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Friday, October 06, 2006 

Let the Games Begin!

The 2006-2007 Milwaukee Admirals are in many ways a brand new team for Claude Noel, almost as if he was traded: A new uniform, mostly new players, new goalie, new assistant coach, and new locker room. “A lot of new stuff. And on top of that it was a pretty short summer. A lot of our players have gone up to Nashville or have left. (Darren) Haydar of course went to Atlanta (and now Chicago). (Simon) Gamache is in Switzerland, so we’re missing some people. A lot of new players,” he said during camp. “It’s going to take a little time for us to get things in order.”

How has he coped? “What it does for us is that it forces us to coach a lot more. It’s usually a lot easier when you have players returning, because they know what’s going on, they know the drills, they know the system, they know what the coaches expect from the players. That’s usually spread through the locker room. With only seven guys back it will be a bigger job for the coaches, we’ll have to sell the system all over again. It’s going to be a bigger challenge. I’ve got a new assistant coach, so that will require a little change there as well.” Noel added, “One of the biggest tasks for us as coaches will be how quickly we can build team cohesion. It’s going to be a real challenge for us, but we’re welcoming the challenge and are looking forward to it. Our goals have remained the same. We have the vision of getting back to the finals this year, and being victorious in that vision. But it’s October and every team feels that they can get to the finals. We’ve been there two of the last three, and we want to make it three of the last four.”

Noel addressed the fans on Media Day, “I know people will judge us early: they don’t have this, they don’t have that. I think the biggest task for people for people watching the game is going to be patience. Watch the transformation from what we are in the beginning and what we are after Christmas. I see us as having a lot of question marks, but there will come a time when we have a good vision of what we are, and where we are going. The big question is going to be where we will be come February, will we be a well oiled machine? That’s our goal.”

“It was a very hard task, to sit here in our building and watch somebody else lift the cup that we had visualized taking here in our building. We had done it to somebody else three years ago in Wilkes-Barre, so maybe it was payback,” mused Noel, then his eyes steeled and he went on, “but we want to go back and get it done. It was a tough summer, trying to deal with losing in the finals: getting to the finals, and not being able to get it done. And trying to figure out what the answers to the questions that I had, and why we lost: could I have done anything as a coach? For me, it’s the hunger that fuels us.”

Defenseman Sheldon Brookbank agreed, “It’s definitely a change. A new locker room, a lot of new players: it just seems like almost everything is different. Claude’s till here, running things his way, so that’s going to be huge for us: he obviously knows what he’s doing, he’s had success every year he’s been here.”

When asked to comment on Claude Noel’s success, Brookbank summed it up, “It’s just the details. He truly wants the players to get better, and he won’t accept a guy not trying to better himself, and not trying to achieve his goals. (Noel) will stay on a guy until he does his job the way the way it needs to be done. A lot of coaches start out like that, but will let it go writing a guy off as a lost cause. (Noel) doesn’t just give up on guys; he sticks with them until he gets it done. And that’s how it’s got to be.”

Brookbank also felt the foul taste last June, “It was the hardest thing for me so far in hockey, to get that close. It’s such a long grueling season, with all your buddies and team mates, to get that close, and then you watch these other guys and nothing against them, but you still want to kill half of them. They are raising my cup in front of me and my fans. It left a really bad taste in my mouth. But that’s in the past, we have a new Milwaukee Admirals, a new look, and we’re going to start something new.”

Brandon Segal has found himself as the sole surviving player to have played in the Calder Champion Winning game (Nathan Lutz was injured) on the team after only two seasons. “It’s pretty neat. I’ve won a championship, and know what it takes to win one so some of the guys will be looking to me to really step up. I like that leadership responsibility, I thrive on that stuff so I’ll be ready to go this year,” said Segal. “It’s a different atmosphere. Guys are really excited this year; we’re going to have a really good year.”

Addressing his new expanded role, Segal added, “I’m going to be one of the go to guys, I’m one of the older guys here this year, I know what it takes. I want to jump up to Nashville and play in the NHL, so I’m going to do whatever it takes: weather that’s killing penalties or on the power play and putting up the points.”

Regarding losing in the finals, Segal didn’t mince words, “It’s a terrible feeling. It’s our barn. We battled here the whole year, we played 101 games or something like that and then to watch another team carrying around what you were thinking of as your cup. It’s a learning experience, and you have to take it in perspective.”

Segal summed up his outlook on the new season, “(I) Worked hard this summer, added some muscle mass I’m ready to go, I’m ripped for the season. I’m one of the experienced guys now, with two Cup Finals under my belt, so I will have to help teach some of the new guys what to do. But also myself personally, I want to go out there and contribute, and have an outstanding year.”

Perhaps the hardest adjustment for fans will be new winger Ramzi Abid. Abid had played for the hated Chicago Wolves previously, and was one of the guys who fans recognized, and thus vent venom upon in the past. Now he’s one of the local boys.

“That’s the way it is,” said Abid, “I’ve had some battles with guys in this locker room and we end up room mates, and have a few drinks together.”

“I play my game, I try to create room for myself out there and contribute offensively,” said Abid, “but Claude Noel and the coaches are going to keep me in check. My defensive game is going to have to improve. I’m going to have to play really well in order to get a lot of ice time.”

Rich Peverley is one of the guys from last season who is looked to for a big year this season. “I got to learn a lot last year from a lot of guys last year; from guys who had been there, won the Calder Cup, so I will take that into this year and hope for the best.”

“It’s going to be weird,” Peverley said of facing former team mate Darren Haydar, “it was even weird in exhibition. I saw him out there, and I sorta glanced twice.”

“He was almost an Admiral Killer last year,” Peverley said of new teammate Abid, “he had a good campaign against us. He’s an awesome player.”

Victor Uchevatov is a big defenseman at 6’4” 226 lbs. He comments on the adjustment from Europe to the AHL, “The adjustment is pretty different. The size of the rink is different; the hockey is way faster here. You have to think faster, and make your decisions faster. With the new rules you have to skate more, you can’t do a lot of the things we used to do. You have to adjust your game and play more cleanly.”

His first impressions of Claude Noel? “I think he’s a great coach. He’s got a great record obviously, and what he explains. He makes it very clear what you need to do, and understanding comes quickly. I feel great being here, I’ve been in the AHL before, and never got close. So I’m very excited about this year.”