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Admirals Stat-urday: It's That Kind of Team

Storybook endings and goalie fights are defining the 2013-2014 Norfolk Admirals

John Gibson Faces Off Against Jeff Deslauriers at Scope Jan 24, 2014
John Gibson Faces Off Against Jeff Deslauriers at Scope Jan 24, 2014
John Wright / Courtesy Norfolk Admirals

1 Goalie John Gibson got in to his first fight as professional Friday night against Wilkes Barre-Scranton (Pittsburgh Penguins) goalie (and former Norfolk Admiral/Duck) Jeff Deslauriers.

2 Devante Smith-Pelly scored two goals in a 4-1 routing of the WBS Pens Friday night. His seven game point streak was ended last Sunday in a 4-3 shoot-out loss to the Charlotte Checkers (Carolina Hurricanes), but it was only a hiccup, as "DSP" has seven goals in the last nine games and eleven points across the same span.

3 Goalie Brad Thiessen allowed only three goals on 52 shots (94% Save Percentage) last Sunday vs Charlotte. It was his first game back from a knee injury sustained all the way back on Dec 7. He stopped 22 shots alone in the third period but was scored on three times in the shootout to take a 4-3 loss.

4 Sami Vatanen picked up his third and fourth assists of the season against the Penguins Friday night, in what was his his first game since Nov 16 and only the third this season with Norfolk. Vatanen was assigned to Norfolk earlier this week after a healthy Luca Sbisa returned the Anaheim Ducks' lineup.

5 Jesse Blacker is ranked fifth among defensemen in Game Winning Goals with three, including the only goal in an emotional 1-0 OT win over the Worcester Sharks (San Jose Sharks) last Saturday.

6 Rookie Center Antoine Laganiere scored his sixth goal of the season and his third assist last Sunday in Charlotte. Laganiere has nine points this season.

7 Alex Grant got his seventh goal of the season versus Charlotte last Sunday. Grant sits fifth in scoring for the Admirals with 7goals and 14 assists for 21 points over 37 games.

8 Norfolk has points in five straight games and eight of the last ten, going 6-2-0-2.

9 John Kurtz scored his fourth goal of season against WBS Friday, his ninth point of the season (4G, 5 A)

10 The Admirals Power Play has tallied at least one goal in seven straight games, scoring ten goals on 31 opportunities. This incredible 32% conversion rate is almost double their season average of 17.3% and is better than the Texas Stars (Dallas Stars) league leading season rate of 30.3%.

--Couple of big game stories to throw at you this week, one will get you cheering, one should get you crying. Before I do that, I want to point out some numbers I listed above. The Admirals are 6-2-0-2 in their last ten. They scored on the power play in seven straight games, and have killed off 30 of 35 penalties (85% rate) in the same span, which is on par with their 87.8% season rate, good enough for third in the AHL. I think we'll be singling out January as either the month that got the Admirals in to the playoffs, or as wasted month when they don't get in to the post-season...

--For those who were asking, was told Ricard Rakell is about a week away from coming back. Can't print what the injury is, but told it's not too serious and the Admirals are hopeful he'll be back in time for next weekend. And now, on to the stories.

--Friday night, Norfolk Scope, the visiting Penguins versus the Admirals. Norfolk is up by two goals scored in the first period, and only two minors have been assessed in the game. The second period starts with a more focused Penguins squad starting to carry the play, but the Admirals are getting a few chances in the offensive zone.

The puck goes to the front of the net, and an already sprawled out Jeff Deslauriers is looking desperately for the puck. Admirals tough guy and fourth line grinder Zack Stortini is on the ice and in the middle of the pack in the crease. He sees a loose puck and makes a poke at it just as the referee blows the play dead because he lost sight of the puck. What happens next is just the kindling for a melee that saw 29 penalty minutes handed out between two teams.

"JD" didn't like Stortini's poke at his glove hand and pounced on him, dragging him to the ice and throwing full-on hay-makers down on his head. Through a lot of pushing and shoving, including pulling Deslauriers off of Stortini and seeing a gloved hand trying to hit him, the scrum was broken up. The score-keeper indicated a promotional time-out, and both teams skated towards their benches.

John Gibson, who patiently waited in his crease, skated by JD and gave him a whack on the leg on his way to the Admirals bench. As the time-out ended, Gibson again skated by Deslauriers who was standing in the center ice face-off circle, and gave him another tap. Words were exchanged, and then both goalies dropped their gloves. It was more of a wrestling match than a fight, but Gibson man-handled JD to the ice. As they were pulled apart, Gibson had a huge grin on his face and appeared to be laughing while standing over Deslauriers.

Both goalies were escorted off the ice, but only Deslauriers was tossed. When asked later, Gibson simply explained "He (Stortini) sticks up for us all the time. Anyone, including me, would do the same for him." Coach Yawney also put it very plainly "We have that kind of team."

--Now for the tears. Last Saturday was "Pink in the Rink," an event that sees the Admirals partner up with the local Susan G Komen Foundation to promote awareness of Breast Cancer. In the week before the game, Virginia Pilot Sports Writer Jim Hodges wrote a piece featuring defenseman Jesse Blacker (Link Here). Blacker, who lost his mother to breast cancer when he was just 17 years old, has a pink ribbon tattoo on his right calf to remember his mother, and was sought after that week because of his association with breast cancer, having contributed to a book about the disease over last summer.

The Admirals were playing the second of a back-to-back series against the Worcester Sharks, having battled back in the final moments of the game the night before to force overtime, eventually losing in a shoot-out. Norfolk wanted to win the game on the Pink Ice, not only to get the two points and some revenge for the previous night, but also because Pink in the Rink draws a big crowd and the event is close to the hearts of many players.

With a sell-out crowd in attendance, the Sharks and Admirals battled back and forth through three periods, but neither team could find the back of the net, and so in typical Admirals fashion this season, the game would go to overtime. The overtime period started and Worcester would only manage one shot on goal before taking a penalty a minute and a half in, resulting in a four-on-three power play for the Admirals. Norfolk moved the puck well, but as had been the theme all game, the Sharks goaltender Harri Sateri proved to be up to the challenge, turning away the first shot of the power play. And then it happened.

A shot from the point by Alex Grant gets to the front. Devante Smith-Pelly tried to keep the puck alive, poking at it while laying on the ice. As if watching in slow motion, the puck trickles out to the slot, and Jesse Blacker, manning the other point on that power play, skates quickly towards the puck. Off balance, he launches the puck towards the net, a shot that would find its way behind Sateri and ended the game (Goal Here). Blacker admitted after the game he didn't know the puck went in until after his teammates started cheering.

Admirals fans erupted, Twitter was abuzz with tweets like

Dana DeFilippo, @DanaDeFilippo: "Jesse's mom was with him tonight as he helped punch cancer in the face by scoring the game winning goal in her memory."

Bob Gregory, @Rebelsbeach: "Couldn't have scripted a better ending." And, "Hell no. Disney should be so lucky to have a story like that. Glad we got to see it. Warms the heart, restores faith."

Alex Reed @Alex_Reed_PXP: "Tonight was one of those nights where you are proud to be a sports fan. A great night, for a great cause, & a story-book ending! #thatshockey"

And truly, not even Disney could not have written a better story.