After a successful Game 5 win at the Norfolk Scope, the Admirals were ready to put an end to the series and move on. It was a simple script; push the opposition by playing a clean game and foremost, keep away from the penalty box. The plan would have been foolproof by Coach Trent Yawney’s team since they were facing the Philadelphia Phantoms, the most penalized team in the American Hockey League during the regular 2003-2004 season.
It would have been easy except for the fact that Phantoms learned their lesson. They were not going to bully the Chicago Blackhawks affiliate.
“If we could write a script for the first period, we played tremendous against a Norfolk team who doesn’t go away,” said Phantoms Coach John Stevens after the game.
By the first period of Game 6, Norfolk Admiral General Manager Al MacIssac wanted his team’s rights read. The Admirals were down two goals and he was strongly vocal in the press box against the officiating. He showed his discontent with veteran right winger Shawn Thornton’s cross checking penalty, veteran defenseman Marty Wilford’s penalty for handling the puck and 23-year-old center Brandin Cote’s goalie interference penalty. The Admirals needed the upcoming prospects to somehow show their abilities and get the job done during the second period.
MacIssac counted on Matt Keith, 21-year-old right winger to put up a fight. Matt Keith scored on an offensive break unassisted. This second round pick of the 2001 NHL draft played along Matt Ellison (left winger) and Carsen Germynb> (center) for Red Deer of the WHL during the past season. Matt Keith’s magnificent play earned him a call-up earlier this year recording his first NHL point, an assist, against the Columbus Blue Jackets, on February 27, 2004. Twenty-two-year-old Germyn followed suit with a goal from upcoming defenseman Anton Babchuk and Blake Bleufille. Nineteen-year-old Babchuk who won the hardest shot at 96.6 miles per hour during the 2004 Pepsi AHL All-Star Classic proved his exceptional ability on the ice.
MacIssac also counted on 23-year-old goaltender Craig Anderson who accomplished some defying saves even swimming on ice for the puck. But the true test of the game came in the Phantoms offensive skill. Coach Stevens’ team had to regroup and think. He had to convey to the Phantoms not to let their guard down and score.
“Our message was that we had a one goal lead with a chance to win the series. We couldn’t sit here and worry about what would happen in the second period. We needed to get back to playing the way we needed to…We know we support the puck and move ahead and we pursue aggressively that is (how) we play our best.”
John Stevens in between periods talked directly to 19-year-old center, Jeff Carter. “We kept an eye on what was going on. He’s been tremendous… He’s been a good faceoff guy. He’s a right hand shot so he has strength on his backside. He played for the world junior team and he played some really hard pressure situations.” The team was confident in Carter’s ability who scored during the second period to lead the game.
Jeff Carter also believes that his game needed some slight adjustment coming from the OHL to the AHL. “It takes time even though you practice. (Here) everything is faster and goes at such a high tempo. You just gotta get to work yourself into it and adjust to it as it goes.”
The Phantoms won the game 3-2 to take the series in six games.
Carter, who will pack the winning puck in an envelope and send it to his parents, looks forward to the Eastern finals. He will play against 21-year-old Wilkes-Barre goaltender Andy Chiodo who he remembers from the OHL.
“I played against him for the past two years. He’s a pretty good goalie,” he said as his Phantom teammates prepared to celebrate the win.
The Norfolk Admiral team solemnly marched towards the bus. The fate of the club in Norfolk, Virginia is still up in the air as the Chicago Blackhawks convene to determine their future in the atmosphere of the future Collective Bargaining Agreement in the upcoming weeks. As they loaded the bus to return to the hotel they could hear the wise words of the winning team as consolation. “This will make us stronger as we move ahead.”