Norfolk Admirals: 2011-12 AHL Season To Be Remembered

Norfolk Admirals 2011-12 Calder Cup parade.
Photo Taken By Zach Alvarado | Inside The Rink

On June 9, 2012, the greatest season by an American Hockey League team in history was completed. The Norfolk Admirals went an incredible 55-18-1-2 during the regular season, which capped them at 113 points and the only team to reach the century-point mark on the season. It was also the beginning of some great careers by guys like Alex Killorn, Ondrej Palat, Tyler Johnson, and head coach Jon Cooper, who is now the longest active tenured NHL head coach and back-to-back Stanley Cup Champion with the Tampa Bay Lighting.

The Admirals started the season on a promising note. Through the first 22 games of the season ranging from October 7th to November 29th, the Admirals had a 13-8-0-1 record for 27 points. Though off to a good start, things started to take a turn. The following 25 games saw the Admirals go 12-11-1-1, adding 26 points to their name in the standings.

February 10, 2012 began something special that no one thought would be possible. It was the first win of 28 to end the regular season. Behind a Dustin Tokarski 17-save shutout, the Admirals defeated the then Adirondack Phantoms 2-0 in what was a goalie duel between Tokarski and Michael Leighton of the Phantoms. Philip-Michael Devos would get the game-winning goal just over three and a half minutes into the second period with P.C Labrie securing the insurance empty-net goal at 18:38 of the third period.

Fast forward a month to March 10, 2012, and the Admirals were on the verge of tying the 1987-88 Sherbrooke Canadiens for the fifth-longest win streak in AHL history with 14. In what was a tightly contested game against a very tough Connecticut Whale team that had names such as Mats Zuccarello, Jonathan Marchessault, Wade Redden, and Cam Talbot on its roster, the Admirals came out on top 3-1 and tied the Canadiens. The Whale came out to put the pressure on Norfolk early when Tommy Grant beat Jaroslav Janus to notch his eighth goal of the season at 8:11 of the first period. The Admirals couldn’t get anything past netminder, Chad Johnson, until 12:17 of the second period when Mike Angelidis notched his 14th of the season. Heading into the third period tied at one, the Admirals came out of the gate hot to start the third scoring just 1:56 in thanks to Michael Kostka‘s ninth of the season. Tyler Johnson tallied the insurance empty-net goal at 19:18 to give the Ads the win. Janus was a hero in the game, stopping 26-of-27 in the winning effort.

The following day, the Admirals had the chance to continue making history against the Bridgeport Sound Tigers with 15 straight wins to tie the 1995-96 Albany River Rats and the 2007-08 Syracuse Crunch. The Admirals defeated the Sound Tigers by a 6-1 score line. The Admirals had huge performances from Richard Panik (2g-1a), Mark Barberio (2g), Trevor Smith (1g-1a), and Johnson (1g-3a).

The Admirals would win the next two games 4-1 and 7-2 against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins and Charlotte Checkers respectively to surpass the 1984-85 Baltimore Skipjacks and tie the previously named Philadelphia Phantoms for most wins the AHL history with 17. Game two of the weekend set against the Checkers saw the Admirals take over the top spot for most wins in AHL history, and they did so with a breeze. The Admirals went on to win 5-0 off the backs of big performances by Panik (1g-2a), Johnson (1g-1a), the “Honey Badger” Cory Conacher (2g), and a 20-save shutout from Janus.

The rest was history after that point as the Ads would continue to dominate the league and win the next 10 games to extend their history-making win streak to 28 games.

Conacher was named 2011-12 AHL Regular Season MVP after scoring 39 goals and 80 points in 75 games played. The “Honey Badger” did it all for the Admirals. He put up 14 powerplay goals, eight game-winning goals, and was not scared to mix it up with bigger guys as he was listed at 5’8.

With the regular season over, the Admirals shifted their attention to the 2012 Calder Cup Playoffs and a meeting with the Manchester Monarchs in a best-of-five series in round one. The Admirals extended their win streak to 29 games between the regular season and playoffs with a 3-2 win in game one. The Monarchs bounced back in game two to take a 5-2 win and knot the series at one game a piece to put an end to a fantastic streak.

Though it had been over two months since the Admirals lost a game, their hunger and knowledge of how to bounce back from a loss did not leave their minds. The Ads would win the next two games to end the Monarchs season and move on to round two and a date with a difficult Whale team again.

