing until late in the year.
Somewhere in the action, John Kurtz fought. If there was going to be a play iconic of the Ducks’ stay in Norfolk it would be a Kurtz fight. The grinder has played the most games of any Admiral during that time, making himself a part of the surrounding community.
Scott Laughton would score another goal for the Phantoms on the power play, but it would be the last time they scored all night. Norfolk wasn’t done. If Kurtz fought, then Max Friberg needed to get a point. Once again, on the power play, the Admirals would find the back of the net. Brandon Montour would find Friberg, who would drive towards the net, and leave a rebound for Theodore. It would result in a Theodore goal, bringing him to an astonishing 9 points in 8 AHL games. G
Norfolk would not score again, failing to hit the empty net. Goaltender Ryan Faragher, who has appeared in a meager 14 games, stopped 25 of 27 for his second consecutive win and third in five games, going 3-1-1 in that span.
Take away the emotion, take away the stakes, and it’s an exciting yet average 4-2 hockey game. Add them in, and it’s clear why people go to the games. As much as I like to think as cerebrally as possible about sports, it’s hard to deny that outside influences exist. Stakes make the game more enjoyable; they make them worth watching.
After the stick raise, the Admirals filed out towards the locker room. Except one player decided to take a little longer. Noesen decided that he, like Stortini, couldn’t quite let go of the Scope. Noesen has spent the past two years living in the Scope, rehabbing two major injuries that cost him big chunks of his development. If there’s one player who wished he could score more goals, make more hits, help more teammates, enthrall more fans in an Admiral uniform it’s Noesen. In one moment, he embodied what every fan wanted–more time with the AHL at Norfolk Scope.
Anaheim’s players will move up and out towards San Diego, California. The AHL West or Pacific or what have you has been discussed at length in this space. At least there is hockey next year. The ECHL is what made this area fall in love with the sport, what lead it to the AHL, what lead to a brief but unsuccessful flirtation with the NHL. It’s still about hockey.