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July 28, 2010

Pete's Take on the AHL Admirals Tenth Anniversary Team


Hello, Admirals fans! I hope your summers have been enjoyable. Iíve been spending much of mine over at Harbor Park, broadcasting for the Norfolk Tides. Hockey season is just over two months away, however, so Iím already thinking about what might be in store for a team and an organization in the midst of massive change.

I thought Iíd check in with a summer blog to take a look at the selections for the AHL Admirals Tenth Anniversary Teams as determined by recent online fan voting. Having had the pleasure of seeing more Admirals games than anyone on the planet, I was asked for my take on the voting. I like most of the selections the fans made, but I do have some different thoughts on a few who made the team and several others who didnít get the votes. So, without further adieu, here goes.....

Martin St. Pierre/Photo by Allison VeinoteLetís begin at center, where Martin St. Pierre is the choice and Ajay Baines is the second-team choice, according to the fans. Iím in total agreement here. St. Pierre was the most complete playmaker in club history and stands third on the teamís all-time points list and second in assists while playing in only 142 games. Baines is the correct selection as the second-teamer. While he remains the organizationís all-time leader in points, Ajayís value was always far greater than the numbers he put up. Baines was a leader. He battled night in and night out, setting an example for his teammates to follow. There have been several other Norfolk centers with greater talent...most notably Paul Szczechura, Blair Jones and a couple of players who didnít play the needed 80 games to qualify, such as Mark Cullen and Nathan Barrett...but intangibles make Baines the right choice as the second center selection.

At right wing, high-scoring Brandon Bochenski was an obvious choice, while Shawn Thornton grabs the fansí vote for the runner-up spot. I think youíd be foolish to argue Bochenskiís selection. Heís the leading goal scorer in team history. His 2006-07 season in Norfolk, while cut short by a trade, still ranks as the most impressive single season in the teamís AHL history, in my mind. He was never a very good defensive player, but no one could score goals like Bo! Iím somewhat torn over the second-team selection. Casey Hankinson/Photo by Yvonne PaxsonThornton was a great Admiral, and probably the top Ďtough guyí in a long list of heavyweights in Norfolk history with nearly 1200 penalty minutes. I canít help, however, but feel that Casey Hankinson might have been the better choice at right wing. ĎHankí is second on the teamís all-time goal list and ranks fifth in points. And remember, he was putting up those numbers before the rule changes that helped open the game up offensively. As well, Hankinsonís coast-to-coast overtime dash to score the game-winning, overtime goal to clinch Norfolkís 2001 playoff series victory over Cincinnati probably remains the biggest single goal in team history. If the 80-game rule were not invoked, Troy Brower would garner serious consideration, as well. Browerís 41 goals in just 66 games in 2006-07 may rank right behind Bochenskiís for best single season.

The fansí selection at left wing is Quintin Laing, with Justin Keller named as the backup. Laing is very much like Ajay Baines in that his stats donít tell the whole story. Laing embodies grit and determination Ö getting the most of oneís ability. Quintin has gotten the most of his talents, enough to carry him from the ECHL all the way to the National Hockey League. He was never a big scorer, but no one ever liked playing against Laing. The runner-up spot here is a bit of a toss up, with no true star to pick from. Keller and players like Radek Smolenak and Matt Ellison were all nice talents, but not spectacular. Matt Henderson/Photo by Yvonne PaxsonIn my view, though, the choice should be Matt Henderson. Henderson played on the first three Norfolk AHL teams, so some of you may not have seen him. He was a solid, two-way forward who nicely complimented players like Bochenski. He is, in fact, the all-time leader in goals and points among Norfolkís left-wingers and has one of the best plus/minus ratings in club history. So, Iíll take Henderson as my second-team guy. Frankly, though, if we could have made a minor exception to the 80-game rule, Rene Bourque would have easily been my starting left wing, with Laing bumped to the second-team slot. Bourque played in 79 games as an Admiral, posting 33 goals and 60 points.

