Yesterday, I sat down with Daniel Lavender, the man behind the curtain of Admirals Roundtable, which is a very successful website devoted to covering the Cincinnati Cyclones’ AHL affiliate in the Milwaukee Admirals. It’s been a very slow year in terms of player movement from Cincinnati to Milwaukee compared to years past.
Because of how distant the affiliates have been this season, the driving force behind that interview was to give Admirals fans a glimpse of how things have been here in southwestern Ohio this season. We discussed everything Cyclones from the AHL contracted players currently calling Cincinnati home to the recent western trip out to the Last Frontier, and so much more.
If you haven’t read that yet, you can see that conversation here.
Today, we’re going to flip the script. We’ll switch chairs as the interviewer and the interviewee. This time around, we’re going to give Cyclones fans an update on what has been going on in Milwaukee this season.
The Admirals have themselves in pretty decent footing sitting in prime position to make the Calder Cup Playoffs once again and have been shadowing the Grand Rapids Griffins (Former Cyclones bench boss, Ben Simon is an Assistant Coach) and Chicago Wolves practically all season in the Central Division.
It was an early playoff exit for the Admirals last season, will they go further this time around? Milwaukee’s roster currently contains a few names that are familiar to Cincinnati fans, how have those guys fared in the AHL? What does the future hold for both parties?
Let’s find out and more. Here’s our Q&A with Daniel Lavender, also known as Admirals Roundtable:
Q: Standing at 37-21-3-3 and in 3rd place in the AHL’s Central Division, knocking on wood as I’m saying this, but the Admirals are in prime position to make the Calder Cup Playoffs for the second straight campaign and for the 14th time in the last 16 years. How has the season been for you folks up in Wisconsin?
A: The Admirals have been right behind the Grand Rapids Griffins and Chicago Wolves for what feels like ages. It seems like they are a lock for the Calder Cup Playoffs and almost destined to have an Amtrak Rivalry showdown against the Wolves in the first round. The Admirals started the season strong but, as the injuries piled up in December and January for the Nashville Predators, the team has had an odd “win one, lose one” approach for awhile. The team has preached “defense-first” mentality a lot and I feel as if the team is starting to find that mentality and the benefits of it at the right time. When I hear “defense-first” I’m thinking playoff style hockey more than anything else. Dean Evason and that coaching staff always have a good pulse for the group.
Q: Last season, it was a quick playoff exit for the Admirals as Grand Rapid made quick work of them with a sweep in Round 1. Assuming the Admirals, in fact, make the playoffs, do you see them making some noise or will it be another early golf outing?
A: That’s the really tough question looming in the distance. I think the Central Division end of the playoffs almost feels set with the Admirals due to play against the Wolves. That team as a scary amount of offensive ability and the Admirals ended up going 5-6-0-1 against them on the season. It wouldn’t be any easier of a match-up against the Griffins, either. My hope is for the Admirals to find lightning in a bottle like the Lake Erie Monsters were able to last season and simply get hot at the right time. It’s nice to have won the Central Division as the Admirals did a season ago and nearly end the regular season with the best record in the Western Conference. It’s even nicer to just do well in the playoffs. Out of all the banners you want to raise “Calder Cup Champions” is the real one you want – not just Central Division Champions.
Q: It’s been proven that the road to Nashville starts in Cincinnati and continues into Milwaukee. In January of last year, the Predators signed Frederick Gaudreau to an Entry-Level Contract. Gaudreau began his journey with the Cyclones in 2014-15 and is currently one of the Admirals top point scorers. How has it been to watch Gaudreau blossom into what he is now and how far do you think he is from being a mainstay in Nashville?
A: Watching the game earlier this season where Frédérick Gaudreau and Mike Liambas were together on the Nashville Predators bench was one of the best feelings I’ve had watching hockey. Those two had such long paths to make it but I can’t think of two nicer people or harder workers in the game. Gaudreau burst on the scene last season but what he has been able to do this season is elevate his game to another level. You often hear that the “rookie season” is easier than the “sophomore season” because the book is out on you and more and more teams get a sense for how you play. I know that this is Gaudreau’s third pro season but it’s really his second full bore AHL campaign and he has exceeded what he did the year before despite teams knowing just how good he is. I would very seriously expect him to compete for a job out of pre-season camp with the Predators next season. He is a solid and capable NHL fourth line winger or center who is very defensively responsible, skates extremely well, and has an ever growing offensive game that might getting made that much better from him learning in-game and day-to-day while Mike Ribeiro is here. Gaudreau is the hardest working player not named Viktor Arvidsson that I’ve watched play in Milwaukee. That will never change for him. And that sort of attitude will get him to the NHL.
Q: A few other names Cyclones fans will be familiar with are Mike Liambas, Anthony Richard, Justin Kirkland, and even Adam Payerl who never even suited up for the Cyclones. Could you give us an update on how this season has treated those gentlemen so far?
