The Milwaukee Admirals had been to the AHL Western Conference Final twice before. Both times they advanced to the Calder Cup Final.
Unfortunately, the Ads didn’t make it 3-for-3 as they fell 4-3 to the Coachella Valley Firebirds in Game 6 of the WCF Monday evening in Acrisure Arena. The loss ends Milwaukee’s season two wins shy of the team’s third-ever appearance in the Calder Cup championship.
“There’s not many words to say to the group, the guys are very disappointed — that was a super tight team,” Ads coach Karl Taylor said. “A team that wore the jersey with honor and pride; so disappointing.”
The Admirals were 3-0 in elimination games this postseason heading into Game 6. They conceded their first home playoff loss of the series on Saturday to set up Monday’s elimination game.
Milwaukee’s playoff success was predicated on Taylor and his staff making the correct adjustments at the right times. The Admirals were one of the final three teams in the AHL postseason.
“You’re in a situation where you are dealing with things and growth internally for these young players, but also for some of our older players,” Taylor said. “The guys didn’t want this to end so it’s a real disappointing finish. Hard to find the words right now, but (being in) the final three is pretty amazing out of 32 teams.”
Taylor, who was one of three finalists for the Nashville Predators head coaching position before settling on Andrew Brunette last week, has put together a respectable resume during his tenure in Milwaukee.
In 4 seasons with .@mkeadmirals, staff of K. Taylor, S. Ford & G. Rallo has:
-157-90-40 (.617) record
-3 playoffs, 1 Western Conf. Final
-The regular season title in COVID year (no playoffs for league)
-37 players in NHL this season played for this staff. 1288 games#RoadToNHL
— Aaron Sims (@aaronadmirals) June 6, 2023
Firebirds forward Alexander True beat Cooley glove-side for his sixth postseason goal to take a 1-0 lead 7:31 into the opening period. Admirals goaltender Devin Cooley was tested halfway with a barrage of shots after defenseman Keaton Thompson turned the puck over at the blue line. Firebirds forward Andrew Poturalski deked to his backhand and his then forehand to pop a shot on Cooley.
Things quickly went awry for the Admirals as Coachella Valley poured on the offense as Poturalski found defenseman Ryker Evans backdoor to add some salt to the wound and push the lead to 2-0.
Milwaukee got one back early in the second period when forward line of Joakim Kemell, Austin Rueschhoff, and Michael McCarron gave the team a boost. Rueschhoff fluttered a pass to Kemell but he wasn’t able to muster a shot. Instead, McCarron picked up the puck on the doorstep and potted a goal to cut the Firebirds’ lead to 2-1.
Coachella Valley took momentum back nearly five minutes later when John Hayden fired a quick shot on Cooley with the rebound finding AHL rookie of the year Tye Kartye in the right place at the right time as the puck rolled to him off the wall. Despite a two-goal rally in the third period on goals from Igor Afanasyev and Kiefer Sherwood, Kartye ripped one home from the middle hash marks on the power play five minutes into the third that would serve as the game-winner.
“The team and every individual should feel proud of what they’ve come through,” Taylor said. “Whenever you hit the end of the track, it’s a little depressing for everyone. It was a sudden run into the brick wall.”
Coachella Valley, winners of the Robert W. Clarke Trophy, will now face the Hershey Bears in its first trip to the Calder Cup Final. Game 1 is set for Thursday with the Firebirds having the home-ice advantage. The newest and oldest AHL franchises will go toe-to-toe in the championship series.
Predators assistant general manager and Admirals GM Scott Nichol has a busy offseason ahead. Milwaukee has unrestricted free agents in Cooley, Anthony Angello and Austin Reuschhoff plus five arbitration-eligible restricted free agents including Jimmy Huntington, John Leonard, Markus Nurmi, Isaac Ratcliffe and Tomas Vomacka.
Follow Nick Kieser on Twitter: @KieserNick
(Photo via the Milwaukee Admirals)