Defense is probably the most difficult selection to debate, because simple numbers donít give you all the needed data. Itís also the position I have the biggest issue with. The defensemen picked by fans were Duncan Keith and Dustin Byfuglien. The second-teamers chosen were James Wisniewski and Vladimir Mihalik. While those are all good selections, I have some different thoughts. Marty Wilford/Photo by Yvonne PaxsonI would have gone with Keith and Marty Wilford as my first-team picks, with Wisniewski and Nolan Baumgartner as the second-team choices. I would have even selected Kent Huskins, who played a steady, smart game that usually didnít garner much attention, before Byfuglien and Mihalik. As for Wilford, he is the Admirals all-time leader in assists, ranks first all-time among defenseman in points and stands second only to Baines in all-time points among all players in Norfolkís history. I know all the arguments against Wilford...heís not a great skater, heís not tough, heís better in the offensive zone than in the defensive zone, etc, etc. Let me note that Wilfordís career plus/minus in Norfolk was +8, while Duncan Keith was -8! Keith was a great skater and showed definite flashes of the NHL talent he would later become, but he wasnít quite Norris Trophy-ready when he played here. He was very good, though, and deserves a first-team nod. Wilford, meanwhile, is not worthy of a first-team nod for his defensive skills alone. He was a better defensive player than most gave him credit for, though, and was the leader of several Norfolk clubs that thrived as among the best defensive teams in the AHL. Combining that with his offensive skills makes him worthy of first-team status. Fans, for reasons that still escape me, never warmed to Wilford during his time here. In fact, Wilford elicited the same reaction from the fans during his day that Mihalik has received over much of the past few years, yet Mihalik was tabbed as a second-team selection by voters. Go figure! Letís also remember that Byfuglien, while possessing a tremendous potential, was very much a Ďprojectí during his time in Norfolk. I think voters have forgotten about how he actually played here and voted more on his newfound success in the past year or two in the NHL, much of it which came while playing as a forward, not a defenseman.

I agree with Wisniewski as a second-team pick. ĎWizí was smart, tough, physical and had solid offensive talents, as well. Nolan Baumgartner/Photo by Yvonne PaxsonJoining him on the second-team, in my view, should be Nolan Baumgartner, without a doubt. Nolan was, and remains to this day, one of the best defenders in the AHL, a locker room leader, a team captain and a decent offensive player also. Itís been some time since Nolan played here, so fans doing the voting may not remember him or perhaps never saw him play here. We always tend to remember recent history, but forget about the past. When fans vote, that truth hurts guys like Baumgartner, Hankinson and Henderson, who played on the early Admirals teams. On a final note, I have to make note of Mike Lundin. He played 78 games in Norfolk, so he fails to qualify by just two games. While not a big-time offensive guy, heís as smart and as talented a defensive player as weíve had in Norfolk. If he comes back to Norfolk at some point this season, I may have to rethink my defensive selections.

Michael Leighton/Photo by Yvonne PaxsonAnd finally, the voterís nod at goalie goes to Michael Leighton, with Dustin Tokarski claiming backup honors. Leighton is an obvious choice, as the teamís all-time leader in wins and goals-against-average (among those with at least 15 games played). Heís also the last goalie to lead the Admirals to a playoff series win (2003-04 vs Binghamton). The second-team slot is a much tougher call. I think you could easily make a case for Tokarski, Craig Anderson or Corey Crawford. While Anderson struggled through his rookie season in Norfolk, he was great from that point on. He ranks third in wins and second in goals-against-average. Crawford, meanwhile, tallied 60 wins in a Norfolk uniform, a tally that only trails Leighton. His GAA is a shade higher, but Crawford was here right when the rule changes brought about more scoring, so most goalies stats took a bit of a hit. Tokarski, meanwhile, has won almost 50% of his games in Norfolk (27 of 55), which is impressive considering the Admirals havenít been a playoff caliber team during his time here. And his GAA is fourth in team history. The only knock against him is that he hasnít led Norfolk to the playoffs. Iím really divided on my backup goalie pick, so Iíll just go along with the fans on that one.

Anyway, thatís how I see it. There are some tough calls to make there, but the debate is all part of the fun. Enjoy whatís left of your summer, and I hope to see you around Scope when the season gets underway. Take care...Pete (pete@norfolkadmirals.com)




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