Norfolk Admirals prepare to take the ice again after long hiatus with ‘whirlwind of emotion’
After nearly two years away from the ice, the Norfolk Admirals are back, and ready to start a journey that begins with Friday night’s opener at Scope.
“It’s a whirlwind of emotion,” Admirals general manager and assistant coach Ryan McGinnis said ahead of the start of the ECHL season, which begins at 7:30 p.m. Friday against the Reading Royals. “All in all, it’s coming together. It’s crazy, even though being off for this amount of time, that you still feel rushed in a sense, but it’s coming on us quick and we’re looking forward to it.”
Plenty has changed since the team’s last season, which ended abruptly in March 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic, with the Admirals languishing at the bottom of the standings.
There’s the relatively recent change in ownership with Patrick Cavanagh, who led the purchase of the team in mid-2019, just before the beginning of the COVID-shortened season, as well as a new affiliation with the National Hockey League’s Carolina Hurricanes, which was announced in August .
“I think we’re better suited for having not played last year, for some obvious reasons,” McGinnis said. “We were just able to kind of gather ourselves with new ownership and management and new people that were being brought in. You’re allowed that time to really figure out who we are and what we stand for, so I’m looking forward to it coming to fruition.”
Heading into the new season, Norfolk, which opted out of the 2020-21 season due to ongoing concerns about the pandemic, has almost an entirely new roster, with just two players — forward Alex Tonge and defenseman Sam Thibault — in the current lineup who have played a game with the Admirals.
Hopes are high about what the Admirals can do on the ice this season, but the team has also been careful to keep expectations reasonably tempered.
“I don’t want to go backwards, but I think it’s also important to know where you came from. Two years ago, we were dead last,” McGinnis said. “We have a lot of goals. Some are obvious and some are internal, but I think it would start with being and having a team that is proud of one another, that wants to work with one another.
“Therefore, our hopes and goals and plans are to be a playoff team. I think that would be a really good turnaround from where we last left off, which was a non-playoff team and a last-place team.”
McGinnis’ hope is to build a perennial playoff contender with the expectation of advancing into postseason play every year.
“If we do our part, we have a playoff team, which is exciting, because I think it’s been a very long time since this team has reached the playoffs at this level, and now we can try and build on that,” he said.
Along with the team’s on-ice product, the fan base is also continuing to grow, with season-ticket sales increasing from the 2019-20 season. McGinnis credits the uptick in part to the organization’s ability to continue to create relationships in the community and establish more of a social media presence during its opt-out season.
“It’s just not the same (without fans),” he said. “To now have more people involved, more sponsors, more fans, is very exciting. For me personally, I do believe that they bring the energy in the building, I really do. It helps when you can score goals and fight and play hard, but to have fans and enough of them to support you, it can create energy and buzz within our arena.”
For McGinnis and the rest of the Admirals’ organization, Friday’s game has been two nearly years in the making. As they prepare to step back on the ice, McGinnis feels “partially relieved” after all of the uncertainty surrounding sports in general the past several months to just get the new season underway.
“Once we actually drop the puck and focus on coaching, focus on winning, making the adjustments throughout the game, it’s going to be exciting,” he said. “This is what we do, this is what we love and it’s our passion, so it’s exciting when those two can come together.”