The Milwaukee Admirals are just one win away from advancing to their third conference final since joining the American Hockey League in 2001.
The team took a 4-3 win in Game 3 on Wednesday night thanks to a two-goal performance from forward Issac Ratcliffe. A win on Friday night and the Admirals move onto the Western Conference Final to face the winner of the Calgary Wranglers-Coachella Valley Firebirds series.
“The win is the most important part,” Ratcliffe told Nashville Hockey Now. “That’s really all we came here for is to get two wins and get out of here. To be able to contribute was awesome, and my line-mates definitely helped me out a lot too and put me in situations to get the puck to the net.”
Trying to tip pucks in the net is a part of his game that Ratcliffe has spent a lot of time fine-tuning. Using his 6-foot-6 frame, Ratcliffe has made it a priority to become more of a physical presence in front of goaltenders.
“That’s something as a bigger guy I try to do to mark my territory in front of the net,” Ratcliffe stated.
Ratcliffe’s game winner on Wednesday night was set up by Nashville Predators top prospect and Admirals forward Luke Evangelista, who had the puck behind the net and worked down low to kick it back up to defenseman Marc Del Gaizo who fired the puck on net where Ratcliffe was waiting to tip it home.
ISAAC RATCLIFFE’S GAME WINNER 🚨 pic.twitter.com/orZJTg3H8S
— x – Milwaukee Admirals (@mkeadmirals) May 18, 2023
A former second-round pick by the Philadelphia Flyers in 2017, Ratcliffe was sent to the Predators in a pre-trade deadline deal for future considerations on Feb. 26.
When he got the news, he was in Bridgeport and a few minutes into a bus ride home. He got a call from Flyers assistant general manager Brent Flahr, then he spoke with Predators assistant general manager Scott Nichol.
“I was super excited, Scott’s excitement and energy made it a whole lot easier for me,” Ratcliffe said. “I was able to get down to Milwaukee pretty fast and we played a morning game the day after. The whole transition was pretty fast and pretty nerve racking. Everyone welcomed me with open arms and I’m really grateful for it.”
After the Flyers drafted him, Ratcliffe returned to the junior leagues where he scored 50 goals in 65 games for the Guelph Storm in the Ontario Hockey League. His team went on to win its fourth championship against the Ottawa 67s in six games.
He then made the adjustment to the AHL, joining the Leigh Valley Phantoms, something that did not come easy for Ratcliffe. He cracked the Flyers roster for 10 games last season, and now, he finds himself with a new opportunity.
“It’s been a rollercoaster — the last three to four years have had a lot of ups and downs,” Ratcliffe said. “Trying to find my game in the AHL has been tough at times, but I feel at times I can find my game and take over. I need to find that consistency at times too. Hopefully, I continue to build on that and keep getting better at that.”
A restricted free agent this offseason, Ratcliffe wants to stay with the Predators organization where he’s a solid AHL depth piece who has possible bottom-six NHL potential.
“It’s such a positive environment that it makes you want to be a part of it everyday and it’s exciting to go to the rink everyday,” he said. “It makes it easier to work hard everyday too. When you have guys all on the same page, that’s when you’re going to find success.”
Heading into Friday’s possible elimination game, Admirals head coach Karl Taylor made it known it’s going to take “a complete game” to send the Stars home. Taylor believes the key to an Admirals win starts with more effective forechecking against a relentless Texas lineup.
“That’s a strength of our team, and I wished we would do it a little more consistently,” Taylor said. “That’s our challenge going into the next game — we want more of it.”
Puck drop for Game 4 is 7 p.m. CT on Friday. An if-necessary Game 5 will be on Sunday at the same time.