By Weston DeWitt
Norfolk, VA — Last week, the Norfolk Admirals were just trying to get back into the win column. Rod Taylor’s club hadn’t won a game since October 23. Since that time, they lost 11 consecutive games by regulation or overtime. Coming into last Wednesday’s matchup against the Maine Mariners, the Admirals were still searching for a high level of consistency in their game. And to some extent, they still are.
But Wednesday’s 6-1 victory over the Mariners proved this is a team that has the ability to play a consistent 60-minute game. Norfolk suffered a setback on Friday with a 6-1 drubbing by Maine, then bounced back 24 hours later with a 5-2 win behind Zach Franko’s two goals.
“I thought we played as five-man unit in all three zones,” said Admirals assistant coach Ryan McGinnis after the victory on Saturday. “Our speed and forecheck really showed up, which was nice. One of the keys to the weekend was to keep the puck (in the offensive zone) and get on their defense. As you saw in those three games, there were plenty of opportunities that came from getting on their defense and getting offense right there in our zone."
With the losing streak now in the rear-view mirror, the Admirals begin the first of four games tonight on Thanksgiving week. They take on an Orlando Solar Bears squad that is in a similar boat as the Admirals; searching for consistency.
The Admirals are now out of the bottom of the South division, sitting in 6th place with their two victories over Maine. Orlando is just three points ahead of them in fifth place. This could be a season-defining game for both clubs, looking to kickstart a possible winning streak.
The Solar Bears will be playing their next five games at home, starting tonight against Norfolk. Drake Berehowsky’s team started out slow, but has picked up the pace since their October 18 matchup against the Admirals. They are coming off a four-game road trip, going 2-0-2 on the trip. They will be getting a familiar face back into their lineup tonight in defenseman Blake Kessel. He is no stranger to Solar Bear fans, as he played for Orlando in 2012-13. The 30-year old is the younger brother of Arizona Coyotes superstar, Phil Kessel.
LAST MATCHUP: These two teams met back on October 18 at Amway Center in which the Admirals pulled out their first victory of the season. Brandon Halverson played out of his mind, stopped 49 pucks that came his way. This was during a time in which Norfolk was struggling on defense to protect their goaltenders from seeing tons of rubber. Despite the differentiation in shots (51-29 for Orlando), the Admirals pulled out a 3-2 victory with goals from Christian Horn, Charlie O’Connor and Alex Rodriguez.
DIFFERENT LOOKING ROSTERS: A lot has changed for both teams since their first meeting. The Solar Bears have ten different players that were not on the roster when the two teams met back in October. As for the Admirals, there were five players on the ice that night that are now with different teams.
JOHNNY, BE GOOD: Admirals defenseman Johnny Coughlin has been lighting up the stat sheet in the goal/assist department since his arrival to Norfolk. The 24-year old has become a mainstay on the Admirals blue-line, as he is tied for the league lead in goals by a defensemen (5). Coughlin played 10 games with Maine last season and scored two goals against his former club last week.
SAM-I-AM: Sam Povorozniouk has been a huge boost up-front for the Admirals through three games. The Illinois product joined the Admirals last week after spending last season in Germany. In his three games, he has registered five assists and has become a potent threat on the man-advantage for Norfolk.
PUCKS ON NET, BOYS: The Admirals defense was virtually non-existent in their October matchup against Orlando, having allowed 51 shots on goal. Halverson was able to bail them out with a 3-2 win. After that game. the Admirals went seven more contests being outshot by their opponents. Since their November 6 endeavor with the Wichita Thunder, Norfolk has outshot their opponents in six games out of ten, including twice against Maine last week.
STAND UP, PORTSMOUTH, VA: The former Hampton Roads Whaler and Virginia’s own Ryan Salkeld has been a huge contributor since coming back from his upper-body injury ten days ago. In five of the games that Salkeld has played, he’s registered a point in four of those games. He’s also shown some strong chemistry on a line with John Gustafsson and Shawn McBride.
LIGHT EM’ UP JAECKS: Admirals defenseman Alex Jaeckle currently stands with a +6 rating on the season, which leads the team. The St. Clair Shores, MI product was everywhere on the ice this past week against Maine. He scored the first short-handed goal of the season for the Admirals in Saturday’s 5-2 victory. But even more impressively, throughout the three games against the Mariners, Jaeckle was a +8 in those games.
The Admirals and Solar Bears matchup can be seen on ECHL TV and heard on the Admirals Radio Network. Weston DeWitt will have the call of the game with puck drop set for 7:00pm ET.