Been Around The World – Life in a Minor (League) KeyPosted: 20/06/2011
The English Premier League is deemed a “development league”. It’s that status that means teams can’t sign players with a work permit and why we only have 4 imports; technically the EPL exists to develop players for the higher level just as it did when the EPL was the 3rd tier when the BNL was in existence. Whether the EPL actually is a development league at this point in its history is something of a matter for debate with some teams tempting Brits capable of playing Elite League into the EPL with more money or the chance or more ice time.
What the EPL is meant to be to the Elite League, the American Hockey League (AHL) actually is to the NHL. The AHL acts as the primary development league with all 30 NHL teams being affiliated to one of the 30 AHL teams. Prospects will be sent to the AHL to hone their skills and progress through the organisation with the hope that one day they’ll be NHL ready. Throw in a mix of suitable veterans and a team will do their best to reach the top of the AHL by winning the playoffs to pick up the coveted Calder Cup trophy which was won this year by Ottawa’s affiliate club, the Binghamton Senators.
The NHL is covered all over by various forms of media; the NHL Network covers the league as will TSN, Versus, ESPN and all sorts of media local to the teams are there to cover everything from all angles.
But what about the AHL and all the goings on there? What is it like for the people who watch and cover hockey that exists primarily to make players good enough for another league?
In the mid west, 6 hours behind British time is the city of Milwaukee, Wisconsin; home to Milwaukee Admirals who are the AHL affiliate of Nashville Predators and Stephanie Muraro, member of the Admirals media team and co-host of Sports Radio 1250 WSSP’s show on the Admirals, “Center Ice”. Stephanie was good enough to tell us about what it’s like covering minor league hockey.
Milwaukee is the biggest town in the great state of Wisconsin. In a state that’s best known for American football (thanks to Green Bay) and a city best known for its baseball and basketball teams, where does hockey fit in the sporting landscape in Milwaukee?
The arena that the Admirals play at is called Bradley Centre (home of the NBA’s Milwaukee Bucks) and was originally built to accommodate hockey, particularly as the St. Louis Blues were for sale when the arena was built. Unfortunately, Milwaukee didn’t flock to the idea of pro NHL hockey, so we’ve stuck with the AHL franchise we’ve had since 1973. The Admirals have been under new ownership since the early 2000’s. Since then they’ve slowly gaining a larger fan base, but nonetheless they ended the 2010-11 season in the top 1/3 of the league for attendance.
So how did you first discover hockey? What do you remember about your first experience of the game?
Oh boy, I don’t really remember as it was so long ago! What a terrible answer! I do remember begging my dad to take me to another one however, perhaps 5 or 6. I’ve always followed the Brewers and Packers, but not anything near the extent of my love of hockey. I remember the first season I was really into (hockey)though; The 1992-93 season Pittsburgh penguins. It was the 3rd season Jagr and Lemiuex were playing together, I believe Scotty Bowman was the coach. Just loved that team. Then I became a die-hard Ads fans in the 1993-1994 season. My favourite player was Gino Cavallini, number #44. I believe he was the captain at the time. The Admirals were playing in the old IHL and were playing against epic teams like the Fort Wayne Komets and the Orlando Solar Bears. I had my wedding to Cavallini planned by time I was twelve!
Tell us a little about what you do with regards to hockey in Milwaukee
Just completed my fourth season with the team and have hosted their radio show Admirals Center Ice on 1250 WSSP, served as the locker room reporter for the Admirals post game show, and have written for hockeywriters.com, sportsbubbler.com, milwaukeeadmirals.com and examiner.com
You’re certainly a busy woman, how did you end up doing all that?
Funny story actually; I went to school for marketing and graphic design. I never imagined myself getting into hockey media. My mum entered me into a contest the Admirals booster club was holding and the winner got to go on their hour-long hockey show called Center Ice. I was at an Admirals game in the following weeks and they announced my name during the game and put me on the jumbotron. I had no idea what was going on, in fact, I clearly remember having a chicken tender in my mouth while staring at myself on the big screen. A few weeks later, I went down the the ESPN studio and co-hosted the show. Had a blast, and it was lots of fun showing off my hockey knowledge. A couple weeks later the marketing director for the Admirals called and asked if I’d like to co-host the show permanently and there started my career! From 2007 when I started, it’s kind of just snowballed in different directions and so I’ve been blessed to have done all sorts of different things in hockey media.
