NORFOLK — As part of a promotional blitz for the American Hockey League finals, the actual Calder Cup has been on display just about everywhere in Norfolk, from an art museum to the deck of the USS Wisconsin.
Everywhere, that is, except, at Scope. The Admirals want no part of the trophy.
At least not yet.
Abiding by one of hockey's long-standing superstitions, the Admirals have avoided all contact with the championship trophy leading up to the best-of-seven Calder Cup finals against the Toronto Marlies, which begin at 7:30 p.m. Friday at Scope. During a television feature on the playoffs this week, Admirals forward Brandon Segal went so far as to film his interview in a separate studio to avoid even looking at the Cup. For another interview, forward Eric Neilson was blindfolded.
"Hoisting that Cup is the greatest feeling," said Segal, who got to do it as a rookie with Milwaukee in 2003-04. "But you have to actually win it first. Until then, you stay as far away as possible. You have to earn it."
The Admirals certainly appear capable, as they've gone 39-3 since Feb. 5 and have navigated their way through the AHL's notoriously upset-riddled postseason and enter the finals with a similar momentum to the one they had when the playoffs began. After famously closing the regular season by winning 28 straight games, the Admirals will take a six-game win streak into battle against the Marlies.
That stretch included a four-game sweep of feisty St. John's in the Eastern Conference finals, a series marked by bookend Admirals blowouts in Games 1 and 4 and a spirit-crushing 1-0 overtime victory in Game 3.
That series ended on May 22, meaning the Admirals have had 10 days to heal and plot their next moves. The flipside is that the players also have had several days of fans and supporters telling them how good they are, a natural phenomenon that could potentially dull the focus of a young team.
Fortunately for the Admirals, Neilson said the 28-game winning streak, during which the Admirals often had to recharge after a four- or five-day break proved that one of this team's many talents is the ability to wall off distractions and stay on task.
"The guys in this room understand when it's time to get down to business," Neilson said.
Still, it likely will take something close to the Admirals' best stuff to subdue the Marlies, a team that actually has a better postseason record (11-2) than Norfolk (11-3). The teams have never faced each other so it's difficult to assess the matchups. But early indications suggest a low-scoring series.
Toronto goalie Ben Scrivens leads all AHL netminders in playoff goals-against average, save percentage, shutouts and wins. Meanwhile, led by goalie Dustin Tokarski, Norfolk allowed an AHL playoff record-low two goals in the four-game series against St. John's.
The Marlins suffered a potentially huge loss when forward Matt Frattin, the playoffs leading goal-scorer, suffered a knee injury at the end of the series-clinching win over Oklahoma City. Frattin will not play in the Finals.
Still, with the Calder Cup just four victories away, the Admirals are anticipating a supreme challenge from whomever the Marlies put on the ice.
"Every round the intensity goes up a little, and when you get this close, this close to being a champion, it's unbelievable how hard everyone goes after it," Segal said. "I know it's a cliché, but it's true — this is what we play all year for."
NOTE: The Admirals aren't just letting their beards grow during the playoffs in observance of another hockey tradition. They're also doing it join in the fight against pediatric cancer. The St. Baldrick's Foundation, a charity committed to funding research to find cures for childhood cancers, typically raises money through head-shaving events with children who lose their hair during cancer treatments. The Admirals will host a beard-shaving event for the same purpose after the playoffs. Visit norfolkadmirals.com or shavetheadmirals.com for updates and more information.
Calder Cup finals
Toronto Marlies vs. Norfolk Admirals
Game 1: 7:30 p.m. Friday at Scope
Game 2: 7:15 p.m. Saturday at Scope
Game 3: June 7 at Toronto
Game 4: June 9 at Toronto
Game 5: June 10 at Toronto*
Game 6: June 13 at Scope*
Game 7: June 15 at Scope*