In game one, Norfolk came out of the gate hot, opening the scoring at 5:43 thanks to Palat’s first of the postseason. The first period was a battle as the Whale would score to tie the game at 8:18, then again 12 seconds later to take a 2-1 lead. Labrie would tie things back up at 16:56 of the first period, and that would be all for regulation. To overtime the teams went. The Whale needed less than 3 minutes to score to put an end to the game and take a 1-0 series lead. Talbot was stellar in net for the Whale, stopping 31-of-33.

In unfamiliar territory, down 1-0 in the series, the Admirals made a statement and won game two 4-1. Talbot was once again outstanding between the pipes for Connecticut stopping 36-of-40, but the Whale could not get much past Tokarski, who stopped 27-of-28 to help his team tie the series up.

Game three of the series would end in another one-game game as the Admirals won 4-3 after a dominating three-goal second period. Down 2-1 after the first period, Killorn would knot things up at two at 11:31. 45 seconds later, Smith would get on the scoresheet and give Norfolk its first lead of the game. At 17:40, Angelidis extended the Admiral’s lead to 4-2. The Whale would get one early in the third period at 1:06, but that was all she wrote as the Admirals would win 4-3.

The Whale put up a good effort winning game four 4-1, but the Admirals would win game five 4-0 and game six 2-1 in overtime to take the series 4-2. Panik would be the overtime hero in game six as he darted past the Whale defensemen and down the ice on a breakaway. In the words of former Admirals play-by-play broadcaster, Pete Michaud, “A deke, a forehander, and the hero! Out of the trainer’s room, onto the ice.” Panik faked backhand right in front of Talbot, but quickly went to his forehand and buried it into the back of the net.

Norfolk Admirals vs Connecticut Whale – Game 6 Recap

In the Eastern Conference Finals and just eight wins away, the Admirals were inching closer and closer. The Admiral’s next opponent was the St. Johns IceCaps, who the Admirals handled with ease to move on to the Calder Cup Finals. Norfolk swept the Eastern Conference Finals, allowing just two goals while scoring 14 in the series.

On June 1, 2012, the Admirals were four wins away from finishing off an incredible season, with the entire city behind them. In a sold-out Norfolk Scope, the Admirals took on the Toronto Marlies in game one of the Calder Cup Finals. In what was expected to be an intense game one, the Admirals led 1-0 at the end of the first period, thanks to Conacher’s second of the postseason. The first period saw a combined 18 penalty minutes, and it just got worse from there. Johnson would get his fourth of the postseason to make it a 2-0 game heading into the third. Much like the first, the second period was penalty-filled with 20 total minutes. The Marlies were not out of it just yet as Carter Ashton made it a one-goal game just under four minutes into the third period. Brandon Segal would add on a third Admiral’s goal on a shorthanded, empty-net goal and that would be game. The game would finish with 70 total penalty minutes. Ben Scrivens took the loss with 39 saves on 41 shots, while Tokarski stopped 24-of-23 in the win.

Game two saw the Admirals take a 2-0 series lead with a 4-2 win over the Marlies, and the series shifted to Toronto for games three and four.

Game three could have gone either way, as the Admirals ground out a 1-0 overtime win 9:09 into the extra session. Kostka would be the hero for the Admirals, and bring them to needing just one more win to be called champions.

Game four came easy for the Admirals as they blew out the Marlies 6-1, and won the Calder Cup. Johnson (2g-2a) and Conacher (4a) played huge parts in game four, but it was Kostka who picked up the game-winning goal at 4:26 of the second period.

Norfolk Admirals vs Toronto Marlies Game Four

Alexandre Picard was named MVP of the playoffs for the Admirals. In 18 games, Picard tallied nine goals and 16 points, all while going a plus-11.

All the hard work the Admirals put into being the team they were, paid off in the end. The Hampton Roads community welcomed its Calder Cup Champions back with a parade, thanking them for giving the community its only Calder Cup in history. Seeing firsthand what it meant to the community was a feeling that will stick with everyone, and myself, for life.

Zachary Alvarado

Inside The Rink journalist covering the Wheeling Nailers and Norfolk Admirals of the ECHL. I am a Duquesne University Sports Information and Media major graduating in December. I have been passionate about hockey since I was 4 years old.

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