Describe what happens for you on a game day:
Well, the average day consists of some pre-game research on the other teams (and how to say everyone’s name!) and then working the crowd on press row. I sit amongst NHL scouts from all over the league, so I always try and hone in on certain scouts and strike up conversation with them. They are all very nice and don’t mind answering questions for me. I’ve made some excellent connections along the way, which has led to some great articles. During the game, I keep busy taking notes, writing my game day article and twittering to the world up-to-the minute happens of the game. After the game, I head down to the Admirals locker room for the post-game press conference where I get the opportunity to talk to the coach and impact players to get their views on that nights game. Afterwards, I go back to press row and finish my articles and head across the street for a post-game beer with the other media members.
So, as someone who watches it week in week out, what’s so good about AHL hockey?
I think the perception of minor league hockey is that it’s a bunch of players who are either a) not good enough for the NHL or b) they’re players that are near retirement and just weren’t ready to hang up there skates.
The truth about minor league hockey is that its an integral part of the National Hockey League’s developmental system. The players you generally see in the AHL are drafted junior league or college players that just couldn’t squeeze on their AHL clubs roster. The AHL is a step down from the NHL, so there is a lot of back and forth between the clubs.
Injuries happen in hockey, and so if a player from the Preds is injured, they can hop on the phone and one of the Admirals will be on the first plane to Nashville. The NHL also uses the AHL for rehab/conditioning stints as well.
What is the general attitude towards the Predators and players moving up and down? It’s obviously part of the business but is there ever any resentment if the Admirals are on a good run and suddenly players are spirited away to Tennessee for example?
To be honest, the general consensus of the fans is that, although it sucks to suddenly have your good players leave to be called up, that’s our job in Milwaukee. Obviously the goal of the players is to earn a permanent roster spot in the NHL, and so generally the fans are happy to see them go up. The only time I really hear any resentment is in the playoffs. In the first round of this years’ playoffs, the Ads faced the Texas Stars, the minor league affiliate of the Dallas Stars. Dallas had missed the playoffs, so they were fully stocked with all their players since obviously no one was called up. In the second round, we faced the Houston Aeros, whose parent club Minnesota Wild didn’t make the playoffs and, therefore, were fully stocked as well. Nashville was eliminated after the Admirals were, so we never did see any of the big names back for the post-season.
Which player did you miss the most in this recent playoff run?
Blake Geoffrion; He played college hockey for Wisconsin, so he was really loved by the Ads fans
When Nashville extended their affiliation agreement with the Admirals in 2010, GM David Polie said “the road to Nashville runs through Milwaukee”. Is there a player to play for the Admirals where you knew straight away they’d be in Nashville before too long?
Milwaukee has an excellent developmental program, which is why they’ve made the playoffs the last 9 seasons in a row. We’ve been blessed to have such strong head coaches in Claude Noel and Lane Lambert, so a lot of former Admirals have gone on to have success in the NHL. One guy that stuck out with me was Rich Peverely. He was an undrafted player who we signed to a PTO in 2005 while he was playing in the league below the Admirals. His work ethic was out of this world, he was a humble guy, and towards the end of his tenure with the Admirals, I was asking myself “What is this guy doing in this league”. And low and behold, he hoisted the Stanley Cup with Boston just this past week.
Also during the lockout we saw Shea Weber in Milwaukee. I knew he wouldn’t be here long. He’s a great two-way defensemen, and has now gone on to captain the Preds
The Admirals recently saw head coach Lane Lambert get the call to go up to Nashville to be an assistant coach there. He became head coach the same season you started covering the team, does it feel like the end of an era to you?
Yes and no. He really established a strong team, and with him still being in the organization, he’s going to be an excellent resource for Milwaukee to still use when planning for the 2011-12 season. The assistant coach Ian Herbers will still be there if he’s not promoted to head coach, and he worked with Lambert close enough to carry on Lambert’s philosophy into the coming seasons.
I will definitely miss Lambert though, great man, passionate about hockey and put his family first. He is a standup guy and I am really happy that Nashville chose him for the vacant asst. coach position. He’ll be an invaluable asset to the Predators because of his bonds with so many of the players on the Nashville roster.
And what about you? Would you like the call up to Nashville?
I would love to work in the NHL one day, but all I can do is continue to work hard and bring the best hockey news to the fans. If the NHL notices, great, but at the end of the day, it all comes down to if the fans are enjoying my work.
The killer question and you can only choose 1. Which would you rather; a Superbowl win for the Packers, a World Series win for the Brewers or a Calder Cup for the Admirals?
Oh that’s so unfair! Packers already got a super bowl win this year, so not them. The poor brewers could use a pennant though. They came close once but have never quite made it but the Admirals organization is so near and dear to my heart, that you know I am going to pick a Calder Cup.
Stephanie Muraro co-hosts Admirals Center Ice on Sportsradio WSSP 1250 which broadcasts weekly during the AHL season. Stephanie’s blog is currently about to be re-launched but keep up to date with her on Twitter @hockeygalmke