A: Ah, yes. I always feel the need to apologies to Cincinnati fans about Adam Payerl. He was signed to the Cyclones for 2015-16 but part of that comes with the invite to Admirals Training Camp where he did so well that he never left, earned his AHL contract, and then an NHL contract. Payerl has played the best hockey of his pro career in this organization. I think everything just clicked as far as the coaching staff and players he’s played alongside. Liambas took the one-year away as a member of the diabolical Rockford IceHogs on an NHL Contract but his leadership qualities were so welcome to have right back in Milwaukee. As for Anthony Richard and Justin Kirkland? Richard reportedly didn’t like how his season started and took the time in the ECHL hard. He then had Gaudreau given to him as an example as to why that isn’t a bad thing, how well the process works, and Gaudreau himself talked to him about it. Richard has since been the spark plug that Harry Zolnierczyk was for this team on the ice. Richard is so scary fast and his confidence in attack is growing every game. I do feel he gets a bit too wild with his speed at times and actually over-plays things but he is the youngest player on the team and has a lot to learn still. I’ve liked his rookie season. Kirkland who, a lot like Richard, had a slow start to the season is pretty much going through the same thing. You’d never hear anything negative of him in regards to the send-down or anything though. He always practices really well and I think seems far more destined to stay out on the wing than at center. It is where he has found the better of his success this season alongside Payerl on his opposite wing with Vladislav Kamenev centering them.
Q: Anthony Richard is ECHL playoff eligible in the case the Cyclones qualified for the 2017 Kelly Cup Playoffs and Milwaukee elected to send him down. However, Justin Kirkland still needs one more ECHL game to be eligible. Do you see Kirkland being sent down to Cincinnati for a weekend before the season comes to a close to make him ECHL playoff eligible just in case?
A: It could happen in the near future as Kirkland is currently banged up and the team will be heading to Manitoba on Thursday and Friday. It wouldn’t be the worst idea as you would love to keep the options open for all young players to play as much as possible – especially in their first pro-season. The only catch would be that line of Kirkland-Kamenev-Payerl is so good and could easily be brought back together as soon as Kirkland heals up.
Q: It’s been a slow year in terms of movement from Cincinnati to Milwaukee. Mark Visentin, Jonathan Diaby, and Jaynen Rissling are the only thee AHL contracts that have spent a good chunk of time with the Cyclones. Injuries have plagued Cincy. Obviously, there’s some fan frustration about the lack of help from the AHL, but it’s my understanding Milwaukee has been plagued by injuries as well. If you could, give us the Milwaukee side of this situation.
A: I think that the Vegas situation actually made this entire season as far as minor league roster make-up goes very weird. The Admirals started the season with Austin Watson, Matt Irwin, Harry Zolnierczyk, and Juuse Saros. As the season went on all of those names were lost and then you have trades happening past the NHL level. Adam Pardy gets brought in on an AHL Trade that saw -effectively- two ECHL pieces go in exchange for him. That trade then turned into an NHL Contract for Pardy with the Predators banged up. Félix Girard gets traded away for Cody McLeod which lessens the AHL roster pool and makes having Derek Army in on a PTO a necessity. I think the need to bring in veterans to help support depth for the upcoming Expansion Draft padded the AHL but made things very tight as far as what can trickle out to the ECHL. That was at least the case this season with the Predators. I’m expecting a very active and frantic off-season with all the openings due up in Milwaukee alone.
Q: Jumping ahead a bit, in a way, the Admirals have done Cincinnati some good by picking apart their competition. The Admirals have called upon Rick Pinkston from Manchester, Derek Army from Wheeling, and Stephen Perfetto from Alaska. How has the AHL treated them and could you see any of them getting AHL deals with Milwaukee next season to strengthen the Admirals ECHL depth pool?
A: Derek Army is a national treasure – simple as that. That kid might be the best interview up here but he is also such a well-rounded player who brings it every single shift. Pinkston has had some moments to get in games and play, even one where he was forced to play at forward, but I’m not too sure I’ve seen enough of him to say one way or another he could stick in the AHL. Perfetto has only been with us recently and very ironically during the Cyclones/Aces three-game set. It might have helped you guys out but I feel he’s helped out here even more. I really like what I see in Perfetto’s game for Admirals hockey: fast, smart, skill, and he is another player where you appreciate how hard he is working shift-to-shift. I always take PTO players as a positive because they’re getting a job interview to show they can play AHL hockey. I’d give Army and Perfetto jobs if I could for next season. If they trickle between Milwaukee and Cincinnati it would be a boost for everyone.
Q: Again looking ahead to the future, Jonas Gunnarsson has had a pretty rough first season in North America. Depending on Milwaukee’s goaltending situation next season, could you see Gunnarsson potentially getting some time in Cincinnati next year?
A: Well, Gunnarsson is only in on a one-year contract this season. What is irritating with Gunnarsson is he has flashes of great ability, hiccups here and there, and then games where he is good – but the team in front of him stunk up the arena. This time last year he had played well over 50+ games in his native Sweden and he has only made 14 appearances for the Admirals. I’m shocked he hasn’t had any ECHL time this year just to give him an outlet and play more. Inconsistency breeds inconsistency to me. If Gunnarsson isn’t getting the chance to play that much it is hard for him to learn more in-game and therefore improve. I’d like for him to be back next season and getting a better run. That said, it would be miraculous if Marek Mazanec re-signed with the Predators to be an AHL goalie for next season. They will need to address their AHL goaltending group big time. If Pekka Rinne or Juuse Saros were to get dinged up in any way next season – who is the third choice next season? If it were Gunnarsson, not to sound harsh, but that isn’t good enough. He isn’t NHL ready at all.
As always, we greatly appreciate Mr. Lavender for taking time out of his day to speak with us. If you want to see more of Daniel’s terrific work with the Admirals, head over to the Admirals Roundtable website. Also be sure to “like” him on Facebook, and follow along on Twitter.