With the Lightning prospect season finally completed, it is now time to turn our attention to the 2012 NHL Entry Draft. While the team's prospect system enjoyed unprecedented success, the team's struggles at the NHL level last season left the Lightning with a draft pick bonanza after a bevy of pre-deadline deals. Heading into the draft, the Lightning currently holds a pair of first round picks, and at least one second round pick following the trade of picks 37 and 50 to Nashville in the Anders Lindback trade.
It's been a day since the Norfolk Admirals hoisted the Calder Cup for the first time. The amazing thing about championships is that they're a shared milestone in the lives of, really, thousands, between the players, coaches, staff, and fans. Those journeys often contain compelling stories that make the triumph worth that journey. For Jon Cooper, it was about closing down his law practice to coach his way from Michigan high school hockey, to the USHL to working with Hockey USA, to a 2 season sprint to glory in the AHL. For Cory Conacher, it was about not being drafted and playing hockey at off-the-beaten path Canisius, dealing with diabetes, and earning an NHL contract in March of an MVP season before posting 4 assists in the championship clinching Calder Cup Finals game.
The stories of the players and the coaches are the ones we'll read about in the coming months and years, and they should be. When the Lightning made their Stanley Cup run in 2003-2004 and were playing the Philadelphia Flyers in the Eastern Conference Finals, John Tortorella refused to fire back at Ken Hithcock's remarks about "Italians from Boston," because Torts rightfully understood, "It's about the athletes." Ultimately, they're the ones who score the goals and make the saves. They sacrifice their bodies and take the stitches and they take the slings and arrows if they lose. Ultimately, it's their moment, and to a lesser extent the moments of their families who supported them in the journey up to those moments. The hockey moms and dads who woke up at 6:00 am to drive their kids to games. Scratching together money for skates and ridiculously expensive composite sticks. The wives and significant others who live with the players and coaches through the disappointments and the frustrations, and live in fear of moments when things can go wrong, like when slap shots can hit a man in the ear at 90 miles an hour, similar to what happened to Scott Jackson.
Less compelling, perhaps, is the story of an organization, but, these are stories can be worth telling, too... especially in this case. We started beta testing Bolt Prospects in 2004-2005, one year after the Lightning's Cup win, in the heart of the NHL lockout. That year was also the first year since the Detroit Vipers of the IHL folded after the 2000-2001 season that the Lightning had a full-time minor league affiliate: the Springfield Falcons. Absent a full-time affiliate, it became clear the Lightning would struggle to maintain their spot on top of the hockey mountain, because split affiliates would not give prime ice time and coaching help to another organization's players. That problem prompted the start of an 8 year process for the Lightning that ended in building what must be considered the sport's preeminent developmental apparatus with the Norfolk Admirals' Calder Cup championship and the Florida Everblades' Kelly Cup Championship.
This season Bolt Prospects introduced our Prospect of the Week award, an honor (virtually) given to one Tampa Bay Lightning prospect for their on-ice contributions.
We wanted to highlight prospects throughout the year to help fans get better acquainted with the next round of Lightning stars while recognizing the prospectâ€™s achievement on the ice.
This weekâ€™s BP Prospect of the Week award goes to â€¦ Jaroslav Janus, G, Norfolk Admirals (AHL).
The Norfolk Admirals are in the AHLâ€™s Eastern Conference Finals for the first time in their history, and third-year pro Jaroslav Janus has a lot to do with that.
PANIK ATTACK, Y'ALL!!!
Norfolk Wins the Series 4-2
Jaroslav Janus allowed 1 goal on 31 shots for the victory. The one goal he allowed was on a weak rebound that ended up ping-ponging behind him, but he was perfect from thereon out. His 30 saves included a penalty shot stop on Connecticut's best scorer, Jonathan Audy-Marchessault, who did Janus a favor by taking his attempt at the pace of a snail's crawl. Easy money for a goaltender as quick and athletic as Janus.
