The Tampa Bay Lightning changed AHL affiliates this summer, moving from the Norfolk Admirals to the Syracuse Crunch. For all the glory of the 2011-12 American Hockey League season that Admirals fans experienced, they may be left feeling betrayed that 2012-13 will not be a continuation of efforts from familiar faces like Dustin Tokarski, Cory Conacher, Mark Barberio and Radko Gudas.
While Norfolk fans get acclimated with most of the new faces from their new parent club (the Anaheim Ducks), they can wear something with pride when the season starts: The Admirals, whoever makes up that roster, remain Calder Cup Champions, and the franchise still has active the longest winning streak in North American professional hockey history.
Maybe that raises expectations too high for the new batch of Admirals (well, not all new, as former Lightning/Admirals defenseman Matt Smaby is on Norfolk's roster), but it does stand as a challenge for the players. Sure, they might not duplicate the effort of last year's Ads squad, but they can continue on last year's efforts with an opening night win.
Playing off the saying from last year, 28 is a fluke. 29? Now that would be a streak.
Now move north, away from Norfolk and to upstate New York where fall is setting in, the leaves are changing color, and its hockey time once again for the War Memorial faithful. The Syracuse Crunch roster - last year's Calder Cup champion Norfolk Admirals - remains largely intact (with some notable exceptions such as Trevor Smith, Brandon Segal, Jaroslav Janus, Scott Jackson and Scott Jackson's beard among others). With that in mind, you have to wonder about expectations in the Crunch locker room.
You can't exactly get cocky while playing in the AHL. You're still minor-league... The Crunch - the players, if not the fans - still seem to have the go-go-go-must-win mentality that drove them through the close of last season.
Most of the team has not lost a regular season game since February 5th, 2012. The last loss they suffered in general was to the Connecticut Whale during the 2012 Calder Cup playoffs. They're coming off a sweep of the St. John's IceCaps this preseason to boot.
So, while Norfolk has the 28 game winning streak on the line in the season opener against the Worcester Sharks, I can't help but wonder how many Crunch players will go into their contest with the Rochester Americans on Friday with the notion they (personally) will be going for 29-in-a-row. Not for the record books, but for personal pride.
From an outsider standpoint as a Lightning fan following the system, it's important not to look at the forthcoming season as a continuation of last year's efforts. There have been too many changes to have that mentality. The cold hard truth is that everything starts at zero - for the Ads, for the Crunch, for the Hershey Bears, Toronto Marlies, Connecticut Whale, Charlotte Checkers, etc, etc, etc.
This season is not last season. The process of becoming (and ultimately being) must begin anew. How that process will be affected, for all 30 AHL teams, by the 2012 NHL lockout remains to be seen. The league has been injected with a wide variety of NHL caliber talent. How long that will last is anyone's guess, but AHL fans can enjoy it while it lasts.