The Norfolk Admirals ECHL season kicked off this week with a two game series against the Wheeling Nailers (Pittsburgh Penguins). A roster that had been together for just 12 days took the ice this weekend under the pressure that comes with following up 15 years of AHL hockey, one AHL championship, and three ECHL championships. For the players, most of whom had never seen the inside of Norfolk Scope Arena, it was just Game 1 of a new season. For the fans, however, the expectations were much higher--this team had some big shoes to fill.
A crowd of 4200 fans showed up at Scope on Friday night not sure what to expect. "It was a level below the AHL. It would be slower. It would be sloppy. There wouldn't be a lot of goals. Would there still be fighting?" Turns it, it was all of that. Norfolk came out of the gate fast, out-shooting the Nailers 10-9 in the first period and no score between the teams. Gabriel Verpaelst, a hold-over from last year's team in Bakersfield, endeared himself to fans by dropping the gloves at 6:38 of the first. The fight would be the only excitement of the period.
Goaltender Ty Rimmer stood on his head during the second period, allowing just one goal on 20 shots at the tail end of an Admirals penalty kill from the first period. While Wheeling was firing away at one end of the ice, Norfolk managed to put just six shots on goal through the period and would muster just seven in the third period.
Wheeling popped in their second of the game just over three minutes in to the third and an empty-netter with a minute left in regulation. Rimmer was the lone highlight of Friday's game, stopping 34 of 36. Norfolk was 0-for-3 on the power play, Wheeling 0-for-4.
Saturday night started off with a "bang"--Marc-Olivier Roy (Marco Roy) went to the box for fighting just 2:27 in to the first period. The parade to the penalty box for both teams continued through the first six minutes of the game including a fight between Michael Pelech and Wheeling's Clark Seymour four minutes after the first fight. In all, 14 penalties were called in the first between the teams. Somehow Norfolk found the time and space among the mayhem to tickle the twine three times in the period. Greg Chase scored his first of the season from the slot, potting home a rebound left by a blocked shot from Josh Currie. Four minutes later Norfolk would punish the Nailers on the Power Play. Defenseman Mathieu Brisebois launched a wrister from outside edge of the slot that beat Nailers' netminder Brian Foster. Michael Pelech would score the eventual game winner just under three minutes later, a short-handed goal that would cap the three goal first period outburst.
In what hopefully won't become a pattern, the Admirals outshot Wheeling in the first period but then apparently decided to give up on the puck-possession game, allowing Wheeling to outshoot them 19-5 in the second period. Ty Rimmer was once again up to the challenge, stopping all 19 in the period. Both teams went to the locker room with the score still at 3-0.
Wheeling would finally find themselves on the scoresheet in the third period with two power play goals. The Admirals held on to their 3-2 lead until winger Maxime Legault scored his first of the season in to a Nailers' empty net, driving home the final "nail" in the coffin. The Admirals were outshot 40-24 with Rimmer allowing just two goals. Norfolk also held Wheeling to just two goals on nine power play chances, while scoring on two of their own man-advantage situations. Seven different Admirals had points Saturday night.
A lot of credit goes to Ty Rimmer, who played back-to-back nights and only allowed four goals on 76 shots. It would also seem the coaching staff was able to make the necessary adjustments to get Norfolk on the board after being shut out the night before. However, as I mentioned above, it's certainly worrisome that Norfolk would give up over half of the total shots against in the second period on both nights. The Admirals were guilty of trying to look pretty on several occasions, something else I'm sure the coaching staff will address this week.
Other note-worthy items:
--Jordan Hill was named Captain Friday morning.
--Maxime Legault is your current points leader (1G + 1A = 2pts)
--Goal scoring leaders: Legault, Brisebois, Chase, Pelech (1G)
--Penatly Minutes leaders: Pelech, Verpaelst (9 Mins)
--Goaltending leader: Rimmer 1-1-0-0 2.02 GAA .947 SP
The Admirals are on the road this week to face off against the Florida Everblades (Carolina Hurricanes) on Wednesday and the Orlando Solar Bears (Toronto Maple Leafs) on Thursday and Saturday.
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