CT Audy-Marchessault, (4) (Hrivik, Wellman), 14:49
NOR Johnson, (2) (Palat), 10:52
NOR Panik, (2) (Killorn, Oberg), 17:01
Richard Panik and Janus were the game's first and second stars. Panik is made of steel. He took a slapshot to the face in the Third Period and looked tough as nails immediately popping up and skating to the locker room for his medical care. No nonsense. Stitch me up. He gets back out midway through Overtime, and on his first shift he absolutely dejocked Cameron Talbot on a backhand-forehand deke for the breakaway winner in Overtime. He was ineffective the final month of the regular season, but what has impressed me in these playoffs is that although the points haven't come in droves, he's been very strong on the puck on the forecheck and he's contributed in other areas. I felt so good for the young man to get the winner.
What a stretch pass by the already immortal Alex Killorn to get Panik that breakaway. Good Lord. I hope Norfolk's trainer did up Panik's face with that kind of laser-like surgical precision.
Other than Alexandre Picard, I don't know if there's been any Admirals player who has been as consistently strong as Ondrej Palat in these playoffs. That guy was a playmaking demon tonight. I'm not surprised Norfolk won it in Overtime. I am surprised Palat didn't set up or score the winner. It seemed like he set up at least a half dozen dangerous chances in the game, including Tyler Johnson's key tying goal in the Third Period. I'm really starting to love me some Ondrej Palat.
It really is a game of (less than) inches. Marek Hrivik had a shot in the Third Period that hit the underside of the crossbar and was waved off that would've given Connecticut a 2-0 lead and likely the game. With Cameron Talbot looking like a wall in net and the Whale defense looking stifling through the first 40 minutes of play, it really did look like the Admirals were going to have to play Game Seven late Sunday afternoon. 1/4 inch lower and Norfolk probably loses. Instead, the Admirals mashed down on the gas pedal and ended up outshooting the Whale 34-7 in the Third and Overtime, after getting outshot 24-12 in the first two frames.
Norfolk awaits the winner of Game Seven between Wilkes-Barre/Scranton and St. John's tomorrow night in the Eastern Conference Finals after the Penguins took Game Six from the IceCaps earlier tonight 4-2. Norfolk should resolve that whoever makes it out of that series, the Admirals jump on them immediately in Game One. Whoever survives that Game Seven will be emotionally drained and have to travel from St. John's all the way to Norfolk. Jump on them and don't look back. In the West, Oklahoma City finished out their series tonight and they'll face Toronto in the Western Conference Finals.
Box score from TheAHL.com.
The line must be drawn here!
Norfolk Leads the Series 3-2
Jaroslav Janus stopped all 22 shots he faced for the victory. Remind me never to play poker against Jon Cooper, because he's obviously a gambler with impeccable instincts to switch back to Janus between the pipes. In fact, I'd have to say Cooper pressed all the right buttons team-wide to get them ready for this critical game.
NOR Picard, (5) (Labrie), 15:15
NOR Picard, (6) (Jackson, Palat), 2:43
NOR Palat, (3) (Johnson, Cote), 14:06
NOR Labrie, (3) (Angelidis, Segal), 19:54
Picard continues to play like a man possessed. He had just 6 goals in 42 regular season games, but his pair of tallies tonight got him to 6 in just 9 postseason contests. He was dominant tonight, and was definitely the leader of a focused Norfolk attack. In fact, we have an exclusive transcript of Picard's emotional pre-game speech to the team below (not really):
Palat, for his part, continues to obliterate all expectations with a well-rounded game that has made him, consistently, one of the Admirals' best performers to this point in the playoffs. Not only did he have a goal and an assist tonight, but he also knocked Andre Deveaux, who is built like a tank, off the ice for a good portion of play with a hit. He's strong offensively. He's strong defensively. He's killing penalties. He's even hitting people. What a great late round pickup by the Lightning's scouts.
Tyler Johnson returned from injury and assisted on Palat's goal.
If I was a Connecticut Whale fan, I'd be pretty upset that Game Five essentially became a neutral site game in Bridgeport, which had to curtail their intensity a little bit in a critical Game Five situation. Fortunately, though, I'm not a Connecticut Whale fan. Stinks for you, Whale fans.
Game Six is Friday in Norfolk and both teams will now make the 8-9 hour bus trek to Scope. The good news is that St. John's failed to close out Wilkes-Barre/Scranton last night in double overtime, so if Norfolk can handle business on Friday, they won't be at any disadvantage from a rest standpoint going into the Eastern Conference Finals. The momentum is all in the Admirals' favor now. They need to finish the drill. The line has been drawn here.
Box score from TheAHL.com.