MILWAUKEE - "It's the character of the group... Tonight, we were the aggressive team, we were the ones forechecking hard, finishing our checks... For the most part our competitive level was really high."
Coach Dean Evason was extremely pleased with his teams 2-1 win over the Rockford IceHogs Friday night, seeing Admirals goals from Jani Lajunen and Taylor Beck and a 33 save performance from starting goaltender Jeremy Smith.
This is the second time this week the two teams have played one another, and fifth time the teams have met this season. The series is 3-2 in Milwaukee's favor thus far, but the two teams will battle seven more times during the 2012-2013 regular season.
The Admirals lit the lamp early in the opening period with tally that was a first for several players. The first period goal was the first assist of the year for Charles-Olivier Roussel (as well as first point), and first goal of the season for Jani Lajunen. Roussel fired a wrister from the top of the near circle, which was then deflected in past Rockford goaltender Carter Hutton by Lajunen.
Forward Michael Latta tangled with Rockford's Ryan Stanton midway through the first. The ten minutes accrued in the fight was equal to what both teams served in Wednesday nights uncharacteristically quiet 3-1 loss against the IceHogs. In the three games the teams played prior to Wednesday night, they averaged 26 PIMs per contest
With just :01 left on a Chris Mueller interference call, Brandon Bollig backhanded in a Adam Clendening slap shot attempt to tie the game at one-a-piece.
Defenseman Jon Blum was called on a double-minor for high-sticking to give Rockford a 4:00 power-play midway through the second period, but it was Milwaukee that had the upper hand during the man-advantage. Admirals goaltender Jeremy Smith absolutely shined on the penalty kill, robbing the IceHogs repeatedly on multiple scoring chances. When asked about Smith's solid performance and how it differs from his inconsistant performance this season, coach Dean Evason was quick to praise his starting netminder:
"I have no idea, he's a goalie, but he's got good character. He works, he competes, and even when he doesn't have his best stuff he's still battling in there and that's what you want."
Michael Latta found himself in the midst of a second melee at the halfway mark of the second period, pitting him against fellow team penalty minute leader Brandon Bollig. Just feet away, the normally-reserved Chris Mueller squared off against defenseman Klas Dalhbeck. That tangle didn't last long, as Mueller knocked Dalhbeck off his skates just seconds in. In all, the teams were issued three fighting majors a piece, which was a far cry from Wednesday nights quiet game. Michael Latta saw the change in his team and was positive on how the team responded to Wednesday's performance.
"We were hungry. We lost the last game. We weren't happy with our effort, so sometimes you just have to compete. Fights happen, it's hockey... sometimes you just have to drop the gloves."
In total, the Admirals put 19 shots on Hutton in the second frame alone. Although Hutton made stops on every attempt, Milwaukee looked as if they were on the power-play most of the period. It was a solid performance on all fronts from the home team.
After almost 40 minutes of scoreless hockey, Taylor Beck gave the Admirals a one-goal advantage after scoring on a rebound at the 9:50 mark of the third period. Victor Bartley fired one of his patented slap shots from above the far circle, and the rebounded shot from Beck deflected off a Rockford player to give Milwaukee what would ultimately be the game-winning goal.
The Ads now have five days off, and return to home ice Thursday night for back-to-back games against the Peoria Rivermen.
Additional Game Day Notes:
The Admirals recalled forward Josh Shalla from the ECHL affiliate Cincinnati Cyclones Thursday afternoon, and appeared in tonight's game against the IceHogs. Before the call from Milwaukee, Shalla led the Cyclones in goals with 11, and was fourth overall in points with 15. When asked about the length of his stay in Milwaukee, coach Evason said he's be heading back to Cincinnati after tonight's game.
Game Summary (courtesy of the American Hockey League):
1. MIL Lajunen, (1) (Roussel, Jarvinen), 2:29
1. RFD Bollig, (3) (Clendening), 9:33 (PP)
3. MIL Beck (5) (Bartley, Cehlin), 9:50