Admirals hope returning Stefan Noesen lights a fire
Admirals hope returning Stefan Noesen lights a fire

Glen and Jamie Noesen are visiting from their home in Plano, Texas, at the invitation of son Stefan. He had an early Mother's Day gift for Jamie.

The Admirals winger stepped onto the ice Saturday night at Scope for Game 3 of the AHL Eastern Conference semifinals. He looked tentative until, late in the opening period, he had the puck 40 feet from the goal.

Noesen pirouetted and snapped a shot that St. Johns' goalie Michael Hutchinson rejected. Admirals winger Max Friberg sent the rebound into the net to tie the score 1-1 in a game Norfolk lost 5-3 to fall behind 2-1 in the best-of-seven series. Games 4 and 5 are tonight and Tuesday at Scope.

The key to the play was the pirouette.

"It's a new knee, in a sense," said Noesen, who played for the first time since tearing ligaments in his left knee in a practice after the second game of the season. That was in October, and it was clear Saturday night that he was tentative his first few shifts.

Then instinct took over.

"It just comes to you," he said. "You have to read and react to situations, and the only thing I could think of was to get the puck to the net, and obviously a forehand shot is a lot better than a backhand shot."

The knee was forgotten.

When Norfolk coach Trent Yawney speaks of "bonus hockey," he's talking about the playoffs.

But Saturday was even more of a bonus for Noesen, a frequently despondent 21-year-old while he hobbled around Scope for seven months with a goal of getting back on the ice in time to play this spring.

His emotions rose with each rehabilitative step, then fell each time the Admirals lost and seemed destined to miss the playoffs.

The season seemed lost for Noesen, a former first-round pick by Ottawa who was sent to Anaheim with Jakob Silfverberg and a draft choice for Bobby Ryan.

But after he skated well on Friday, all restrictions were lifted.

"He was impressive," Yawney said. "I thought for a young player who hadn't played the whole year to come into a situation like that and handle himself the way he did, I was impressed with the way he navigated himself around the ice."

Getting Noesen into more games depends on the Admirals playing better than they did in the third period Saturday, when they surrendered goals by St. John's Josh Morrissey, Ben Chiarot, Jerome Samson and Adam Lowry.

They were answered only by the first playoff goal by Norfolk defenseman Josh Manson.

The Morrissey goal was key. It came only 39 seconds into the third period and tied the game 2-2 after the Admirals, following a stumbling start in which they were outshot 14-6, had played well for 25 minutes.

"We started winning puck battles," said St. John's coach Keith McCambridge, who was not happy with the IceCaps' play after they took a 1-0 lead midway through the opening period. "I thought Norfolk was outplaying us, and then after we got that goal in the third period, we were able to focus more winning puck battles."

The Admirals were losing those same battles.

"We're spending too much time in our zone," Yawney said. "We have to play better and we will be better - in all areas."

Norfolk struggles to score, so getting three goals Saturday would have been a positive sign. "Three is usually enough for us," Yawney said.

They weren't because goalie Brad Thiessen had to deal with a thicket of screeners on shots by Morrissey and Chiarot.

"You have to look above, look below - whatever it takes to find it," said Thiessen, who was playing after backing up John Gibson in Norfolk's first six playoff games.

Gibson was in Los Angeles Saturday night, in net for the parent Anaheim Ducks in a 2-0 victory over the Kings in his first NHL playoff game. At 20 years, 330 days, he became the youngest goalie in NHL history to shut out an opponent in his playoff debut.

Devante Smith-Pelly, now playing with the Ducks' top line after scoring 27 goals for the Admirals, had the game-winner.

Back in Norfolk, the difficulty of the third period Saturday lingered on Sunday.

"Playoff hockey, bottom line: We can sit here and talk about tactics all we want, but you earn the right to be a good player in the playoffs," Yawney said. "A lot of players' careers are defined by how they play in the playoffs. It's a lot more about individuals and teams and details than it is about X's and O's.

"You're not defined about what you do in the regular season, you're defined by what you do in the playoffs. You earn that right, though."

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